29 July 2021
Journalist and tour guide Ryan Latto talks to History Scotland about Unearthed, a history podcast that aims to dissect the truth behind some of Scottish history’s greatest myths.
Ryan is a multimedia journalist and photographer with a background in emergency nursing and international development. In our exclusive interview, he explains how the Covid-19 pandemic led to the creation of his podcast.
What was the biggest professional challenge you faced during the Covid-19 lockdown?
Like so many freelancers I lost all of my work overnight. I had no real professional body to fall back on either... nor any money. After a few months of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make a show I knew I wanted to listen to. I never knew if I would improve unless I had a boss checking my work, but now I like to think every episode of Unearthed improves on the last and I have people supporting me, especially from listeners and the Big Light podcast network. It’s hard to take the leap and trust your own skills, but that is when you create your best work.
The concept behind Unearthed is that journalism has forgotten about history. What do you think as a society we could do to remedy that?
Politicians on TV say one thing one week, and then the opposite thing the following week. It feels like the 24-hour news cycle has a bit of amnesia when it comes to recent events and holding power to account. Whether blatant political lies, or something extremely complicated like a war or conflict, I rarely hear the context being explained thoroughly enough, often allowing those in power to get away with a lot more than they used to. That said, it is not the journalists' fault. The news is the way it is because we wanted it that way - fast and flashy. The world is neither of those things and if we want to actually understand what is happening, we need to slow down.
Through your work as a tour guide, what did you find were people's main misconceptions about Scottish history and in particular the history of Edinburgh?
I find tourists extremely open to learning as much about our history as they can. Very few come with preloaded ideas of Scotland other than a slightly romantic view of people like Mary Queen of Scots, or events like Culloden of Bannockburn. But I think we all fall prey to that here too. But, through my work I have uncovered several different angles on long-told tales. For example, the way that in Edinburgh Major Thomas Weir, the 17th century Covenanter, is still seen as the mystical, fun ‘Wizard of Westbow’, when he was a sexual predator and assaulted many women. The idea that our history was written correctly the first-time is a misconception that most of us share. Afterall, history is rarely told by its victims.
What do you think journalists can teach historians?
I'd like to see Scottish history more accessible to the public. There are so many incredible people working on amazing new angles about our past that could easily be made interesting to those outside of academia. Making something popular doesn’t mean diluting its importance either. I’m often reminded of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet Two that used an emotive soundtrack written by Hanz Zimmer and stunning cinematography to hit home the increasingly alarming message about climate change. Now we pour scorn on the plastic straw.
Find out more
Listen to Unearthed.
To learn more about Ryan's work, visit his website.