Studying Public History has taught me that many historians hate history on television. Or radio. Or on the Internet. Or in fact, anything public at all. Which is a shame - there are a lot of problems with all three mediums, but if written well, there is little need to panic. An article in the Independent (and the comments below) warns of the danger of popular history, as it "risks undermining the status of academic study." If historians are only concerned with a public persona, then yes, that is worrying, but this is about bringing history to the public - we need to democratise history and engage an audience. We don't need to prove to ourselves how interesting history is, we need to prove it to the public.
Thus, a number of "tele-don" historians are deemed 'nonacademic.' Lucy Worsley, chief of Historic Royal Palaces, is attacked for parading around in costume. Is this really a problem? If it makes history more accessible to the public (especially to children), is this not a good thing? I'm not advocating that costume interpretation needs to happen everywhere - far from it - but there is nothing wrong with dressing up in costume; after all this is just one interpretation from the past.
And poor Dan Snow. I've seen a lot of his programmes, and they're really engaging - his series on 'Filthy Cities' was really good. Refusing to call him an 'academic' historian is rather insulting - surely he, like any decent historian, went to the archive and did RESEARCH USING FOOTNOTES to write a book or make a television programme?
Here's a link to the article:
There are many problems with history on the television. Producers are often reluctant to branch further than the c20th, and it is more difficult to check historical sources without footnotes. But if it sparks an interest in that particular period for the viewer, isn't that a good thing? History should not be confined to the ivory tower - where 'traditional' historians debate their findings in articles and conventions. Instead of shouting from the sidelines and bemoaning the lack of 'authenticity' in the public arena, why don't they do something about it? Get involved in the public arena!