Print Proposal: YouTube History Channels

Two of the most popular history YouTube Channels are Crash Course and Ask a Slave. Several history classes have recommended these videos as to students as a way to get them excited about history. As a result, these channels have gained national attention for the entertaining way they make students think about history. These videos also make viewers question popular misconceptions about history like George Washington being a “good slave mater”. However, they both have a unique way in which they present their information. The question that lingers is which method is the most effective in educating students about history.

CashCourse takes a more traditional approach to teaching history by doing ten to fifteen minute long lectures. The host of these lectures is literary author John Green who also employs a staff of historians and researchers for the videos. These videos deal with a wide range of topics like Slavery and Women’s Suffrage. The appeal of these educational videos comes from the host as he engages viewers through humor and animated segments. Other channels have tried to replicate the style of the channel with various degrees of success. CashCourse is extremely popular, but it is not the only YouTube Channel that has managed to explore complex issues. 

 Ask a Slave was a YouTube channel that looked at the experiences of a woman who did living interpretation at a well-known historic. The actress took on the role of an enslaved person and had several interesting interactions with visitors. The “enslaved” woman is the host of the show and answers questions the actress had to deal with in real life. The questions highlight the lack of knowledge about the system of slavery during the colonial era. This style relies on the ignorance of others to encourage viewers to further their understanding of the founding fathers and slavery. Other interpreters make appearances in the web series to have a wide range of perspectives. 

These YouTube Channels have gained national media attention, but they both do not have the same educational value. They are both useful in highlighting different aspects of history, but which type of video can be a resource for students? Another question that needs to be addressed is what trained historians are saying about the content. More importantly, what do history teachers say about their students using as a study tool? It would be interesting to do a more in-depth analysis of the negative and positive effects of these videos.

5 Replies to “Print Proposal: YouTube History Channels”

  1. This is a great idea! Ask a Slave and Crash course are really popular videos (that I have enjoyed) and are entertaining ways to engage with history. This is also a good exploration of popular making history-making and the variety of ways to engage with it.

  2. This is a really interesting connection to a platform that is super important for young people. I wonder if it can be connected to our first week’s discussion about Twitter and fast historical information.

  3. Diana, this is a great idea! It’s interesting to look at the intersection of what’s entertaining and what’s educational, especially when looking at what gets students interested and passionate about history. I wonder if looking at Youtube as a platform in connection with the videos would be an interesting addition to your pros and cons analysis.

  4. Looking at History on Youtube is a great idea for a research paper. The two examples you describe could be the beginnings of a great set of case studies.

    If you do decide to do this as your project, I think the main things you are going to need to focus on is 1) what exactly would you do your analysis on and 2) what literature exactly would you situate this work in.

    On the first question, I could see you doing analysis of the videos themselves, or I could see you doing analysis on reviews and discussions of the videos, or I could see you even doing something like interviewing historians or teachers about the videos to get their thoughts on what works or does not work with them. Along with that, you will want to think about how you frame what videos you select to focus on. That is, do you focus on videos from just these two channels, or do you also consider other videos from other channels? Whatever way you go, you just want to be able to lay out why you selected the videos or channels you chose.

    You also have a good bit of flexibility on where you situate this work in relationship to the literature. There is a good bit of work on historians working with film, video, and radio as media for communicating with the public about history. So that is one area. At the same time, there is also a good bit about work on using multimedia to teach history in more formal environments. I’m sure there are other approaches and contexts to consider too. So if you do get more into this, it will be good to think about what areas of digital history scholarship the research would be situated in dialog with. Great work!

    1. This sounds like a really interesting project to pursue. It is interesting to consider how much some students rely on these platforms to enhance their knowledge of American history. Since technology has become so embedded within education it will be interesting to gauge how teachers react to these media outlets. I agree with Professor Owens that looking at the comments could also provide insight into how people react to information that either reinforces or challenges their conceptions of history. If you choose to pursue this project, I am excited to see what your findings reveal.

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