David Olusoga is a British-Nigerian historian, broadcaster and film-maker. His most recent TV series include Black and British: A Forgotten History (BBC 2), The World’s War (BBC 2), A House Through Time (BBC 2) and the BAFTA winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners (BBC 2). David is also the author of Black & British: A Forgotten History which was awarded both the Longman-History Today Trustees Award and the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize. His other books include The World’s War, which won First World War Book of the Year in 2015, The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism and Civilizations: Encounters and the Cult of Progress. David was also a contributor to the Oxford Companion to Black British History and writes for The Guardian and is a columnist for The Observer and BBC History Magazine. He is also one of the three presenters on the BBC’s landmark Arts series Civilizations.
David is also the author of The World’s War (Head of Zeus, 2014), the co-author of The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (Faber & Faber 2010), and author of Black & British: A Forgotten History, which was awarded both the Longman-History Today Trustees Award and the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize. David is a regular writer for The Guardian and The Observer and has written for a range of other magazines and publications.
David Adetayo Olusoga Biography and Profile
David Olusoga is an Anglo-Nigerian historian and producer. He was born on 5 January 1970, in Lagos, Nigeria to a Nigerian father and British mother. He arrived in the UK and grew up in Newcastle. David studied history and journalism before joining the BBC. He grew up in Gateshead and lived on a council estate. Later his home was attacked by the National Front on multiple occasions and his family eventually forced out of their home. He later attended the University of Liverpool to study the history of slavery.
“I got into history because I wanted to make sense of the forces that have affected my life,” he says. “I’m from that generation who would look at Trevor McDonald on television – his gravitas and authority – and see hope and potential.”
Working across radio and television, his programmes have explored the themes of colonialism, slavery and scientific racism. He has travelled extensively in Africa, and has been drawn to Namibia and its troubled history for several years. He currently works as a producer for the BBC.
After leaving university, Olusoga became a television producer, working on programmes such as Namibia Genocide and the Second Reich, The Lost Pictures of Eugene Smith and Abraham Lincoln: Saint or Sinner. He subsequently became a presenter, beginning in 2014 with The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire, about the Indian, African and Asian troops who fought in the First World War, followed by several other documentaries. His most recent TV series include Black and British: A Forgotten History, The World’s War, A House Through Time and the BAFTA award-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.
As well as his TV work, David is an award-winning author. His books include Civilizations: Encounters and the Cult of Progress, The World’s War, which won First World War Book of the Year, Black & British: A Forgotten History, which was awarded both the Longman-History Today Trustees Award and the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize and The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism. He also writes for The Observer, The Guardian, The New Statesman and BBC History Magazine.
“For me, history has always been a public activity – it’s about reaching out to as many people as possible. I‘ve spent my career working with institutions similarly committed to making history inclusive, expansive and diverse. Joining The University of Manchester is to continue in that tradition.” – Professor David Olusoga OBE.
“David Olusoga’s insightful and inspiring research addresses some of the thorniest issues of human history, and his passion, clarity and depth set a very high standard,” said Professor Alessandro Schiesaro, Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester. “His appointment as Professor of Public History at Manchester further strengthens our commitment to broadening the curriculum and to playing an active role in the public engagement with historical studies.”
A House Through Time
Following his Liverpool-based BBC series A House Through Time David Olusoga has moved on to tell the story of a Georgian end-of-terrace property in Ravensworth Terrace, Newcastle, on his native Tyneside. Starting the story from around the time the house was built in 1824, David explores the often complex lives of the owners and inhabitants from pre-Victorian times right up to the present day – with some extraordinary revelations along the way.
I was brought up in Gateshead, so coming to the North East was like coming home. I went to school with Paul Gascoigne and everyone I knew growing up supported NUFC. I regard myself as a Nigerian Geordie, as proud of my North East roots as my African heritage.
Why are you a historian?
My mission is to make history accessible and tell stories of the past across every medium. In genre terms, I am a historian of empire.
What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
That the people of the past are, in their intellect and nature, exactly the same as us.
How many languages do you speak?
Poor German, worse French and a tiny amount of Yoruba, so as to not offend my older Nigerian relatives.
My episodes of Civilisations explore the themes of contact, trade, interaction, empire and race.
I have always been most drawn to those moments from the past when people from distant lands and different societies made contact with one another. Often those moments of contact were violent and destructive, but not always. Much of human history has been marked by trade and interaction – the exchange of goods, raw materials, ideas and people.
Nowhere is the spirit and importance of those encounters more vividly expressed that in art – in everything from the Namban screens of Tokugawa Japan, the ‘Bronzes’ of 16th Century Benin to the sumptuous still life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. Even in the most destructive encounter of the era that Europeans call the Age of Exploration – that between the Spanish and the Aztec Empire of Mexico – there was some degree of artistic appreciation.
When the great German artist Albrecht Dürer viewed a collection of Aztec artefacts in 1520 he recognised within them what he called ‘the subtle Ingenia of men in foreign lands.’
In my second film I explore how in the 19th Century notions of European supremacy encouraged many to dismiss the civilisational achievements of other societies. Yet the materialism and destructiveness of the age of progress, the rise of the European empires and the Industrial revolution, led many artists to look for meaning in the past, in the natural world and in the cultures of non-European peoples.
It was through watching documentaries on the BBC in the late 1980s that I first became interested in art and history. My first teenage holiday was spent touring the great art galleries of Europe after having been inspired by what I had seen on television.
Fifty years ago in Civilisation, Kenneth Clark created a series that changed the lives of many of those who watched it. Although very much of its time and focused on western art, that series showed that television can explore big ideas and broach big questions. It is in that spirit that I have thrown myself into the making of these two films.
- Longman-History Today Trustees’ Award 2017 for his outstanding contribution to history.
- Winner of the 2017 PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize.
- Winner of the Longman History Today Trustees’ Award.
- A Waterstones.com History Book of the Year.
- Longlisted for the Orwell Prize.
- Shortlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize.