Popular history: Using the media

Primary History article

By Jane Shuter, published 20th March 2011

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

Should we use the media to teach history? Many people who were ‘turned off' history at school have been brought back to it in later life by visits to historic places and especially by television programmes. The huge success of Time  Team and various history series (including one by Simon Schama) have led to a huge revival of interest in history and archaeology. Viewing figures have been high enough for a TV company recently to broadcast a series on how to ‘read' a church. Programmes such as Who do You Think You Are? have stimulated interest in researching family history, and show how to go about it.

Re-enacted history is visual and immediate and is undoubtedly able to grip children's imaginations - but ‘imagination' is the weasel word, isn't it? We need to be able to use it to teach, without children being misled into accepting all media representations of history as accurate evidence about a period! Here the skills, procedures, disciplinary concepts (the knowledge and understanding of history as an enquiry, that children develop from 5 -14+) are of supreme value. They give children the tools to evaluate the reliability of sources; to judge the validity of statements of fact, interpretations, accounts and explanations against the historical record. This allows them to ask about the provenance of evidence for what is said or shown - a truth test, see Peter Rogers' (1979) pamphlet The New History...

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