Take a breath…this is a long intro and it’ll probably challenge any narcissistic garbage you picked up in school or around the scholastic-minded monkeys that throw hallow prose (or verse- ick) like so much shit.
Time and time again it seems terminology is more a trap than an asset. How do we know this? Human history! A tool of the powerful and a recourse of the powerless, concepts of analyzing the past, in the U.S., is a dying field because of idiots, career advisors, and, worst of all, the products of an education system that overvalue protocol (“professionalism”) and undervalue, or find threatening, interdisciplinary overlaps that disrupt thought patterns that systems’ willing cogs, almost always vying to be the top cog for affirmation’s sake, find neat, tidy, and convenient.
Now is a time when verifiable historical facts “trigger” rather than outrage, in the U.S., when sermons about disenfranchisement overtake analysis and solutions, when people who misapply the term “deconstructionist” burst into tears over the fact that they’re misapplying it and nationalists vehemently attack anything that challenges their sense of protagonism.
All that mentioned, and without further ado, the top presenters of BBC history documentaries!
Sir Tony Robinson
This man has a heart the size of the sun itself. The peoples’ recourse, Sir Robinson is not a traditional academic. Rather, he is an *actor.* Viewers could not hope for a better leading man, though. His choice of work also showcases a supreme interest in ordinary peoples’ lifestyles and beliefs. Sir Robinson, first and foremost, is an advocate. Do not expect the same distance as other presenters. Sir Robinson’s only real fault is Anglocentrism but who are we to go after him for critiquing the basic minutia of British presumption? Watch “The Worst Jobs in History” followed by “Tony Robinson’s WW1 in 3D.”
Dr. Mary Beard
An exceptional name seems to always beget superior conclusions. Dr. Mary Beard is yet more proof of this belief. A classicist who likes wearing a heavy red coat in the Italian summer while riding a bicycle and ranting about why the Roman Empire is okay -but not that okay!-, Dr. Beard seems like a bit of an imperialist apologist…but in that smart, “I value cross-cultural dissemination but I also feel bad for the slave children young as 4 who were working the silver mines” kinda way. The Cambridge educated academic knows her shit. Her best series, thus far, “Meet the Romans,” is both insightful and unremorsefully honest.
Dr. Lucy Worsley
Dr. Lucy Worsley is a sycophant. But she’s a smart sycophant. A top curator for the Historic Royal Palaces, viewers could expect nothing less than charm. What makes her a lead presenter, though, is smarm. Dr. Worsley’s presentation style is fun to watch and her reactions during interviews, in particular, can be priceless. That mentioned, she seems to take time and care when writing and presenting her content. Unlike so many other people, though, Dr. Worsley refuses to conflate her rationale with fact -her major focus is the evolving discipline, and perspective, of history itself. Watch “British History’s Biggest Fibs” first. Then move on to “A Very British Murder” and/or “A Very British Romance.”
A familiar face in the U.S., Terry Jones’ major claim to fame is being apart of Monty Python. Maybe too many vampire rabbit jokes got under his skin, though, as he turned to a number of minor projects after making a fuck ton of cash. From the mid-nineties onward these pieces include historical documentaries. Obsessed with minutiae, Jones makes his mark through subversion and indigence. Top presentations include “Ancient Inventions” and “Terry Jones’ Barbarians.”
Dr. Helen Castor
Dr. Helen Castor demonstrates a quiet enthusiasm that does not immediately capture most viewers. Her lack of drama, however, also implies a certain reverence towards the *actual* weight of emotions and beliefs that universalize the human experience. Diverse as people can be, however, sex is probably the first, and foremost, differentiation. Dr. Castor brings to light the ambivalence and bias towards females of British chroniclers. Near anyone even of aware of today’s chauvinism would find these sentiments unsurprising. Where Dr. Castor really shines, though, is not critiquing these evaluations -that’s easy. Instead, she looks at available sources to explain what life was actually like for, you guessed it, females. Watch “Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage, Death” followed by “She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens.”
Dr. Robert Bartlett
Dr. Robert Bartlett acts like a conservative, seems like a conservative, and dresses like a conservative. He also is either too hard at work analyzing some esoteric passage about medieval colonialism or otherwise got the ‘thumbs down’ from focus groups. Too bad, Dr. Bartlett’s facts become even more drole, or genuinely impressive, through his subdued presentation style. “Into the Medieval Mind” is quite funny while “The Normans” showcases a genuine passion for a little-covered subject.
Conclusion: Insightful but Still the BBC
The above presenters are great at what they cover. Still, though, there are several gaps between the ethnicities of who currently present, viable presenters who happen to be a British ethnic minority, and presenters’ foci. Dr. Worsely’s “British History’s Greatest Fibs,” for instance, does not cover Cecil Rhodes or the downfall of the Qing and there has yet to be “A Very British ‘Lost World.'”
Sadly, such gaps make sense for a few reasons. First, historians and smart students in a particular subject take time to build recognition and interest. Second, historians, of all academic disciplines, know what it means to push their -centrism onto other cultures or regions in today’s versioning of power dynamics. Unpleasant, but true, is the third reason: even as the higher echelons of academia open up to Britons of ethnic minorities, and there is still systemic bias, the general populace does not seem keen on learning from them -especially if about “Caucasian history.”
As always, one can only hope the third reason will gradually diminish. The performance arts are particularly opening up towards people of all ethnicities. There’s a world of difference between entertaining someone, however, and infotaining them as a foremost academic or thinker.
Are such oversights and bias these showrunners’ “fault?” Yes and no. All BBC presenters include interviews with foremost historians who specialize in the given subject. Sometimes they are African, or Middle Eastern, or South Asian, or Russian, or East Asian, or whatever else. Including their perspectives is important. However, one can not help but also wonder if this is merely an advanced form of tokenization. Sure, they can offer evaluations on their own ethnicity’s, nation’s, or region’s history or perspective because they “possess” that just as…logic goes…white Britons “possess” their history.
Attributing facts or analysis to a general background doesn’t make much sense from a purely academic point of view, now does it? All in all, though, the above presenters are the top of their discipline, have good intentions, and, hopefully, are part of a transition towards a more equitable marketplace of ideas and credit.
Ironically, it seems U.S. national Barbera Touchman is the progenitor of modern history documentaries. A populist, she is among the first who demonstrates that entrenched theory is open to defiance, that presentism and historicism need not clash, and that relevant metaphors are all-important. I recommend “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century,” first for any of those who read.
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