Charles Freeman

Biography


Charles Freeman (born 1947) is a freelance academic historian with wide interests in the history of European culture and thought. While supposedly studying Law at Cambridge he was spending his summers working on archaeological digs in Turkey, Greece or Italy. After graduation he spent a year teaching in the Sudan, the only European for many miles in the Islamic north. He has a Master’s Degree in African History and Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He then became a full time teacher after completing his Diploma in Education at Cambridge with Distinctions in the Psychology of Education and the Teaching of History. He has a further Master’s Degree in Applied Research in Education from the University of East Anglia where he specialised in a comparative study of sixth form courses in international history.

In 1978 Charles was appointed Head of History at St. Clare’s, Oxford where he helped initiate the International Baccalaureate, then in its early days. He went on to become Director of the Course at St. Clare’s, spending one year on exchange as Head of History at Lester Pearson College of the Pacific in Canada. He remained an examiner in History for the IB and a senior examiner in the Theory of Knowledge course, which is designed to encourage student-centred critical thinking, until 2007. While at St. Clare’s he was also Lecturer and then Academic Director of the college’s Summer Course in History and Art History in Italy.

Among Charles Freeman’s early books for schools, his Terrorism (Batsford, 1980) was widely praised and his Defence (Batsford, 1982) won the Senior Award as the Times Educational Supplement’s Information Book of the Year (1983). In 1990 Charles Freeman was appointed Chief Writer on a twelve volume history of the world. The project collapsed three years later but he was able to rewrite the early volumes as Egypt, Greece and Rome, Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean, Oxford University Press, now in its third edition (2014) and with a Chinese edition forthcoming in 2018. It is widely used in the US and elsewhere as an introductory text and has now sold over 80,000 copies. He followed this up with The Greek Achievement (Penguin 1999), The Legacy of Ancient Egypt (Facts on File, 1997) and The Closing of the Western Mind, a study of the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christianity in the fourth century and beyond. This has sold particularly well in the United States (c. 70,000 copies, 85,000 copies worldwide) and Charles was guest speaker at a series of Roundtable Conferences on Faith and Reason in the US, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in March 2008. With a mass of new material on the issues having been published in the last ten years, he is anxious to update Closing, perhaps in a new format focusing more on the ‘reopening’ of the Western mind in the medieval and Renaissance period.

His The Horses of St. Mark’s (Little Brown, 2004, US edition, Overlook Press, 2010) is a study of these famous works of art in their historical contexts over the centuries. His AD 381, Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State was been published in the UK by Pimlico in 2008 (US edition, Overlook Press, January 2009) and argues that the year 381, when the emperor Theodosius imposed Christianity on the empire, is a neglected turning point in the history of European thought. His A New History of Early Christianity was published by Yale University Press (September 2009). It was named as one of the ‘Non-Fiction Books of the Year’ by the Scotsman newspaper. His study of relics, Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe, also Yale, was published in April 2011. Reviews of both these books can be found on the Yale US website (and they are now published in Italian by Einaudi).

Charles Freeman has taught Ancient History for Cambridge University’s Extramural programme and in recent years has developed a study tour programme of the Mediterranean. His 2014-17 schedule includes Genoa, Bologna, the Peloponnese, Istanbul, Dalmatia, Puglia, Calabria and Naples. In 2008 he began developing a tour programme in Greece and Turkey for Ciceroni Travel, a small cultural travel company. He has taken two tours to classical Greece, one to the classical cities of southern Turkey and two to Istanbul. He lectures and conducts study days in the UK.

In 2005 Charles was appointed to the Editorial Board of the Blue Guides as Historical Consultant and he has written the historical introductions to several volumes of the new editions including Rome, Florence, Venice and Mainland Greece. He reviews books on historical and cultural issues for the Blue Guides website. He is also the author of The Blue Guide Sites of Antiquity, Fifty Sites that Explain the Classical World (Somerset Books, 2009). In 2003, Charles Freeman was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

In November 2014, Charles published an 8,400 word article in the UK magazine History Today on the origins of the Shroud of Turin. The dimensions and weaves of the cloth are typical of a medieval treadle loom while the iconography of the images can be dated firmly to the fourteenth century. The original painting had since disintegrated leaving the faded but haunting images we see today on the discoloured textile. He further argued that as the medieval pilgrims would only have had the gospel accounts as sources, no forger would ever have convinced that this was the authentic Shroud. Its original function may have, in fact, been as a ceremonial grave cloth used in the well-documented Quem Queritis rituals at which a grave cloth was displayed on Easter Sunday to show that Christ had risen. The well-known Lirey pilgrim badge of the Shroud would appear to show this exposition.

Charles has four children. His son Barney is a successful composer. His daughter Issie works for Flora and Fauna, the international conservation charity, and is a qualified yoga teacher. His son Tom is a psychologist working as Culture Manager for the 150 staff of Headspace in their Santa Monica, California, office. His second daughter, Cordy, is a Latin American specialist teaching at Nottingham University following a PhD on the historical, political and economic background to the border between northern Chile and Peru.

Charles lives with his second wife, Lydia, near Framlingham in Suffolk.

Titles by the Author