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Dan Snow's History Hit: Mayflower 400

The popular TV historian tells us about his new show on the Pilgrim Fathers’ epic journey
By Michael Burland
Published on September 15, 2020

Dan Snow’s History Hit

On the Quatercentenary of the Mayflower’s journey, well known TV historian Dan Snow is airing an online documentary, Mayflower 400 – Steering our Future, Informed by the Past – about the extraordinary tale. Marking exactly 400 years to the day since the Mayflower set sail it not only tells the story of the colonists, but also the impact their arrival had on the Native American people who helped them, and the wider colonial context of this journey. It includes a look at some of the cultural projects involved in the commemorative programme.

Dan, you’re one of the UK’s best known and most popular historians, do you have a favorite period to write and make shows about?

Definitely the 18th century. the modern world was coming into focus. Revolutions in science, engineering, politics and economics were changing the world in profound ways we are still living with today.

Broadcasting always seems to have gone hand in hand with history in your career – when you’re planning a new project do you think of them as integrated?

Of course. I only ever make history podcasts and TV shows so the history is where it all starts. At History Hit, my new history channel, we keep close tabs on history books coming out, and new archaeological projects and see what we might be able to work with.

It’s exactly 400 years to the day since the Mayflower set sail for America, with its ‘Pilgrim’ passengers. What drew you to making a programme about that event?

It’s one of the pivotal anniversaries in US and British history. A voyage that has come to symbolise the thousands of ships that crossed the Atlantic carrying settlers from the British isles and a resourcefulness, courage and cooperation with the indigenous people that would see the establishment of a viable colony.

What's the best way for people in the UK to see the programme?

Either on Timeline, Youtube’s best history channel, or History Hit TV, my new digital channel.

In the current political situation, many people are re-evaluating the Pilgrim Fathers’ role in history. What is your view on them?

For the first time in this anniversary we are remembering the role of the indigenous peoples and the terrible price they paid for European settlement. Disease killed vast numbers of indigenous Americans and soon war would kill or displace many of the rest. It was a very different experience to that of the settler societies that took their place.

Our audience is mainly made up of Americans who live in the UK, in other words they’ve made the Transatlantic trip in the other direction. What do you think they, particularly, will take away from your show?

I hope Americans watching the show in the UK will feel a renewed bond with our little archipelago. This is as much our story as it is theirs. This band of religious migrants who left the Midlands to go first to Europe and then to New England are among the first of so many who have taken advantage of geography to cross the Atlantic in search of a new life.

Do you approach shows you make for American channels differently to British TV?

American channels make you work much harder to captivate the audience. They want certainty in the narrative and aren’t too happy with the occasional British get out clause, ‘we don’t really know….’

A quick final question – What’s the best thing about being Dan Snow?

Living on the coast with a great wife, amazing kids, a couple of boats and a job he absolutely loves.

You can watch the digital programme on Wednesday, September 16 at 6pm on the Mayflower 400 UK website. https://www.mayflower400uk.org

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Mayflower 400 Mayflower 400. Courtesy Mayflower400.org

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