Candidate Profile

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History - Art & Culture
History - Classical
History - General
Royalty & Monarchy
Vikings & Scandinavia
William Sterling took early retirement from the Civil Service in 2008. He was educated at Colfe’s Grammar School, Lee, Keele University, Birkbeck and King's College London. His BA in 1980 was joint honours in History and Geography. He specialised in Mediaeval History (Anglo-Saxons and Hundred Years War) winning the Wedgwood Prize for an essay on King Athelstan. His geography specialisms were Physical and Historical (his dissertation was a comparison of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford with the real Knutsford). As part of his degree he took subsidiary courses in Greek Studies and Music and took a concurrent Certificate in Education. He completed an MA in Historical Geography at Birkbeck in 1988 and a PhD in Anglo-Saxon History at King’s College, London in 2006.

His first job was as a History Teacher (1981-4) but most of his career was in the Civil Service in the Departments of Transport (1984-2000) and Education (2000-8). During that time he continued his teaching career on a part-time basis from 1992 onwards at Greenwich College, Bexley Adult Education College, Morley College, the City Lit and The Queen's House Greenwich. He has taught courses on both History and the History of Music. His courses at the City Lit have included the Trojan War, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Anglo-Saxon Women, Greek Heroes, the Ancient Olympic Games, Anglo-Saxon Treasures, the Duc de Berry, Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, and Russian, French, Italian, German, Austrian, Hungarian and British composers. The history courses included tours of the British Museum where he has been an official eyeOpener guide since 1994. He has been trained to give gallery talks in the Ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Roman Britain, Celtic, Mediaeval and Modern European and Enlightenment galleries and continues to do these on a regular basis. In 2013 he completed his training for the whole museum Highlights tour. One of his proudest moments was when he was one of only half a dozen guides to be asked to present tours as part of the museum’s 250th birthday party in 2003. In 2014 he was one of the speakers in the joint British Museum, City Lit and UCL Classics Day celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the death of the Emperor Augustus at the British Museum attended by 260 people. He also lectures and conducts tours for various other organisations including Cancer Research and St Christopher's Hospice.

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Lecture 1 - When Is Christmas? - Contrary to popular belief it is not 25th December. Many societies celebrate Christmas on different days but we do not acutally know when Jesus was born. It was probably not in December. It certainly was not in AD1. Using what evidence is available we look at when he was born and why we celebrate Christmas when we do.

Lecture 2 - It Happened on Christmas Day - Many events in history have happened on 25th December including the coronations of Charlemagen and William the Conqueror among others as well as the famous No-Mans-Land football match in 1914. For Americans George Washington crossing the Delaware is an iconic event in their history and there are many others.

Lecture 3 - Silent Night - Many Christmas Carols have fascinating stories behind them. If the organ had not broken would Franz Gruber ever have composed Silent Night? Whey were three ships sailing in Christmas Day? How did Wise Men become Three Kings? What do Holly and Ivy have to do with Christmas? And who exactly was Good King Wenceslas?

Lecture 4 - Christmas Customs - We have many customs at Christmas such as the food specially cooked (from turkeys to puddings with money in them and mince pies) to decorating fir trees and other evergreens as well as giving presents and having parties. Many of these date back over the centuries but their meanings have been lost. Looking at the stories behind them can be fascinating detective work.

Lecture 5++ - Christmas at Court - The way that kings and emperors have celebrated Christmas has fascinated the rest of us and not just the extravagant dining they have enjoyed. Richard II watched his guests dine from his throne set on a high dais dressed in gold and jewels, James I and VI enjoyed his first real Christmas only when he became king of England and the celebrations included the first performance of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night's Dream. Queen Victoria's Christmases improved remarkably once she had married. And there are many other rulers whose Christmas experience is worth examining.

Lecture 1 - The Beginning - the first lists were drawn up in the C5th BC but do not survive. The Classic lists date from the C2nd BC but were only fully agreed on in modern times. The oldest and only surviving Wonder from the early lists in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The story of pyramids is a fascinating one in its own right.

Lecture 2 - By the Waters of Babylon - the early lists all include Babylon but do not agree on what counted as a wonder: the walls, the Ishtar Gate or the hanging gardens. The last is usually included in the classic list but experts disagree on whether they actually existed or if they did were they actually in Babylon or somewhere else such as Nineveh.

