Covering books and digital resources across all fields of history
Like us on FacebookFollow us on Twitter

ISSN 1749-8155

Presenting History: Past and PresentPrinter-friendly versionPDF version

Presenting History: Past and Present
Peter J. Beck
London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, ISBN: 978-0230242081; 368pp.; Price: £17.99
Dr Matt Phillpott
Institute of Historical Research
Dr Matt Phillpott, review of Presenting History: Past and Present, (review no. 1251)
Date accessed: 26 May, 2024


WilliamThu, 10/05/2012 - 21:09
"Chapter six returns the story to television historians; in this case how Simon Schama reinvented television history from ‘dull’ lecture and talking head-style documentaries, to a richer more entertaining performance." I haven't read the book but ... really? 'The History of Britain' was a highly conventional program not much different in style from, say, Robert Key's 'Ireland - A Television History' (1980). It has been non-historians like John Berger in 'Ways of Seeing' or Adam Curtis or Jonathan Meades who have actually used the medium in very interesting ways to explore the relationship between past and present. One thing they do is to actually make you look harder, and therefore think harder, about what is being shown to you on screen. Too often academic historians allow producers to fob them off with shots of the odd castle or portrait. Incidentally, the Meades program about Stowe contains what I take to be a put down of the Schama ‘walk and talk’ style:
ihr.webmasterFri, 11/05/2012 - 09:38
Thanks for that William - I know that one of the first things that strikes you about Curtis's documentaries is his use of original footage, and the role this plays in creating the overall effect of the piece - 'The Power of Nightmares' is a good place to start:
ihr.webmasterFri, 11/05/2012 - 09:39
By the way, more debate on this topic can be found on our Facebook page at
Matt PhillpottMon, 14/05/2012 - 12:14
Thanks very much for the youtube links. I have watched Adam Curtis’ ‘The Power of Nightmares’ many years ago and remember it to be a very thoughtful programme. I really must watch it again. I think what Peter Beck was trying to get across is the fact that Simon Schama helped to reinvigorate television history documentaries by presenting them in a slightly different way than was common at the time. Now, whether or not that is the right format to get an academic subject across is still debatable but I think it certainly has proven a popular format.