I have a theory that tour guiding is all about storytelling. If you come on one of my tours, I’m going to tell you a story. It may be a true story about history, but it is a story nonetheless. This is the guiding principle behind every tour that I create, however, this is just one way to give a tour. There are countless approaches to tour guiding, and no one way is better than the other. This is why I love to take tours whenever I visit somewhere new. I want to learn about my new surroundings, but I also love to see how other guides and companies approach tour guiding. And every so often, I get to experience something completely different. This happened last month when I had the pleasure of taking a tour with a company called Uncomfortable Oxford.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why on earth would someone want to take a tour with a company that proudly bills themselves as uncomfortable? It’s a fair question, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t asked myself that same thing in the days leading up to my visit. However, I quickly realized that getting a little uncomfortable was a good thing. In fact, it was an ingenious way of running a tour.
Uncomfortable Oxford is a company that presents history in a way that makes you part of the discussion. Over the course of an hour and a half, we made nearly a dozen stops throughout the downtown area of Oxford, and at each one, a historical story was presented where the ramifications were still playing out today. Controversial figures were discussed, contentious issues were debated, and throughout the tour, we were all asked to weigh in on what we thought about the topic at hand.
As you can imagine, asking a random group of people their thoughts on a wide variety of controversial topics is like playing with fire. You’re bound to get some responses that will make people uncomfortable. But that’s the point. These tours don’t just give you history in a nice and neat bow. They ask you to examine that history, and to debate whether or not what is written in the history books is the whole story. The past and history are often two very different things, and Uncomfortable Oxford is a company that has built its entire model around this notion to fantastic results.
At the end of the day, this type of tour will not be for everyone. Uncomfortable Oxford is named uncomfortable for a reason. With issues such as colonialism, slavery, sexism, and elitism placed front and centre, these discussions aren’t easy. But they aren’t meant to be. Instead, they ask participants to really think about history in a way that not many tour companies do. I for one, thought it was an incredible way to run a tour. This is why if you find yourself in Oxford in the near future, I highly recommend you take the plunge and get a little uncomfortable. It will be worth it, I promise!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.