Broadcasting the past: Australian television histories

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Many historians have been critical of the ways that television presents history, arguing that television histories are superficial, populist and lack complexity. They often criticise documentaries for their poor standards of evidence and accuracy or for their willingness to reinforce, rather than challenge, well-worn historical narratives. Television histories seek to engage audiences on emotional terms, to evoke empathy and to communicate in visual, rather than densely textual ways. Crucially, they also speak to a far broader audience than academic histories: for this reason alone, historians have a vital interest in understanding how television constructs and communicates history. Many of the criticisms made of television histories are based on misrecognition of their role and purpose: television histories and written histories are dramatically different forms of historical narrative, produced for different audiences and constructed in different ways. In this article, I will examine the current state of Australian history on television. What are the distinctive features of popular television histories? How does television communicate history? And finally, how might we take television histories seriously as objects of research? The article argues that we need to go beyond simply critiquing television histories for their failure to do what academic histories do and instead engage with them in ways that takes into account their distinctive modes of production and consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-246
Number of pages24
JournalHistory Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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