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KITE festival 2022

Flying High as a KITE

Kirtlington Park
KITE is set in the grounds of the spectacular Palladian mansion in Kirtlington, Oxfordshire.

When we first heard of KITE festival, held between 10 and 12 June 2022 in the Capability Brown grounds of an eighteenth-century Oxfordshire mansion, we weren’t entirely sure that it was our ‘thing’. There were some fantastic speakers lined up, talking on some fascinating topics, but we were concerned that a website entirely focused on history would be out of place in a field full of musical acts, activists, and celebrities. However, it was close by, the weather was good, and we really couldn’t overlook the chance to see some of the most interesting minds the country – and beyond – has to offer.

Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at KITE.

It was with some trepidation, then, that Get History in our official guise attended, but we are so pleased we did. Sandwiched in the fields between the polo grounds and the imposing Cotswold-stone Palladian house at Kirtlington, KITE festival was a mass of colour and sound. With six separate stages, at any one time it was possible to wander between traditional Zimbabwean music and modern DJ sets, between discussions about the latest fads in technology and the changing faces of history, and between stand-up comedy and poetry lessons. Complementing the ambienceThe character and atmosphere of a place. was a cornucopia of enticing smells emanating from the diverse selection of street food, taking the visitor from Vietnam for lunch to Italy for dinner. Then there were the quirky stalls, selling everything from feathered headdresses to retro clothing, alongside the Blackwell’s bookshop and Truck record shop, where a selection of books and LPs could be signed by their creators. Lounging in one of the many seating areas or reclining on the sun-kissed grass, music fans and bookworms mingled with celebrities, enjoying a drink from one of the many bars or simply soaking up the atmosphere.

Olusoga and Dalrymple
Popular historians William Dalrymple and David Olusoga discuss the changing nature of history with Tortoise Media's Emma Benn.

As lovely as the general feeling of the festival was, it was the talks we were really excited about, and we weren’t disappointed. Along with the giants of popular history, such as David Olusoga and William Dalrymple, there were speakers who, while less well known, were equally as interesting. History authors like Sathnam Sanghera and Thomas Harding talked about empire and experience, bringing in some of the biggest issues of today, while political greats such as David Miliband, Rory Stewart and Andrew Neil debated crisis leadership, war and justice, and modern politics. Then there were the informal discussions – or ‘ThinkIns’ – organized and led by the up-and-coming Tortoise Media, a collection of talented individuals brought together to change the way the news is understood and written. These talks dealt with such weighty topics as ‘Can democracy save itself?’ and ‘Can white debt ever be repaid?’, facilitating conversation between the audience and experts as well as eliciting some headline-grabbing one-liners from interviewees. For this experience alone, the festival was worth it.

Tortoise media KITE
'Has the West lost?' ask Tortoise Media during one of the many of the weekend's ThinkIns.

As with every festival, some of the programme appealed more than other parts, but this is the beauty of KITE. Individual acts or talks may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is always something to attract and hold the attention. The free-flow style, without the need for tickets to individual events, made for an organic experience: each member of the audience could test the water before deciding whether they wanted to take the plunge. In doing so, the visitor could be surprised, challenged, entertained, and enlightened. Ideas were tried and tested, opinions confirmed or changed. It inspired, and it expanded horizons, and this was only its first year. With such an eclectic mix providing nourishment for the mind and music for the soul, we can’t wait to return next year.


For more information on KITE, click here.

Images courtesy of KITE festival.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).