Lecture 3 - The Golden Age of Greece - The only one of the Wonders from the Greek mainland was the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. This was the masterpiece of the sculptor and architect Phidias. although it does not survive his other work includes the Parthenon which many would include as a wonder today. His Zeus also had an influence on images of the Christian God and on portraits of kings and emperors up to Napoleon and beyond.

Lecture 4 - The Wonders of Turkey - two of the wonders were in what is now Turkey, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Both were excavated by British archaeologists in the C19th and the best remains are in the British Museum. The story of their building, destruction and rediscovery are great adventures in their own right.

Lecture 5 - Hellenistic Wonders - the last wonders to be built owe their existence to the Ptolemies of Egypt: the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos Lighthouse at Alexandria. The former lasted for the shortest time before collapsing but remained a wonder in its ruined state. The latter was one of the most influential buildings of its day and the most practical of any of the wonders. Its remains are still being discovered in the sea off the coast of Egypt.

Lecture 6 (Optional) - Modern Wonders - The Great Pyramid at Giza still stands but the other ancient wonders are long gone. so what do people think should be included in a list today? The Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Machu Pichu, St Peter's in Rome and many other candidates have been suggested so we can look at their claims and have a vote.

Lecture 1 - The Germans are Coming - even before the Roman occupation of Britain ended in 410, Germanic tribes had started to invade. From the middle of the C5th various tribes settled in different parts of the country, the Jutes in Kent, Saxons in the West Country, Sussex and Essex and the Angles in the North and Midlands.

Lecture 2 - The Return of Christianity - in 597 St Augustine led a mission to convert Kent at the same time as the followers of St Columba started to convert the North. Each kingdom converted in turn but it was only at the Synod of Whitby in 664 that all agreed to follow the Roman rite rather than the Celtic rite.

Lecture 3 - The Vikings are Coming - during the C8th Mercia became the dominant kingdom but from 789 the Vikings started to raid England and the country became increasingly unstable.

Lecture 4 - Alfred and the Vikings - by the late C9th power had shifted to Wessex but the Viking raids turned to conquest and settlement. Only Alfred the Great managed to defeat them and the reconquest of England was carried out by his son, daughter and grandson.

Lecture 5 - Vikings 1 England 0 - although the West Saxon kings reestablished their supremacy and enjoyed a golden age under Edgar, his son Ethelred the Unready was overthrown by Sweyn Forkbeard whose son, Canute, was a major European ruler. Ethelred's son, Edward the Confessor, was restored to the throne but left the kingdom in chaos at his death in 1066.

Lecture 6 - Vikings Everywhere - this lecture looks at the homelands of the Vikings in Denmark, Norway and Sweden as well as the other places they settled such as Iceland, Greenland, Dublin, Orkney, Normandy and Russia.

Lecture 1 - In the Beginning- from the mythical kings such as King Lear and Old King Cole through the kings and queens who resisted the Romans such as Caractacus and Boadicea to the Anglo-Saxons such as Alfred, Canute and Harold.

Lecture 2 - 1066 and All That - The Norman Conquest was one of the most dramatic events in English History but was only a prelude to Civil Wars and Wars against her dear neighbours, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France.

Lecture 3 - The Tudors - Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were two of England's greatest rulers but also two of the most controversial, steering their country through the problems of Succession, Religious Upheaval and Foreign Invasion.

Lecture 4 - The Stuarts - Among the most colourful of English Monarchs, the Scottish Stuarts united England and Scotland but nearly ended the monarchy with Civil War and Revolution.

Lecture 5 - The Georgians - After Scottish and Dutch rulers came German kings who stabalised the monarchy and presided over the growth of the British Empire and the development as a super power.

Lecture 6 - From Victoria to Elizabeth - The birth of the modern monarchy as figureheads but also the respected head of state able to guide and advise successive Prime Ministers from opposing political standpoints in changing times.

Lecture 1 - The Olympic Games – a description of the history of the Ancient Olympics, the site at Olympia and the games themselves

Lecture 2 - The Panathenaic Games – a description of the games at Athens and how they fitted in with the Great Panathenaic Festival

Lecture 3 - Other Games in Ancient Greece – a survey of the games at Delphi, Corinth, Nemea and elsewhere in Greece, how they differed from Olympia and Athens

Lecture 4 - Other pastimes in Ancient Greece – a survey of children’s games and other adult pursuits such as hunting

Lecture 5 - Games in Ancient Rome – a look at what the Romans added to Greek games especially in the Coliseum and other arenas such as gladiator contests

Lecture 6 - Comparing Ancient Games to Modern Games – how the ethics and practice of games in the Ancient world differed from today and how they are similar.

