Dr. NICK BARRATT
- Guest Academic -
Welcome to an interview with an English gentleman with an interesting job.
Welcome, Nick ...
1. WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
I’m based just outside London near Epsom
2. WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT POSITION?
I currently work as the Associate Director, Collections and Engagement, for Senate House Library, part of the School of Advanced Studies within the University of London.
3. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS A TEACHER.
In a word – unplanned. My passion for history came from Prof David Carpenter, who introduced me to the turbulent reign of Henry III. However, I meandered into television where, rather unexpectedly, I gained prominence as a house historian and genealogist before combining the two with local history to focus on personal heritage and public history. Although I’ve published and lectured on a wide range of subjects from the Titanic to the story of London’s suburbs – my latest book, The Forgotten Spy combines 1920s and 30s espionage with a family interest – I’m returning to my medieval roots and will be focusing on the Angevin Kings of England from the mid twelfth to the early thirteenth centuries.
4. WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?
Yes – I devoured books, something my daughters seem to have inherited!
5. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A PROFESSOR?
I’m not actually a professor, I received my doctorate in medieval English state finance and fiscal history from Kings College London in 1996.
6. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN ACADEMIC?
The ability to ask questions of the past and apply the answers to the present. History is one of the most important and relevant disciplines in the humanities, at a personal, local, national and international level. It is the story of everyone, and presented in the right way can show how we can understand each other’s perspectives and backstory for mutual benefit.
7. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A PROFESSOR? You never switch off – there’s always something of interest to explore, or another source to check…
8. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A PROFESSOR?
Before I joined the University of London, I ran several specialist teams at The National Archives covering medieval, early modern, legal, maps and photographs. Before that, I managed my own historical research company which I founded in 2000. It’s still going strong – Sticks Research Agency – though my team of researchers now run things.
9. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
That’s a very tricky question – obtaining my PhD, writing my first book, starting my own company and seeing it still going strong, 15 years later… Possibly completing 4 London marathons.
10. DO YOU ENJOY WHAT YOU DO?
It’s great fun, if challenging – there’s so much work to do, but the potential is enormous and that’s what makes it exciting.
11. WHAT TOPICS DO YOU COVER?
At the moment, my role is about managing some wonderful specialists and helping to develop the collections so that others can conduct meaningful research, as well as creating a support framework of inductions and training.
12. DO YOU WRITE ANY PERSONAL WORK?
My commercial writing is aimed at a wider public audience, but I’m finally writing more academic articles after a hiatus of a few years.
13. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Write with passion about something you are passionate about. Then ask people to read it, and be prepared to take on board their criticisms. Eventually you’ll find a style or ‘voice’ that suits you, and your audience.
14. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Yes. The hardest part of any project is the first blank page. It’s intimidating. I tend to fill it with structural notes, just to feel as though I’ve got some words in the bank.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR JOB?
Talking to fellow academics about their subjects – I learn something new every day.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
The book I’ve read the most times is Bill Bryon’s Short History of Nearly Everything – superbly researched, fascinating subject matter and presented in an engaging style.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
I don’t know, I wasn’t listening…
18. HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
A few bits and pieces over the years.
19. WHAT DID THEY MEAN TO YOU?
Obviously it’s always very nice to think that other people appreciate your work; but everyone has an opinion and others may disagree with what I write or how I write it, so as long as I know I’ve done the best I can, I’m happy.
20. OTHER THAN WORK, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My family, always first. A very distant second would be football, or running to stay in shape.
21. IF YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
We are all one species and share one planet; make the most of your life to make a difference
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Any day spent relaxing with the family
23. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS / ASPIRATIONS FOR THE FUTURE? In the short term, to do the best I can for Senate House Library with the aspiration to make London’s leading research hub for the humanities; and write my next book. After that, who knows; I’ve never had a conventional career path so I guess anything is possible – maybe even become a professor one day!
24. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FIVE BOOKS?
Non-fiction has to be Bill Bryson, Short History of Nearly Everything; in terms of fiction, then David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas and Brendan DuBois, Resurrection Day
25. ANY GREAT CLAIMS TO FAME?
A bit of television air time, a few books published – nothing too dramatic…
26. WHAT MIGHT BE THE LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
It would probably be something personal to my family
27. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
It is incredibly fortunate to be working in an area that is also a passion, and I hope that I communicate some of my enthusiasm in everything that I do.
Clancy's comment: Thank you for sparing the time, Nick. It's great to meet someone who is passionate about their job. I know how you feel. Keep going.