The public interacts with history not only through participation in academic study but through popular culture. Despite the common issue of historical inaccuracies, historical fiction films and television shows have allowed for an up-close and personal view of history. Through a visual medium, audiences can picture what life might have been like in days gone. It also allows for audiences to find a greater interest in the historical period or subject depicted. Personally, history came to life for me through an admiration of historical costuming in my favorite films.
For my print project, I would like to analyze the intersections between popular culture and history through the lens of historical-fiction films and television. Particularly, I want to look at the question of historical accuracy within historical films and TV to determine whether the general public tends to take these depictions of history as full truth, be inspired by these depictions to research more about a particular period, or if they just see historical films as fiction for leisure. In the public history program, we have spent a considerable amount of time discussing Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen’s 1994 study on the American public’s relationship with history. While the study ranks “watching a movie or television program about the past” as a less popular (and therefore less authoritative) way the respondents interacted with history, I have been curious if this has changed in the past 30 years with the rise of streaming services, allowing greater access to a larger number of historical programs in most American households.
To answer these questions, I plan to take advantage of online discourse surrounding these films and shows. Review blogs, fansites, and social media (particularly Twitter and Reddit) are all helpful tools in gauging who the audience of a film or show is and their reactions to it. Through these sources, I will also be able to analyze whether or not historical accuracy is important to the viewers of a particular film or TV show. I would also take note of how much a particular film or TV show is mentioned, and how much historical accuracy is a common topic amongst online discussions of each media. I think it would be interesting to see if how popular a particular film or show has an effect on how authoritative it is seen by the general public in terms of portraying accurate history.
The introduction of social media and greater access to media via streaming services have changed how the public interacts with media. The sheer prominence of historical fiction films and TV shows in the general public’s interaction with history indicates that this subject is worth taking another look at beyond Rosenzweig and Thelen.