Oh, History Channel…

Where did all the history go, History Channel?

When I was in junior high and high school, I would often come home from school, grab a snack, and plop in front of the TV.  Back then, I had a variety of channels from which I would usually indulge.  I liked to watch MTV, for example, for the music videos, but then they stopped playing music videos so I switched to VH1 until it, too, stopped playing music videos.  Eventually, I gave up on the genre.  In some respects, this corresponds directly with my experience with The History Channel.

In that variety of channels I mentioned, The History Channel figured prominently.  I enjoyed documentaries about many different subjects, extending to historical dramas which featured notes about the historical accuracy at the opening and conclusion of the film–this is how I was first introduced to Richard Sharp who debuted in Sharp’s Rifles, originally a book and series by Bernard Cornwell about Britain’s soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars.  Several films were adapted from the books he wrote.  I soon after began to read the series.

There is some history, here, by way of “stuff.”

It is hard to imagine such programming, today, on The History Channel.  Once referred to as the “Hitler and Aliens Channel,” one seldom even gets that, anymore!  Instead, the channel has become consumed by reality shows of the bizarro.  I’m not saying that the hipper or edgier versions of Antiques Roadshow are completely devoid of historical value, and some of it is interesting Americana based on the bits I have seen while flipping channels, but the historical value of Swamp People and Ice Road Truckers utterly eludes me.  One might argue that they are creating primary source material, until one remembers that the reality show genre is anything but reality–because, who would watch that, The Truman  Show hypothesis notwithstanding?

So, all of this sets up the fact that The History Channel got me, hoodwinked me, snuck one over on me!  I still get their e-mails, because I have previously purchased material from The History Channel shop, so I was stupidly excited when I got an e-mail from them, subject heading, “Time’s Running Out! Order You Halloween Costume Today!”  Oh foolish, naive, innocent!  I love the idea of historical and literary costumes–even made some suggestions last year–but The History Channel disappointed me in a way that only it could…

Swamp People? And, by the way, a baseball cap does not a costume make!

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2 Comments

Filed under Historian's Journal

2 responses to “Oh, History Channel…

  1. Erika: I’ve shared your frustration with Swamp People and the like, but history is finding its way back to the History Channel. They recently started a series on 19th century American industrialists. A general history of the world, Mankind: The Story of All of Us, is scheduled to air on 11/13. (In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the companion book to Mankind.)

  2. They’ve always had good stuff in places, the trick is finding it! They have few series that are consistently devoted to historical inquiry and which you are likely to find if you happen to be sitting down in the evening wondering what you might like to watch on TV. The evening line-up is loaded with reality TV. I’m hardly condemning everything they’ve put out–I own some History Channel programs that I am quite happy with and use a handful in my instruction. But, where I once sought out the station precisely for its programming, it is mostly an afterthought well behind the DVR and sports.

    The American industrialism is a great concept–I hope it lives up to the billing. Mankind sounds like quite a handful; in fact, it sounds like you wrote a world history textbook! What was that process like?

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