Blogs > Cliopatria > Tele-history

Jul 16, 2005 11:23 pm


Alun, at his eponymous archeology blog, hits a subject that is probably close to many historians' fears: the television documentary that tries to show that some long held fact is actually false. Can good history also be good television? As Alun points out, the goals of television programming differ greatly from an archeological excavation. Usual suspect Sharon weighs in as well, noting that many of these shows search for a single source -- missing link that debunk years of thorough research.

Television clearly is not academia, which is its major drawback as a vehicle for history (or archeology). It likes to tell a linear story; more often than not that story is not what happened (if that can be portrayed with certainty), but a revelatory narrative in which old knowledge gives way to new. Tele-history may tell more about the present than the past, casting doubt on the traditional methods of the academy and replacing them with something else, more often than not technology (as in the PBS documentary on the map of Vinland that I discussed). Unfortunately, these technological sources are not themselves unimpeachable, and the producers must change the questions that have been asked by historians in order to fit the methods they wish to employ.

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