The historian said “nobody ever explained” to the men—eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan—that women could not be treated in this way.
Dr Starkey called for better teaching of English history to create a “common identity” and overcome the challenges of multiculturalism.
But the comments are likely to prompt condemnation just a day after the men were handed sentences of between four and 19 years for the offences.
Liverpool Crown Court heard the group plied five victims with drink and drugs and “passed them around” for sex.
The girls were abused at two takeaway restaurants in the Heywood area of Rochdale by the men aged between 24 and 59. The takeaways are now under new management. Speaking at a conference staged by Brighton College, the private school in East Sussex, Dr Starkey said that the “only way we are going to get to be able to survive as a multi-cultural society is if we re-address the story—the real story—of English history”.
The historian, author of books including Elizabeth and The Private Life of Henry VIII, said: “If you want to look at what happens when you have no sense of common identity, look at Rochdale and events in Rochdale, where you have groups that are absolutely and mutually uncomprehending.
“Those men were acting within their own cultural norms. Nobody ever explained to them that the history of women in Britain was once rather similar to that in Pakistan and it had changed.”
He said a “genuine approach to the teaching of English history” should look at the origins of modern feminism.
“It is a fundamental story,” he said. “And it seems to me that if we are to make this highly diverse society work, and I desperately hope that we do, what we should be focusing on is the astonishing record of change without revolution in English history in which the political system of king, lords and commoners, has proved flexible enough to spread from a tiny deeply selective electorate to a wider and wider group who have been incorporated, have been brought in and made to feel welcome.”
Last year, Dr Starkey provoked controversy after blaming “black culture” for initiating the London riots, saying that in today’s society “whites have become black”.