Lecture 1 - The Etruscans – the 12 Etruscan cities formed a loose federation that dominated central Italy from about 800 BC until the rise of Rome in the C3rd. They spoke a language unrelated to any known European language that is still largely untranslated but had a huge influence on their neighbouring Greek colonists and the Romans.

Lecture 2 - The Roman Republic – following the expulsion of the last Etruscan king in 509 BC the Roman republic was established and became the dominant force in first Italy and then the whole Western Mediterranean. Despite the brilliance of the Carthagian general Hannibal, the Romans eventually defeated their only serious rival, Carthage, and the institutions of the republic could not cope with governing an empire. This led to civil wars and dictators like Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Julius Caesar each trying to take over.

Lecture 3 - The Roman Empire – when he defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in 30 BC, Julius Caesar’s heir, Augustus, finally united the new Roman Empire under his rule as the first Emperor. For 500 years the Roman Empire was the only power around the Mediterranean and produce many extraordinary emperors from villains like Caligula, Nero and Commodus to heroes like Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantine.

Lecture 4 - The Byzantine Empire – when the empire in the west collapsed under the Germanic invasions in 476 the eastern empire went from strength to strength and lasted another 1000 years. In the C6th Justinian was so strong that he even managed to reconquer Italy briefly but his successors also played a major role in European power games for many generations afterwards.

Lecture 1 - The Origin of the Celts - from their homeland in Central Europe the Celts spread their culture and language over much of Western Europe bringing them into contact with Ancient Greece and Rome. Julius Caesar wrote about them in his Gallic Wars and they survived for longer than anywhere in the British Isles where the Romans failed to conquer them completely.

Lecture 2 - The Picts and Scots - as the Romans failed to conquer Scotland the Picts and Scots retained their Celtic identity for much longer than many places and their culture thrived in art and society. Many of the distinctly Scottish traits can be traced back to the Celts.

Lecture 3 - The Welsh - even though Wales was subdued by the Romans they managed to retain their identity and language which is still spoken widely today. The Welsh also led the resistance to Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions and produced some of the greatest warriors of the Middle Ages.

Lecture 4 - The Irish - never falling under Roman rule the Irish were Romanised by the coming of Christianity under St Patrick. As guardians in the British Isles of the new faith they developed it independently producing marvellous works such as the Book of Kells and Ardagh Chalice.

Lecture 1 – Edvard Grieg – Norway’s only truly great composer, he is most famous for his orchestral works such as his Piano Concerto and Peer Gynt Suites. Grieg was also a fine pianist and a fervent nationalist although personal tragedy and unfulfilled ambitions dogged his life. He still produced some beautiful music in many media including songs and chamber works.

Lecture 2 – Jean Sibelius – Finland’s greatest composer is best known for serious orchestral works like his Symphonies, Violin Concerto and nationalist tone poem Finlandia but also for lighter works such as Valse Triste and the Swan of Tuonela. Despite developing throat cancer in his forties, Sibelius lived to over ninety although the last thirty years were virtually silent as a composer which remains a mystery.

Lecture 3 – Carl Nielsen – Les well-known than his exact contemporary Sibelius, Denmark’s greatest composer was also renowned for his orchestral works such as his symphonies, concertos and tone poems. He also wrote operas and songs but his experimental style meant he has never enjoyed the reputation he deserves.

Lecture 4 – Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov – the youngest member of the Russian nationalist group called the Mighty Handful, he was also the most successful becoming professor at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and was described by Tchaikovsky as Russia’s Greatest Composer. He wrote glorious sparkling orchestral works such as Scheherazade as well as numerous operas but also smaller scale works which deserve to be better known.

Lecture 5 – Alexander Borodin – the illegitimate son of a Georgian nobleman, he had an excellent education and became a respected and gifted scientist, travelling extensively, lecturing and researching so he had little time for composition. Consequently, many of his works were left unfinished at his death and were completed by his friends. Nevertheless they include some of the best loved Russian works including Prince Igor, In the Steppes of Central Asia and his second symphony and second string quartet.

Lecture 6 – Modest Mussorgsky – possibly the most gifted of all the Russian nationalist composers he was also the most unlucky. Having failed to make a career in the army he also failed as a concert pianist despite a prodigious talent. His family fortune disappeared when serfdom was abolished and he spent a fortune on drink which also ruined his health. He started 12 operas but only finished one, Boris Godunov, often called the greatest Russian opera. After his death at 42 from alcoholism, his unfinished works were rescued by Rimsky-Korsakov and many such as Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bare Mountain are now concert favourites.

