Dan Snow: The TV historian on Scottish nationalism and why getting drunk must be planned with military precision


There's an extraordinary appetite for anniversaries The 70th anniversary of D-Day has had enormous interest and record audience interactions. I do a lot of history in the off years – when there's no Battle of Waterloo anniversary – and there's less interest. What is it about anniversaries that sharpens the mind? Perhaps it's how we mark our own [passing of the] years.

History is all about myths For example, this year – when the future of Scotland is being decided – is the anniversary of Bannockburn [24 June 1314, a Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence]. But that battle was about two medieval, French-speaking warlords going at one another in a way and at a time and environment which has limited relevance to us today. And the idea of an ethnically pure Scottish side and ethnically pure English side attacking one another is absurd.

Alex Salmond has made nationalism sound progressive. but it's not It's an absolute curse and since it was unleashed in the world in the 1800s it has blighted the societies of everyone it's touched. Dividing people into national groupings separate from other people is deeply uncivilised and has led to the worst wars in human history. So to create a new nation state is an anachronistic thing to do, though I'm a fan of devolution.

Military history gets a bad reputation People think that you're some slightly strange bloke who finds the gadgets of warfare fascinating. But I can't tell you about German tanks or Spitfires; I'm interested in men and woman in extreme situations. Warfare features love, courage, death, anger and excitement – all the most extreme forms of the human experience.

All the things I thought were stressful were nothing compared to being in Syria I've never been in combat but visiting the rebel-held area of Damascus [while filming A History of Syria With Dan Snow] left me exhausted. The shelling and possibility of airstrikes left me shaking. All the things I'd read about [combat stress] I started to measure in myself.

I owe everything to the advantages I've had It's unfair, but I owe everything to my dad [the historian and TV presenter Peter Snow]. But it's also not unfair, because he was the one reading me [Greek historian] Herodotus when I was three years old.

Some parents shut off their child's intellectual development My daughter is two years old and she has a book on HMS Victory [flagship to Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar] that she loves looking at. People say to me, "Why is she reading that, she won't understand it." It's extraordinary the willingness of people to [give up] before they've even tried.

I'm keenly aware of how little we have to complain about When you spend all day reading about the Viking progress through Wessex, under Alfred the Great, it's easy to think, I'm pretty happy to be alive today. So losing my Oyster card doesn't bother me that much.

I love hedonism and anarchy but only within a plan I'm a bit military in that I need to know the logistics are in place: even if I'm going to a lovely bar on a beach in Ibiza, I cannot enjoy myself until I know how I'm getting home, and while I'm happy to get drunk, I have to set a deadline. At 3am I'm going to be going home.

Dan Snow, 35, is an author and TV historian, whose shows include 'Battlefield Britain' and 'Rome's Lost Empire'. He will be in conversation with Ben Wilson at the Curious Arts Festival, on 20 July (curiousartsfestival.com)

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