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Bringing the Past to Life? History, Historians and Television

Level 4, 10 Credits.

Available Dates:

Not Presently Available.
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Course Description

How do the makers of historical documentaries go about the job of ‘reconstructing’ the past? Through a series of lively interactive case studies, this course will analyse the tensions between academic and ‘popular’ history. Whereas historians seek to be objective and interpretative, carefully weighing up opposing viewpoints, television demands a straightforward narrative that entertains the viewers sufficiently that they do not switch over, or switch off. Yet history programmes are a staple of the television schedules, and can sometimes succeed in being both ratings-winners and educative. Over recent years, the changing fashions of programme-making have added to the range of styles available to make history documentaries, some of which can be problematic for academic historians, leading to criticisms that history on television is not ‘proper’ history. However, the historian can also use television history to gauge the different ways in which history has been used to advance certain points of view. The course will explore how, in both a Welsh and a British context, history programmes can act as manufacturers of identity.

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone with an interest in history and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Exploring the Past pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and Teaching

This course consists of three day schools, each of which comprises three thematic units. Each day school will include lectures, viewings of examples of TV history, class discussions and debates, pair-work and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills. There will also be opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the university’s Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Central.

Coursework and Assessment

Students will be expected to provide two pieces of assessed work: a 500 word review and a 1000 word essay. Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

David Cannadine (ed.), History and the Media (Basingstoke and New York, 2004)

Graham Roberts & Philip M Taylor (eds.) The Historian, Television and Television History (Luton, 2001)

Colin Thomas, ‘When was Welsh History?: Professor Gwyn Alf Williams and Welsh History on television’ in Geraint H. Jenkins ed., Cymru a’r Cymru 2000 / Wales and the Welsh 2000 (2001) pp. 141-55

European Journal of Cultural Studies, February 2007 (vol. 10 no.1) – [Special edition on ‘History and Television’, available online via Cardiff University Library electronic journals]

Tristram Hunt, ‘Reality, Identity and Empathy: The Changing Face of Social History Television’, Journal of Social History (2006) 39 (3) pp. 843-58.

Simon Schama, ‘Television and the trouble with history’ (2002 lecture, BBC History Magazine, July & August 2002; edited transcript available via,,739347,00.html )

Library and Computing Facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University library and computing facilities. You can find out more about these facilities on our website under Student Information, or by ringing the Centre on (029) 2087 0000.

Accessibility of Courses

Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and Dyslexia screening. Please contact the Centre on (029) 2087 0000 for an information leaflet.

Further Information

A range of further information can be found on our web site or in Choices.  This includes the times and dates of courses and an explanation of accreditation and credit levels.