The Many Ways to Consume History

History as entertainment can be consumed without you knowing it. The popularity of historical dramas, Downton Abbey, Jamaica Inn, Jamestown, The Crown and Victoria, to name a few, help educate the public, albeit passively, and at the risk of the odd inaccuracy if an historical advisor has not been consulted.

Traditionally, history was consumed through reading text books and learning dates by rote – I have never forgotten 1066, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 – other dates I have to work at remembering. But that was in the days of the dry textbook.

In the twenty-first century there are more ways for the public to consume history. I’ve listed many below along with the ways that I have consumed them recently.

  • Apps – e.g. English Heritage Trust – Blue Plaques of London
  • Archives – I use archives both online and in the non-virtual world
    I subscribe to the British Newspaper Archive – free resources include Old Bailey Online and Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project (HHARP)
  • Blogs and Blogging – I follow several history blogs and research my posts via means listed in this article
  • Books – I have a large personal history book library that is sorted chronologically and also thematically – also see historic fiction and historic non-fiction
  • Costume Dramas – I’m not a huge fan but watch an occasional one. I did enjoy The Lost Prince about the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary
  • Documentaries – I always watch history documentaries narrated by a plethora of notable historians – anything presented by Lucy Worsley, Helen Castor and Janina Ramirez is a must-see for me
  • Exhibitions – I do enjoy a well-curated exhibition – recent exhibitions I have written about on my blog include Royal WomenDiana: Her Fashion Story  and Harry Potter: History of Magic
  • Films – I’m not a huge film watcher but watched Titanic and A Night to Remember recently for my post – Titanic: The Hero Musicians 
  • Genealogy – researching my family history gave me the passion to study for a history degree. Read my first family history post here.
  • Heritage/Historic Houses – I visited Hampton Court Palace recently. Places I have previously visited include Kensington Palace, Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Leeds Castle, Alnwick Castle, Blair Castle, Ham House and Brighton Pavilion
  • Historic fiction – as a teenager and well into my twenties I loved historic fiction, Lyn Andrews and Maureen Lee were favourite authors who wrote about Liverpool and I just adored books by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss – I read The Flame and the Flower in one sitting
  • Historic non-fiction – at the moment I’m reading Diane Atkinson’s The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton. I’m also a huge fan of Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser
  • Internet – I’m forever Googling any random vague event that I can’t quite recall, furthermore, YouTube was a boon for Titanic documentaries and research on Hollywood history for my post on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal
  • Lectures – institutions often offer free entrance to many lectures. I recently enjoyed a lecture about Richmond upon Thames’ Workhouse. Kingston University’s, history department had a free lecture last week with a British political history theme that they advertised on their blog
  • Magazines – I subscribe to BBC History Magazine and buy others ad hoc
  • Museums – museums don’t have to be about ancient Egyptians, Romans or broken potsherds – I visited The Fashion Museum, Bath earlier this month, see my post here, I  visited The Shoe Museum in Northampton a couple of years ago and visited The Bruce Castle Museum in London to see rare Victorian post boxes
  • Monuments – walk around any city and you’ll see plenty of monuments that can be conduits into history
  • Podcasts – here is the link to BBC History Magazine’s podcasts
  • Postcards – I own a small collection of old postcards, most are pre-1940 and are centred around my family tree research. A favourite is of the altar in the church where my mum was baptised
  • Radio – you can listen to ‘In our Time’ with Melvin Bragg – he has a huge archive covering history and pre-history and you can download and listen at your leisure
  • Social Media – have you heard of #Twitterstorians? Facebook also has pages dedicated to local and national history – I’ve attended several events that were advertised on Facebook or Twitter
  • Television – Blackadder series 1 – 4 is always worth a watch, it’s a comedy for those that don’t know, featuring the great and the good of British film and TV! As is Who do you Think you Are? the popular genealogy programme
  • Websites – you’re not really established if you don’t have a website of some sorts these days. Here are links to the National Trust Collections, the Letter Box Study Group if you are interested in postal history and Heritage Open Days which can be great fun for all the family

How do you consume history? Can you think of any more ways to enjoy public history?


16 thoughts on “The Many Ways to Consume History

    1. Thanks 🙂 I sporadically visit postcard and paper fairs (sometimes antique fairs). They sort by geography or theme so they are easy to search. They can cost as little as £1. My most expensive was £15 of the local train station near us growing up. Train stations are collectible in their own right so the price goes up.Suffragette postcards can be very expensive depending on the protagonist depicted or the event.

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    1. Thanks 😁 at the moment I’m internet – British newspaper archive amongst others. Documentaries and blogs. Reading books is also high on my list. I once had a quiz app with multiple themes and I would practice my knowledge repeatedly testing myself thus increasing my ranking!

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  1. Very interesting article. I live in the US but have been to England twice. Where we live in Virginia is historic for the US but pales in comparison to the UK.

    We have young children whom we want to know about the past. Many of the options you mentioned such as going to museums and historic places work for children though in a more limited fashion. Some places will do “hands on” history where the kids can make items from the past or participate in the manufacturing process. Actually creating tools, art, etc. that people in the past made offers an appreciation of the skill, effort and innovation. It makes one appreciate the past in a different way.

    I like your site.


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    1. Thanks for your comment. Museums are more interactive now, for example the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library catered for children and they had interactive pieces in each room. I remember at the Natural History Museum years ago with my children that they had reconstructed a shake area so that people could feel like they were in the Kobe earthquake from 1995. I’ve watched several TV shows on experimental archaeology it really does help people understand the past.


  2. Mine is mostly podcasts and random trips to a bookstore or library. Then one topic leads to another, and further down the rabbit hole I go. I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up with a biography of Reynald of Chatillon last week, but I ended up enjoying reading the political intrigue of the Crusades.

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  3. I really like living-history events. One I plan to write about is Pioneer Days in South Dakota. I was fascinated to watch a horse-powered threshing machine and the use of a tractor engine to run a sawmill. Pretty darn clever stuff!

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  4. I love this post, it never really occurred to me the different ways I consume history. Museums and galleries are high up there for me, as well as monuments and plaques as I often spot something when I’m out and about and then have to look up the person or event. Also, there’s a BBC series I love, called Witness. I dip into it as and when I can. It’s bitesize radio documentaries focused on an interview with someone who was involved in or witnessed the event. I like how things feed into each other – there was a Witness episode about the process of transporting Francis Bacon’s London studio to Dublin. I listened to it ages ago but finally went to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin today to see it and having heard all about the efforts to preserve it really added something to the experience.

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    1. Thanks – did you see my post on William Mullins? Just walking down the street and saw his plaque, to be honest I often see plaques so I don’t always stop. But as this was a 450 year old building and its former owner sailed on the Mayflower it definitely inspired me to search a little bit more about him! I’ll have to check out Witness! Thanks for the tip. The new US Who Do You Think You Are? started recently – Courtney Cox’s family can be traced to William the Conquerer! That’s an ancestor! 🙂

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      1. Witness is such a good series. It’s very accessible as each episode is quite short. I don’t think I’ve seen that post, will have to check it out.

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