Speakers at UK History Festival Call for Boycott Because Event Is ‘Insufficiently Diverse’

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By Heat Street Staff | 4:37 am, June 26, 2017
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A British history festival has been hit by claims of being insufficiently diverse because it features only one non-white speaker.

The Chalke Valley History Festival, which is sponsored by the Daily Mail newspaper and begins today in Wiltshire, south-west England, features 148 speakers from the worlds of books, TV, film and newspapers.

Of these, 32 are women and one is not white.

As a result of the lack of ethnic minorities taking part, Rebecca Rideal, an expert on the Great Plague, has announced that she is pulling out of the event.

Rideal (pictured) said: “It didn’t sit right with me, personally, to attend a festival where gender and [black and minority ethnic] ratios were so skewed. We need to support our black and minority ethnic historians, many of whom are trailblazers.”

Fern Riddell, a cultural historian who has written about the suffragette movement, said that she had come under “intense” pressure on social media to follow Rideal’s lead and withdraw as well but had decided to attend.

But festival director James Holland said it would be “insulting” to book black historians solely based on the colour of their skin. He added that because the event is held in rural Wiltshire “It’s not my fault if the demographic is mainly white”.

He attacked “bullies” who have demanded a boycott of the event over the lack of black speakers.

Yesterday he said: “Where you’ve got a more multicultural society, you can have more multicultural talks, that is just a fact of life. That’s not being racist or particularly controversial. Wiltshire is not London. It’s not the same.”

He also told The Bookseller magazine: “We have to play to the demographic. If I put on a festival in Brixton [south London] where I used to live, I don’t think we’d have many white speakers. But we are in Wiltshire and it’s not my fault that demographic is mainly white.”

Mr Holland said yesterday that the topics of major interest to festival-goers in Wiltshire were the Tudors and the Second World War, so the festival had to feature them to make money.

He added: “I’m not saying our audiences aren’t interested in black history or Asian history . . . [but] the vast majority of historians are white and the vast majority of British history has been dominated by white people and I can’t really help that.”