History fans love pointing out historical inaccuracies in popular media, such as TV shows, movies, and computer games. However, there are generations of adults who fell in love with the past through these very same things. I am one of those, and perhaps you are as well.
As a bit of a nostalgic experience, I would like to share a list of the things I absolutely loved as a child which sparked my love of history. Even though, as an adult, I am very aware of their historical errors, they are directly responsible for my decision to become a History teacher.
This TV show had the greatest impact on me as a child. I only ever watched it once, but I was entranced by the adventure. It follows three children as they are taken through the ruins of the Inca and Olmec civilisations to solve a series of mysteries. I tuned in every afternoon after school and remember eagerly talking about it with my friends the next day.
In regard to historical accuracy, it is guilty of a variety of crimes. Throughout the show, the audience is introduced to solar powered flying machines, automated mechanical ships, magical items and even aliens, but none of this never seemed too far-fetched to me at the time. When I found the DVDs again as an adult and watched them again, it is surprising how much of the historical inaccuracies did not stick in my memory, but the wonder of learning about unknown civilisations did.
These were my favourite books as a child. These comics followed the adventures of two Gallic warriors during the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Not only did this have lots of action and adventure-driven storylines, it also introduced me to Latin phrases and famous Roman landmarks as they may have looked when the Romans still lived.
At the core of every story is a 'magic potion' which gave the lead characters 'super strength'. The element of magic was obviously over-the-top, and even I was aware of it as a child. However, the most charming thing about these stories was the focus on the day-to-day lives of people, rather than focusing on the 'great men' that is common to Roman history. While famous characters do appear in the cartoons, including Julius Caesar himself, it is the common people that drive the narrative.
Even though this comedy television series was made for an adult audience, I remember stumbling across it on TV one night as a child. Much of the adult humour and British wit went straight over my head as a kid.
As far as historical inaccuracies go, Black Adder wasn't too bad. Their greatest mistakes are in the portrayal of famous figures as complete fools, which doesn't tend to match what we know from the past. What I found as a long-term benefit from the show is the concept of generational chronology. The series follows the same family line through four major stages of British history: from the Middle Ages to World War One. The idea that family history could be traced over time, through the ups and downs of social fortune, really struck a chord with me as a child.
When this film came out, I was in my teens, but it instantly became one of my all-time favourites. Its gritty depiction of life in medieval England and Scotland made history come alive for me. The brutal realities of everyday lives remain quite palpable. During the plot, families lose members to various battles, corruption and unjust legal proceedings.
However, Braveheart is one the worst films for historical accuracy. It makes so many errors, and even rewrites basic facts of history, that very few history lovers can contain their indignation when they hear the name of the film. Having said that, as long as I can turn of my critical thinking faculties for a couple of hours, I still love entering the Middle Ages through the experience of this film.
When I was introduced to this board game as a young teen, I was quickly addicted to the simple but effective game mechanics which allowed you to simulate global conquest. Even though the game doesn't claim to be historically accurate, it is clearly based upon the militarism of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Since it is a board game, it doesn't really try to reflect specific historical details and the ability to conquer the entire globe was never really achieved in the past. However, it does immerse you in the mindset of the European empires during the colonial era, whose single-minded focus on military conquest ignored all other considerations from the people they conquered.
Things don't need to be accurate to be inspiring
There will always be a place for historical accuracy in popular media, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Most of the things I have listed above were made primarily for the purposes of entertainment, and they do that well. At the end of the day, if they entertained first and inspired a love of history second, they did a good job.
What about you? What fostered your love of history?
Write a comment
Bronwyn Waddell (Saturday, 22 June 2019 18:08)
Great Post - I loved Asterix and Obelix too! Especially as story about the small person/people overcoming the large organised Roman Army!
Do you think RISK could be a fun game to play in class - say if you had five sets? And I what ways could it be relevant? I have never played it - but I would be pitching it to my Year 8s.
Thanks as always for your great website and posts.
History Skills (Saturday, 22 June 2019 21:34)
Thanks so much for the positive feedback, Bronwyn. I must admit that I haven't tried to play RISK in the classroom. I have used a modified version of Diplomacy (another board game), which my students absolutely love. I do it across two lessons, so that they get used to the rules before feeling like they know what's going on. I feel that RISK would work well in a similar way. If you do give it a go, I would love to hear how it turns out!
Good luck with all of your teaching!
Clare Dorey (Sunday, 23 June 2019 05:03)
You've nailed it! I haven't heard of the first one but I LOVE Blackadder and Asterix (just introduced my son to it) and live playing Risk with my nephews. I have a few spare sets as I want to play it with my class, but haven't yet. I hear diplomacy is great too. One of my favourite games growing up is called L'Attack, based on army ranks and manoeuvering. That could be fun for a class.
Lorraine (Wednesday, 26 June 2019 06:37)
Noggin the Nogg
Wendy (Saturday, 05 February 2022 19:11)
The Mysterious Cities of Gold - every time …… my children were avid watchers of this series when it was first played on television. We would all sit down together in the afternoon and enjoy the adventures of Esteban and friends…… still our favourite series even if it is a tad historically challenging ….
Love your website - it’s’ my first go to site for everything ‘History’ ……