SPOTLIGHT 

History magazines

Don’t know your Boleyns from your Borgias? Never fear, there are history magazines bringing the past into the present. Alan Geere explores the newsstand.

By Alan Geere

History magazines
Photograph: Daniel Veronesi on Unsplash

All About History

What’s it about: ‘Britain's biggest and best independent history magazine’ – according to Twitter page.

Vital statistics: Issue 80 (undated, but purchased July 2019): 100 pages of 300mm x 230mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.99 cover price. Claims a 40k ‘print circulation’ on website. Published monthly by Future in Bournemouth.

Cover: Dramatic illustration of the key figures behind ‘Rise and Fall of the Boleyns’, six other smaller images (including no less than Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan) and eight coverlines.

Content: Generously illustrated contents spread with clearly denoted page numbers leads into ‘Defining moments’, three double-page picture spreads from recent history. Twelve pages on the Mongol Empire is a beautifully crafted history lesson and the Boleyns cover story uses contemporary art to help bring the notorious figures to life. Hitler, Peterloo, Chernobyl, NASA all get the approachable treatment plus reviews at the back.

Digital: Promoted website has content galore, plus equally generous ‘personalised’ advertising. Click through to Twitter with 13.7k followers and Facebook (11,814 likes) which have interesting content, such as competitions, rather than just plugs for the mag.

What they say: “And now for the soppy bit, because the best thing about the mag was the people I got to work with who inspired me and made me want to make a better mag that they could be proud of too. I hope we did that.” – editor Jonathan Gordon on Twitter choking up on departure from his previous berth as editor of videogame mag, games™.

Verdict: For readers of a certain age, this magazine will be reminiscent of Look and Learn, the weekly educational magazine published from 1962 until 1982. It is clearly written, well illustrated and inviting on every page. And even has a historical recipe – Marlborough pie, as eaten in the court of Henry VIII!

BBC History Magazine

What’s it about: ‘Britain’s bestselling history magazine’ – tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: August 2019 issue: 100 pages of 285mm x 217mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.99 cover price. Combined ABC (Jan-Dec 2018) of 94,638, with 15,534 from digital. Published monthly by Immediate in Bristol.

Cover: Napoleon and Nelson stare ignominiously at each other across the coverline ‘Trafalgar – a futile victory?’. Six more informative coverlines and another depiction, this one of Charlemagne, who was doing his stuff in the eighth century.

Content: A welcome page and enlightening ‘More from us’, which even includes a QR code for more details, is followed by the well-illustrated contents spread. Newsy snippets up front include a topical piece on choosing a political party leader before columns from TV favourites Michael Wood and David Olusoga. Features cover the ages and the world including a poignant piece on mixed race babies fathered by black American GIs and more topical reflections on the moon landing and space race.

Digital: The promoted website – historyextra.com – has a decent range of content and podcasts to download. Links to Twitter (318k followers) and Facebook with a whopping 549k likes, plus Instagram. Digital editions of the magazine well promoted throughout, rewarded with 16 per cent of total sale.

What they say: “The most important thing for PhD students would be to show a real passion for media / journalism, backed-up by some relevant experience.” – editor Rob Attar has some advice for the over-qualified entrants to journalism in an interview with the ‘Pubs and Publications’ blog.

Verdict: The clear leader in this field has built up a worldwide following with a comprehensive approach to history in the widest possible sense. Plenty to dip into as well as longer reads make this a trusty companion through the ages. Confidently produced with inventive use of well-researched illustrations from the pre-photography days.

Best of British

What’s it about: ‘The UK’s top nostalgia monthly’ – strapline on cover.

Vital statistics: July 2019 issue: 84 pages of 297mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, stitched. £4.20 cover price. Lists a circulation of 37,355 in the media pack. Published monthly by Diamond Publishing Ltd in west London.

Cover: Image taken from a poster from the 1960 film Man in the Moon, promoting a Kenneth More retrospective, three other small pictures and eight coverlines all held together by the bold masthead that sits atop the Union flag.

Content: Detailed contents spread on pages 4-5 goes from Postbag (p6) to Back in Time (p82) via no less than 29 separately listed items. They are all quick reads with no article running to more than three pages but the inviting design and clever use of now-and-then photos keep the reader’s attention. References to TV and popular culture (Sally James, Top of the Pops) contrast the oldest recollections from the 1940s.

Digital: The promoted website has details of the current issue plus ‘Classic articles’ and a useful events guide. The Twitter feed is on the home page with nearly 5,000 followers and Facebook has 1,294 likes. Even has a link to old school Myspace.

What they say: "With the exception of re-runs of The Bill and Heartbeat, the police procedural is largely absent from today’s television schedules." Editor Simon Stabler turns TV critic for recent 'cop watching' cover story.

Verdict: Feels cosy and comfortable with lots of familiar names. Plenty to read and the eight pages of ‘Yesterday Remembered’ contributions from readers is a welcome addition, as is the £20 paid for submissions. Majoring on the twin themes of ‘nostalgia’ and ‘British’, this quirky title has clearly filled a gap in the market.

