History is all the rage at the moment. It has become a designer item, dressed up, slicked down, consumerised. The past has been made into a vast soap opera, its heroes and villains so many walk-on parts, their sex lives explored more readily than their politics, the texture of the past made so accessible it can almost be smelt and touched. If there is any uncertainty about how Rameses II might really have thought or talked, it is made up. The drama-doc threatens to create a timeless fusion of fact and fiction. Who will be able to tell the difference? Does the difference matter?
These are some of the questions that Margaret MacMillan, Warden of St Antony’s, Oxford, has decided to address in a contribution to the debate on ‘What is History?’ that is currently exercising professional historians as they grapple with the new fashion for their subject. She is herself a