More than 400 people aged between 16 and 80, attending a public lecture on history at Millfield school, Somerset, last month, were asked what had inspired their interest in the subject.
Among the over-60s, a third said studying at school - for the 40 to 60-year-olds the figure rose to 41 per cent. It peaked for 16 to 40-year-olds, with 64 per cent saying they had been inspired by lessons.
The over-60s were most likely to be inspired by reading factual history (31 per cent) and by watching history on TV (28 per cent). Only 2 per cent of 16 to 40-year-olds were inspired by TV or reading.
Alf Wilkinson, from the Historical Association, and a history teacher for 28 years, was not surprised by the results. "It has become increasingly common for parents at parents' evenings to say they hated history at school but wished they were doing it now. And when the over-60s were at school it was all facts, dates, kings and queens and learning by rote."
He said that the advent of comprehensive education and the introduction of history teaching that emphasised understanding and skills rather than dry facts had helped to increase the subject's popularity. It was also easier to teach modern periods of history with video, audio and internet resources.
Ben Vessey, head of history at Millfield, a co-educational boarding school, said: "I thought the young might have been more inspired by TV than the elderly. But the reason could be that history at school now includes TV much more than it used to."
The audience at the lecture heard David Starkey, one of TV's highest-profile historians, give a talk on Henry VIII, which may explain why they voted the Tudor period as the most popular in history, with 21 per cent of the votes. The medieval period came next with 8 per cent followed by the Victorians with 7 per cent.
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