In this exclusive interview, I get to ask podcaster Jamie Jeffers about how he has become a full-time historian and storyteller, his recent involvement with the Staffordshire Hoard, and some quirks of life as a British expat.
I started listening to Jamie’s British History Podcast about a year ago, and fell in love with the detailed and humorous way that he makes ancient stories come alive. His podcast has helped me link together important events, and given me a much better understanding of British history.
AR: What is your background, and what gave you the crazy idea to start a podcast on British history?
JJ: Well, I was an attorney, but I’ve always loved stories and storytelling. And through most of my childhood my Grandad would tell me tales of Nelson and other major British naval figures. It was a great way to grow up. And as I got older, I missed those stories and started looking into them myself, but with more of an attorney’s eye for research. So that’s roughly my background.
As for why I started the Podcast. I looked around and couldn’t find a chronological podcast on British history, and I wanted one. So I just foolishly decided to start one. I didn’t know what I was getting into, it was just something to do on an afternoon to keep me busy. Of course, it’s grown into something much larger since then!
What makes you love British history more than, say, American history?
Well, British history was what I was raised on. And being that I’m British, despite my American accent, it’s always interested me. Throughout my American education I learned quite a bit about American history but very little about British. I suppose I just wanted to fix that.
Yes! I remember being so surprised to hear an American accent on a British podcast. Your skillful research and great storytelling makes up for it though! How long have you lived in the US?
I’ve been in the US since I was a small child, and have clear memories of learning to speak with an American accent because my classmates couldn’t understand me and would make fun of my accent. In particular, I had trouble with the word “Ball.” Eventually I figured it out, though the american accent is a very subtle thing. Especially the A’s and R’s. Too much or too little and it sounds strange. The way I learned the accent was to translate the soft consonants to hard consonants in my head (so “uh” became “ur”, for example) but it had some side effects that still stick around… Consequently, unless I think about it I pronounce the word “indicator” as “In-dur-kay-tur” because my original accent was to say “in-dah-kay-tah”. Anyway, that might have been an over-share. 😉
Did you ever think that this podcast would become your full-time job?
It never occurred to me. Not even in my wildest dreams. This has been quite a surprise for me. 🙂
You recently made a trip to the UK. Can you tell us about that?
Well, I was there to conduct The Staffordshire Hoard Project. This was the largest Hoard of Anglo Saxon gold and silver ever found. It was located in 2009 in a field in Stafforshire by a metal detectorist by the name of Terry Herbert. Since then, it has garnered a tremendous amount of attention and is changing the way we view the Anglo Saxons.
I was lucky enough to be granted access to speak with experts who have been right at the center of curating, conserving, and interpreting the Hoard. So, of course, I hopped on a plane and spent several weeks steeped in archaeology. It was quite a treat!
As a bonus, I was also able to meet with listeners while I was there. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me and I definitely want to make it a regular event for my trips back. Everyone I met was fantastic and I think it was quite a success!
|Anglo-Saxon Pyramid (from the Staffordshire Hoard), a photo by vintagedept on Flickr.|
I had not heard about the Staffordshire Hoard until listening to your podcast, but now I’m fascinated by it. How did seeing all those relics of ancient times influence the way you think and feel about the Anglo Saxons?
I was overwhelmed by the Hoard. And one of the things that’s so impressive is the size of it. These objects are tiny. We see photographs of them and have an image in our minds of what they must be like. But they’re so much smaller than that. And it’s the smallness and the delicacy that’s most impressive.
And, to be honest, I was also awed by the brooch that I was allowed to handle and that we discussed in the Members Episode. I was the sixth person to hold that object since the seventh century CE. I can’t tell you how exhilarating terrifying, and awe inspiring that was. To be one of a handful of people to hold something that was last held by the people that I’ve been studying and, basically, living with for all this time? It was amazing.
The thing that was most striking for me was that in sources, such as Beowulf, we hear of the wealth of the Anglo Saxons, but we’ve never seen it. We’ve had sites like Sutton Hoo, but nothing reflecting what we read about. Then along came the Hoard and suddenly we are seeing some of the best that the Anglo Saxons were capable of. It’s magnificent to behold, and I think over the next 3-5 years we’re going to see some significant changes in how we view our ancestors.
What do you see happening with all of this in the future?
I really don’t know. I’ve been focused primarily on just plotting out how the show will continue into the future. But considering how it’s grown and what a surprise this has been, I don’t think I can accurately predict what will happen in the future. It’s quite a lot of fun, though!
Share one of your all-time favorite historical tidbits.
So one of the first major kings in Britain was a man by the name of Offa. He was a king of Mercia and quite a heavyweight in his day. In fact, he was a contemporary of Charlemagne. Anyway, as he was a rather serious king, he had coins minted with his name on them. Well, even though this is in the period that is commonly referred to as “The Dark Ages”, Britain was still engaged with the rest of the world and was part of significant trade routes. And through those trading connections, it seems like there were some coins that came across Offa’s path that were rather beautiful with strange decorations around the edges. His mint, or maybe Offa himself, quite liked this design and so it was incorporated into Offa’s coins.
Well, it turns out that the decorations were actually Arabic script, and it said (misspelled) “There is no god by one, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, Jamie. You’re an inspiration to Britophiles like me!
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