Every little piece of history…

I think there is a misconception about history. That you have to slog through a massive tome on the more esoteric details of Early Modern Germany, or whatever, in order to really grasp history.

If you get a kick out of Early Modern Germany, then great, enjoy, and there are some of us who do. However, in order to develop a working knowledge of history you really just need a good, solid curiosity and a few resources.

I personally will slog through the heavy volumes from time to time, but I also like a good documentary. Usually the fare of PBS, the BBC, and the History Channel, documentaries are a great framework from which to build a knowledge of history.

Why documentaries?

I like them especially for a couple of reasons. First, they are visual and visual people need to see something. Drawing word pictures in your mind from a book is fine, but to understand an historical event it helps if you can take a gander at the actual surroundings where it took place.

Secondly, a good documentary can help you overview a topic because no matter how detailed or specific the subject is, producers assume the audience will initially know nothing about whatever it is they are covering. Say you are doing a show on Hitler’s advance into Russia – most people know something about WWII, but generally the writers and producers will give a short overview of the war at the start.

This is like Cliffs Notes for history novices – a quick review or introduction that helps you wrap your mind around the topic and secure the details in the chronology of history.

Thirdly, a great presenter can make history come alive.


Okay, now for the downside – documentaries will have a bias. You may agree with it, you may not. If you don’t, don’t watch it or watch it with reservations – there may be some interesting facts still to be gleaned.

Finally, just like a great presenter can make a great documentary, a really crummy presenter can bore you to tears – find the good ones, usually by trial and error.

Netflix.com, Hulu.com, and the like make history videos readily available, as do libraries. Search them out and add one to your regular rotation of entertainment.

Every little piece of history is one more part of the puzzle. One more fact, event or personality that helps us understand what mankind has done and will do. Put on your Indiana Jones fedora, sling your bull-whip over your shoulder and get exploring!