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Televising History

Two experts from the University of Lincoln have conducted an extensive study into televised history programmes, shining a spotlight on the sections of society that are being excluded from our screens.

For mainstream television viewers in the UK and throughout the world, non-fiction history programmes have become increasingly popular as interest in personal, local and national heritage continues to grow. Television has emerged as an important vehicle for the dissemination of history to new, wide and diverse audiences.

Yet a pioneering body of research highlights the notable absence of females, people of ethnic origin and minority groups in televised history programmes.

"There were absences; women's history, black history, colonial history and so on weren't actually represented. And there were very few women presenters."

The interdisciplinary investigation was undertaken by Professor Ann Gray, Professor of Cultural Studies at the Lincoln School of Media, and Dr Erin Bell, a Senior Lecturer in History at the Lincoln School of Humanities.

Together they conducted four years of extensive research funded by a £234,064 grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council. They combined historical and television scholarship to reveal how recent changes in the media landscape have affected the way in which history in general, and whose history in particular, appears on television in the UK.

Throughout their research, Professor Gray and Dr Bell engaged with the work of renowned historians and influential media professionals in order to identify the complex processes behind the production and mediation of history on television.

They defined the significance of selected images, editing techniques and presentation styles, which highlight a number of regular omissions that are made throughout history programming on television.

Their findings reveal that the involvement of females and ethnic minorities in a country’s history is not necessarily included in its on-screen documentation.

Professor Gray and Dr Bell question this representation of the historical British identity, raise awareness of predispositions to assume that television audiences are male-dominated and reveal that female presenters can be few in number and are subject to increased criticism of style and appearance in comparison to their male counterparts. However, they noted that programmes aimed at a broader audience such as Who Do You Think You Are? were more likely to include diverse histories.

Their resulting overview of UK history programming formed part of the influential Italian-based 'A TV History for Europe' project and was presented to the European Parliament in December 2011. Their internationally significant findings are summarised in numerous journals as well as in their book, History on Television, which was published by Routledge in 2013.

Professor Gray was invited to present the key research findings to television production teams, while appearances at important postgraduate conferences, symposia for media professionals and international conferences for historical scholars have seen the interdisciplinary findings disseminated to key academics, historians and media professionals throughout the television industry.