The New History Channel Is YouTube, But Can We Trust The Experts?

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tags: digital history, YouTube, public engagement


Last week I noted how YouTube Has Become Bigger Than MTV Ever Was For Music Videos, and YouTube already offers more videos on history than The History Channel (or its spinoffs) ever could. Thanks to dozens – if not hundreds – of armchair historians, affordable video editing software and a desire for 15 minutes of fame each day there are new and well-crafted videos of a historic nature.


However, there is a downside to this new trend where everyone with a camera, a few books and an itch to tell a story can press record and spout off their "knowledge." Many of the history videos on YouTube look great, but the information presented rarely goes into much depth.

Instead of documentaries with multiple sources we instead are presented with highly polished lectures that present one person's take on past events or items from history. Rarely do these individuals offer what research they did, or how they drew their conclusions.

In some cases the information is inaccurate or worse, biased.

"On the negative side there is a lot amateurism and false information," warned Dye. "To a true student of history or just a history buff you have to be more discriminating and recognize the BS when it is out there. There is no BS filter."

While it has been said that history is written by the victors, when it comes to making a documentary history is all too often one for the revisionists. This is certainly true with videos about controversial subjects from the American Civil War to the Holocaust to the recent conflict in the Ukraine.

Where the actual History Channel would have never aired some biased documentaries, YouTube has provided a platform for conspiracy theorists and worse to spread their narrative.


"In an academic environment there would be peer review," added Dye. "However, with YouTube virtually anyone can set himself up as a knowledgeable source. Those of us who use YouTube to scratch the itch need to be discriminating in what we watch, and perhaps we will learn to be."