AHRC Project: Televising History 1995-2010

Televising History 1995-2010 is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project led by Prof Ann Gray, looking at history on television past and present, funded for 4 years from 1 March 2006.

The Project

Since the 1990s non-fiction history programming has flourished on British and other national televisions. This interdisciplinary project asks how do we get the kinds of television histories we do, and why. Starting with the relationship between the academy and media professionals, through commissioning and programme making, the study will explore the often competing professional discourses about how to ‘do’ history. Key sub-genres will be identified and analysis will examine how historical meanings are achieved. A small-scale user study will be conducted in an educational context to explore the kinds of knowledge produced about the past.

Focussing on ‘non-fiction’ programming the four year project examines the different genres employed by producers and seeks to track their commissioning, production, marketing and distribution histories. A key focus is the relationship between ‘public history’ and academic history. Through a number of case studies, including interviews with academic and media professionals involved in history programming, the Director and Research Fellow will analyse the role of the ‘professional’ historian and producer/directors as mediators of historical material and interpretations. In addition the project includes a ‘user’ study and a close analysis of programming and related texts.

Research undertaken by the two PhD students attached to the project will include a user study of history programming in schools. How and what kind of history is taught in schools via the National Curriculum is a contentious area and subject of recent political debate. Our research to date has identified that many teachers use special history programming made for schools, and more general broadcast material, in the classroom. This research will particularly focus upon Years 7 to 9, comparing the use of TV history with its use in GCSE History (Years 10 and 11) lessons.

The second student will research the articulation of ideas about the past through different televisual forms, including comparative analysis of programming produced in the four nations of Britain, and in other European nations. Existing methods of analysis will be developed in order to address questions of claims to truth and authenticity, and examine the ways in which historical meanings are produced, with particular reference to national identity.

The Advisory Board

Members of the Advisory Board will be selected from media organisations, the academy and education in order to bring their range of expertise to the project and to facilitate dialogue across the different professional areas. They will be invited to an annual meeting in Lincoln when the Project Team will report on progress and invite feedback and comment. Given their knowledge and experience of different aspects of the research their individual insights will also be sought through an interview by members of the team.

Symposia and other activities

  • A ‘Televising History’ symposium was held in Lincoln in July 2005, with contributions from British and overseas Scholars.
  • In year two of the Project a symposium will be held for Postgraduate Research Students and Scholars and another for Media Professionals and Scholars.
  • In the final year a major symposium will be held at the University of Lincoln to bring together Media Professionals and Scholars from different parts of Europe and members of the Advisory Board for a final presentation of the Project.

Publication and dissemination of research findings

Proceedings from the first Televising History symposium will be published in the collection Televising History: the pasts on the small screen.

A chapter, 'History on Television: charisma, narrative and knowledge' by Erin Bell and Ann Gray in the forthcoming H. Wheatley (ed.), Re-viewing Television History (I. B. Tauris 2006) is also based on material collected in recent research and interviews.

A special issue of the European Journal of Cultural Studies on Televising History will be published in February 2007.

Conference papers will be presented at a number of national and international venues and further publications will also follow.

A Project website is under construction which will provide information, networks and relevant contacts for interested parties.

Local and national media have already expressed an interest in the project and interviews have been broadcast on the findings to date. The project will seek to disseminate the findings through these and other publicly accessible media.

Director: Prof Ann Gray
Reader in Media and Cultural Studies

Research Fellow: Dr Erin Bell