Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
26 May 2021updated 03 Aug 2021 12:31pm

A Somewhat Complete History of Sitting Down is brisk, curious and fun

In this Audible series, historian Greg Jenner persuasively makes the case that the story of “who gets to sit, and on what, and when, and why, is often a microcosmic glimpse into society’s rules”.  

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Are you sitting comfortably? Then why not begin this series from the public historian Greg Jenner on sitting through the ages, available now to Audible subscribers. “Every person we spoke to, without fail, laughed when we told them the idea for this series,” he says. “How on earth would we fill eight episodes with such a niche, mundane topic which we all ignore for a reason?” But Jenner persuasively makes the case that the story of “who gets to sit, and on what, and when, and why, is often a microcosmic glimpse into society’s rules”.

[See also: Armando Iannucci’s Why Time Flies is a delightful radio documentary]

Though we might think of sitting down as a passive act, or a kind of inaction (evident, as Jenner points out, in phrases such as “sitting around”, “sitting it out” or “sitting on the fence”), this light-hearted and energetic podcast explores how the act of sitting can be much more: an expression of wealth or power, or an invitation to conversation. Jenner describes himself in typically self-deprecating turns as someone who “mostly just sit[s] on [his] arse, at home, all day long, reading, writing, podcasting and writing stupid jokes on Twitter” – but listeners may know him for his popular history podcast You’re Dead To Me. (He has also worked as a historical consultant on the BBC’s Horrible Histories comedy television series, which gives you an idea of how often toilets will feature in the programme.)

Jenner brings on well-known experts – including the lexicographer Susie Dent, anthropologist Alice Roberts and the Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson – to discuss the earliest Neolithic seats, the thrones of Tutankhamun, and the reclining  ancient Greeks.

[See also: BBC Four’s Delia Derbyshire doc is a triumphant portrait of a brilliant woman]

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

The tone is always brisk, curious and fun (Jenner chuckles along as he talks to his guests, or interrupts interviews to crack jokes), but remains informative. Jenner discusses typical home furniture through time, as well as ceremonial chairs, seats of power, Japanese toilets, classroom seating, sex chairs, wheelchairs and even the electric chair to explore the role that sitting down plays in every conceivable society from the ancient world to the present day. In what seems like a narrow topic, he finds an  endless variety of diverting avenues.

A Somewhat Complete History of Sitting Down 
Audible

Content from our partners
Keeping water at the top of the agenda
Pioneering better mental health behind the scenes

This article appears in the 26 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new Toryism