History Scotland

What’s it about: ‘Expert insight in every issue’ – a historical-looking seal on the cover.

Vital statistics: July/August 2019 issue: 68 pages of 300mm x 213mm. Matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £4.50 cover price. Publisher reports a print circulation of 8,500 with 3,200 digital downloads. Published bi-monthly by Warners in Leeds.

Cover: Full bleed picture of a painting of a man in full Scottish regalia to go with the coverline ‘Selling Scotland’. Seven other coverlines all artfully arranged around Colonel William Gordon of Fyvie (Battoni, 1766).

Content: Meet the contributors and ‘From the editor’ on page three before straightforward contents on page five. After news, the longer reads come thick and fast from Neolithic pioneers to a convicted pirate via an earthquake and a statistics-packed exploration of emigration. All well displayed with innovative picture research using photographs, art and illustrations plus useful links to further reading.

Digital: A likeable website has tons of related content with links to Twitter (10.2k followers) Facebook (42.1k likes) which also encourages users to become an ‘Insider’ and ‘receive sneak peaks, job opportunities and more, straight to your inbox’ just for signing up to the newsletter.

What they say: “She [Rachel] is a history graduate of University of Wales, Lampeter, where she studied medieval monasticism, a continuing passion she is slightly amazed to be able to apply in the world of work.” – editor Rachel Bellerby comes clean about her historical credentials in a blog post.

Verdict: With no shortage of history, it’s not surprising to see Scotland have its own dedicated magazine, but it is still a delight to see what a great job they make of it. All the content deserves its place and the publishers are to be commended for combining the rigour of its academic focus with the attractiveness of a general interest magazine.

History Today

What’s it about: “The world’s leading serious history magazine” – claim on website.

Vital statistics: August 2019 issue: 116 pages of 240mm x 170mm. Quality matt paper, card cover, perfect bound. £5.50 cover price. Publishers report print sale of 16,993 plus 994 digital. Published monthly by History Today Ltd in Holborn, London.

Cover: Big picture of a medal commemorating the Peterloo Massacre artfully obscuring part of the masthead, three coverlines plus content reminders on the spine.

Content: Contents on page three divided into Features, which are six long reads, and Regulars including letters, reviews, a crossword and ‘The Historian’s Cookbook’ which gets all reflective about barbecue. The features, which are all written by academics, stretch from an exploration of slaves in the ninth century Muslim world to the background of modern-day tensions in the Persian Gulf via that cover story about the Peterloo Massacre 200 years ago. All intelligently illustrated with relevant photographs, art and documents. Lay readers will also appreciate the ‘Glossary’ looking at the origins of words and phrases used in the magazine.

Digital: A website as clear and informative as the magazine has much the same content, plus extensive archive and back issues with opportunities to buy online access to the archive. A lively Twitter feed is rewarded with 288k followers while a whopping 763k like the Facebook page. Also an opportunity to sign up for the ‘Travels through Time’ podcast.

What they say: “Few children’s programmes have captured the sheer strangeness of the past as well as Noggin the Nog” – editor Paul Lay recalls his first ‘engagement with public history’ in a piece for the magazine.

Verdict: Has the rigour of an academic journal but the display of a newsstand magazine with generous illustrations and a liberal supply of advertising. Lots of meaty reads well researched by the suitably informed authors (‘Professor of Indigenous History’) but all presented in an approachable and non-stuffy way. The offer to ‘Get 6 issues for just £12’ is a steal compared to the single copy price.

Military History Matters

What’s it about: ‘The history of conflict, written by experts’ – according to the magazine’s Instagram page.

Vital statistics: August 2019 issue: 84 pages of 300mm x 230mm. Gloss paper, card cover, perfect bound. £4.95 cover price. Reaches a readership of 45,000, according to website. Published monthly by Current Publishing in Chiswick, west London.

Cover: Dramatic picture of a (dead) soldier on a bridge at Arnhem in 1944. Four coverlines and a careful cut-out of a 17th century flintlock pistol. Five more cross-refs somehow shoehorned onto the slim spine.

Content: A busy, but simply designed, welcome page leads into the contents spread clearly signposting the offerings inside with pictures, numbers and colour coding. News, in the shape of ‘Notes from the frontline’, is followed by a series of lavishly illustrated features covering the invasion of Canada in 1775 to the Arnhem assault and much in between. ‘Debrief’ has reviews and visits while there’s even room for letters, quiz and crossword at the back.

Digital: Follow the url on the folio lines to find a neatly-designed website with the latest issue heavily teased. Social media buttons clearly displayed offering easy access to Twitter, with 4,557 followers, and Facebook with nearly 3,000 likes.

What they say: “The person who answers the phone to your query is likely to have a degree in history or archaeology, allowing us to engage with our highly loyal readers in an informed way” – no messing with those phone-answerers, according to publisher’s website.

Verdict: Complementary full-page ads (MA in military history by distance learning, anyone?) demonstrate the value and reach of this agreeable magazine. Authoritative without being stuffy and on top of its subject with detailed writing and graphics. All neatly designed and projected, although some readers may find the splodges of blood on the Arnhem feature a bit OTT.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.