York History Weekend: 5 minutes with Philip Mansel

Since its conquest by the Ottoman empire in 1516, Aleppo had a relatively peaceful history. It was primarily a trading city, called the ‘emporium of the Orient world’. Only since the outbreak of civil war in Syria have relations between communities broken down. At our York History Weekend this November, Philip Mansel will chart the city’s remarkable past

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Ahead of his talk ‘Aleppo: from World City to Ghost City’, we caught up with Philip to find out more and to learn about his passion for history…

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Q: How and when did you first realise you had a passion for history?

A: Travelling with my parents to the Chateaux of the Loire in the 1960s and loving the dramas of French history.

Q: Why do you love your period of history?

A: I particularly love the 18th and 19th centuries, as the participants – especially in France – wrote so well. The memoirs of Madame de Boigne and Madame de La Tour du Pin are masterpieces, as are those of François-René de Chateaubriand.

Q: Which other historical areas fascinate you and why?

A: I love the history of the Ottoman empire, in part because it is so international. I also love the history of cities, and the ways in which it can challenge conventional national and religious narratives.

Q: Which history book(s) are you reading at the moment?

A: Anything I can find on Louis XIV, on whom I am writing a biography. I’m also reading a biography of Louis’ war minister, the Marquis de Louvois (1641–91), by Andre Corvisier.

Q: Are there any developments in your field that are really exciting you at the moment?

A: The growth of court history, which shows the many links between dynasties and court culture in London, Paris, the Hague and the rest of Europe. I helped found the Society for Court Studies. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to about the York History Weekend?

A: Meeting other historians and members of the public, and seeing the city of York.

Q: What can we expect from your talk at York?

A: I want it to show that the great Arabic city of Aleppo was also part of Ottoman French, British and global history, and to encourage listeners to contribute to charities which help Syrians.

Philip Mansel is a historian and author who specialises in the Middle East and France. His latest book is Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City (2016).

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You can find out more about our York History Weekend, and Philip’s talk, ‘Aleppo: from World City to Ghost City’, here.