The Lighter Side of History

26 November 2018 Comments Off on The Lighter Side of History


The Age of Exploration, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason) were arguably the periods most important in shaping the political and social structures and ideas of the modern world. The 10-minute-long lecture “Age of Exploration” by Tom Richey provides a brief overview, from which you’ll learn a bit more than the usual list of names and ship routes. Then move on to “History of Ideas: The Renaissance” from The School of Life channel, which covers not only the history of ideas, but also philosophy and literature, as well as other topics. This episode goes beyond the surface explanations found in most sources to elaborate upon the dynamics of this period. For example, it explains why wealthy patrons supported artists. An overview of the Enlightenment can be found in “All About the Enlightenment: The Age of Reason” by A.H.S. Chavez. All of these developments ultimately led to the French Revolution, which you can learn about in detail by watching “The French Revolution History Channel” posted by Fault of the Stars. (Searching for “History Channel” on YouTube will lead you to a variety of other excellent documentaries.) If this highly informative documentary is too long for you, for the time being satisfy yourself with the “The French Revolution” video on the CrashCourse channel.

While CrashCourse, managed by author John Green, covers many subjects, its World History playlist is especially recommendable. Consisting of just over forty episodes of approximately ten minutes each, it begins with “The Agricultural Revolution” and ends with topics such as “The Cold War,” “Decolonization” and “Globalization.” The videos consist mostly of John Green talking, but there are animated segments as well. He’s quite witty, and each video has many components, such as the Open Letter section and the Thought Bubble, that add diversity to the content. The videos themselves aren’t detailed enough for those with a serious interest in history, but give a sufficient overview while being humorous. Due to the broad variety of subject matter, it’s possible to find content you can’t on other channels. If someone said to me, “I don’t have time for all of the videos mentioned in your column, so which one would you recommend the most?” I would recommend this, the World History playlist on CrashCourse. After that, you might want to look at further titles, such as “Conflict in Israel and Palestine” or “War & Human Nature.” This channel also has an excellent Government and Politics playlist.

A few additional history channels are worth mentioning, such as Feature History. The animations in their videos are less cartoon-like than those of CrashCourse, but the narration is humorous while delivering key points. It covers less conventional subjects; for instance, watch “Feature History: Emu War” for the “war” between the Australian Army and the emus, or “Feature History: History of the Duel.” We can also mention The Armchair Historian, with titles such as “How Did Napoleon Lose in Russia?” and “How did Britain Conquer India?” The channel Suibhne features animations on the histories of individual countries, for instance, the “Animated History of Spain.” Finally, you might want to check out the Wendover Productions videos on “China’s Geography Problem” and “India’s Geography Problem” to appreciate an important determinant for these two countries, whose future role is much speculated on.

Richard Bulliet, in the introductory lecture to his Columbia University “History of the World” course, explains the politics behind the establishment of a world history curriculum in the United States. When the dominance of American and European history in curricula was challenged, it led to politically charged discussion of what should be taught as world history, and how it should be taught. As an active participant in the process and an author, Bulliet sheds light on why the teaching of history, more than any other subject, is such a sensitive issue. It’s very interesting to compare this discussion with the issues surrounding the development of history curricula around the world.

DW Documentary is a German channel with English documentaries on YouTube. Here you’ll find the series “The Germans,” describing the events taking place in the region we now know as Germany, from roughly 800 CE to the late 1800s. The goal is to educate people on the formation of the German identity and how Germany developed through the ages, eventually becoming a unified country through the efforts of Otto von Bismarck. Episodes include those about famous Holy Roman Emperors, the Protestant Reformation, Prussian military campaigns and the unification of Germany. They focus a bit too much on great leaders, castles, palaces and military campaigns; it would have given better perspective to be able to see what ordinary life was like as well. Also, there might be some amount of German bias and, interestingly, it seems they avoided the World Wars. If you want a taste, you can watch “The Germans: Bismarck and the German Empire.”

You can watch an animation of the map of Europe over the past 2,400 years in “The Rulers of Europe: Every Year,” which, as its name implies, not only shows how the borders change through time, but also displays the names of the rulers governing each territory. For instance, you can follow the shifting borders of the Ottoman Empire and the succession of its rulers
If you’re looking for something even lighter to recommend to a younger sibling or relative, a good option may be Timeblazers, a Canadian TV series, many of whose episodes can be found on YouTube. The protagonists Sam and Jen take on all kinds of roles and enact historical events with a humor that appeals to younger audiences. Don’t be embarrassed to watch it yourself, but don’t have high expectations.