Scott Allsop delivers a daily dose of historical trivia from his Bucharest home.
Scott Allsop, a British history teacher living in Romania, sits in a Bucharest cafe on November 24, 2016. On the same day in 1859, the English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, considered by many the foundation of evolutionary biology. Most probably, I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for Scott Allsop’s daily podcast Historypod.net.
In 3-minute pieces, the Bucharest-based teacher and podcaster Scott Allsop aims to deliver a “daily dose of historical trivia”. The 36-year old man has recently finished his debut book called “366 days”, which he launched on December 12, at the Anthony Frost English Bookshop in Bucharest.
Scott has been living in Romania for over two years, teaching history at the British School of Bucharest. He studied at the University of Cambridge and had previously been shortlisted for the UK’s national Teaching Awards and the BBC History Magazine/Historical Association History Teacher of the Year award. In the past, he even ran a website dedicated to abandoned shopping lists, which has been featured in the Times Educational Supplement and The Guardian.
Scott takes a sip of the big lemonade he had ordered to freshen him up in the Bucharest cafe where we meet. It’s been a long day for him.
At 5 am the podcast on Charles Darwin went live. He has a lot of listeners in Australia, and that’s a good hour for them. He had prepared several episodes in advance.
The teacher normally wakes up when his two young kids wake up. “Hopefully not before 6 am, but sometimes before 6 am,” Scott says laughing. This morning wasn’t so bad. He got up at half past six.
His history classes at the British School of Bucharest start at 8.20 am, but he arrives an hour before that. His class today was about the pre-established conditions that led to the rise of Hitler in Germany. Imagine teaching that to 17, 18-year old teenagers: not the easiest task in the world.
But Scott knows his way around in making bored teenagers care about history, usually by playing the devil’s advocate. He sets a question, an inquiry, a mystery. “History is about solving mysteries, being an investigator,” he says.
When he was in his early twenties, Scott had to come up with something more ingenious.
From the Wild West to the space race
In 2005, Scott was 25 and was working at a school in the UK as a history teacher. He just couldn’t get the students to revise the material they were doing, always listening to music on their ipods.
“I said I will record ten-minute episodes of me talking about the things that we’ve done in class and then you can put into your ipod and your friends will think you are still cool,” Scott remembers. Then a few of his students shared the audio stories with their friends and “it just went a bit crazy.” He soon noticed that it was making a difference, because students has better results.
In April last year he launched a new podcast called Historypod.net. There is no formula to what event he chooses to talk about on any given day, Scott explains in his Youtube presentation video.
“The topics can vary from Medieval religion to 20th century economics, from the Wild West to the space race, from Revolutionary France to the Mongolian Empire,” he says.
“That’s the thing, I love a good story,” Scott adds. “If you find the right story for the right time, it can be so engaging.”
The challenge with history is that nothing has a definite start day or a definite finish. “Part of the decision is where do I say the causes begin. Sometimes is the day before, sometimes years previously,” the teacher explains.
A ramshackle affair
He records his stories in a little recording booth that he had built in his Bucharest home. “A ramshackle affair,” Scott says modestly. “But reasonably professional,” he adds. The booth is soundproof so the kids don’t wake up while he’s recording. During the day, the recording booth becomes the playground for his kids.
The research and the script-writing take a while, Scott says. Sometimes it takes a long while just to find the event. His wife Alice Allsop, a geography teacher, is his testing board. “Would you be more interested in that or that?” His first book “366 days” is dedicated to her.
In 2008, the couple moved to Egypt to work as teachers. In the UK, they had different work schedules but wanted to spend more time together. Plus it was the wish for some adventure, one of the main ingredients throughout the history of mankind that has got people out of their cozy homes.
Alice and Scott stayed through the revolution in Egypt, because they thought that it was important to show up every day for the kids at school, and offer them a tiny bit of stability in those highly uncertain times. When they had their daughter Leila, they decided it was time to move to a new place. They were fans of Eastern European music, food, and people. So when they saw that the British School of Bucharest had open teaching positions, off they were to Romania.
Leila now sometimes stays in the recording booth when Scott records his episodes for Historypod. She knows that she has to be quiet, but she’s four, so of course, she’ll just say whatever she wants to say.
“Silly,” she once told her dad.
Post-truth era is old news
Scott has just finished with one of his groups at the British School of Bucharest a unit called historiography: why different people reach different conclusions based on the same evidence.
They were looking at the causes of the Cold War. “Why is it that in the ‘1950s, ‘1960s, Western historians were saying this, and in the ‘1970, ‘1980s they said something else?” Scott says.
“I teach the view that history is plural, it’s actually histories,” he adds. “It depends on who you’re talking to, when you’re talking. The past is different to history. The past are events that happened. History is how we choose to remember them.”
His three-minute audio pieces don’t go into these polemics. They stick to the facts.
“Sometimes you need just to be factual and know that’s actually what happened. And then draw your own conclusions,” he says.
Especially in the post-truth era, Scott adds laughing.
“I think it (the post-truth) has always been there, to be honest. It’s becoming big now because politicians have openly said they don’t care what the experts have said. But people have always ignored experts. The evidence says, this but I’m choosing to ignore it.”
“Politicians always say we’ve got to honor our history,” Scott goes on. “But they want to honor a particular view of history, they do change history. We sometimes brush out the uncomfortable bits. We’ve always been civilized. (...) History’s always been used as a weapon.”
On November 25, 2016, the next day, a new episode of Scott’s podcast goes online at 5 am. The teacher is still sleeping, but some of his listeners from other countries, who are already awake, are greeted by Scott’s voice, while they are driving to work or checking their emails.
“Hello and welcome to Historypod. On the 25th of November 1936, Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact.”
By Diana Mesesan, features writer, firstname.lastname@example.org