Lecture 1 – Operas – Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, Smyth’s The Wreckers and Britten’s Peter Grimes share common musical ideas suggesting a link over a century but other composers have also been inspired by the sea including Purcell, Bizet, Dvorak, Sullivan and Vaughan Williams.

Lecture 2 – Orchestral Works – Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage and Hebrides , Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Grace Williams’s Sea Sketches, Walton’s Portsmouth Point, Sibelius’s Oceanides, Dvorak’s Sea Witch and Debussy’s La Mer

Lecture 3 – Choral Works – Some of the most evocative sea music is found in Arne’s Rule Britannia, Delius’s Sea Drift, Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony and parts of Haydn’s Creation and other oratorios

Lecture 4 – Sea shanties and hornpipes – these have always been popular and inspired settings from Haydn and Beethoven to songs from Russell’s Life on the Ocean Waves and Head’s Quiqueremes of Nineveh to settings by Arnold and Sir Henry Wood at the Last Night of the Proms and more serious works like Elgar’s Sea Pictures

Lecture 5 – Pirates – although pirates are not to be encouraged at sea several composers have celebrated their musical potential from Bellini’s Il Pirata, through Berlioz’s Le Corsair Overture and Lanchberry’s ballet Le Corsair to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and film music for the Sea Hawk, Captain Blood and Pirates of the Caribbean

Lecture 6 – Storm at Sea – perhaps not the ideal thing to talk about on a cruise but storm music has inspired many composers from Vivaldi’s Tempesta di Mare through Beethoven’s, Berlioz’s and Tchaikovsky’s works inspired by Shakespeare’s Tempest.

Lecture 1 - Brush Up Your Shakespeare: - An introduction to Shakespeare’s plays and the breadth of music and art they inspired. The first examples will be taken from near contemporary sources and those in the following centuries.

Lecture 2 - Love’s Labours: - Some Music and Art inspired by Shakespeare’s great love stories, especially Romeo and Juliet but also Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and others.

Lecture 3 - Midsummer Dreams: - Some of Shakespeare’s fantasies especially Midsummer Night’s Dream but other supernatural phenomena such as ghosts as well.

Lecture 4 - The Scandinavian Connection: - To celebrate being in Scandinavian waters the art and music inspired by Hamlet will be examined. Finland’s greatest composer, Sibelius, was also inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. [NB this could be changed to Italian or Greek Connection]

Lecture 5 - All At Sea: - Much of Shakespeare takes place when characters are marooned on unknown shores (The Tempest, Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night etc) and this inspired much music and art with a naval flavour.

Lecture 6 - All’s Well That Ends: - A Summary of the earlier talks and some examples taken from Twentieth Century Music and Art including some Popular ones.
My first experience as a Cruise lecturer was on the Ocean Countess in 2011 when I gave six lectures on "The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings" during a Baltic cruise which left from the North East of England. I tailored the talks to include much early history of the North East including slides of places several of the passengers recognised. The Viking part of the talks included as many of the stops we were travelling to including Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.

My latest experience was on the Saga Pearl II in 2016 when I gave five lectures on "Music and Art Inspired by Shakespeare" as part of the celebrations of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary. As the cruise was to the Gulf of Bothnia in midsummer I adapted the series to accommodate the experience with one talk based around Midsummer Night's Dream and one on his connections with Scandinavia.
As a lecturer at the City Lit, the UK's largest provider of Adult Education, as well as a gallery guide at the British Museum, the most visited attraction in the UK, I have a considerable experience of talking to a wide variety of people from all backgrounds, of all ages and from all over the World. I am continually writing new courses and can tailor any of these to suit any cruise. In 2016 two of my new courses were on Shakespeare and the Seven Wonders of the World, both of which are of general interest to most potential audiences. I have recently been appointed as a lecturer at the National Maritime Museum so my connection to naval history and experiences is about to embark on new discoveries.

For Christmas Cruises I have devised a series called Christmas Past which looks at the first Christmas, the stories behind Christmas Customs and Christmas Carols, events in the past on Christmas Day and how rulers have celebrated Christmas in the Past.
The following recent Cruise History has been recorded for this candidate.
Saga Pearl 11 P2155 White Nights in the Gulf of Bothnia 15 Dover Sunday, June 19, 2016