History, Comedy, & Good TV

With summer now in full swing, it’s time to think about the new school year on its way and some ways to make history and social science curriculum, content, and the student learning experience more exciting. Looking for some fun, accessible takes on historical events and eras? Here are two of my favourites that you might want to check out:

History Bites

This Canadian sketch show from the late 1990s and early 2000s looked at significant historical dates from the perspective of someone watching the event unfold on television. A small ensemble of actors played recurring characters giving context and information about the event in recognisable television genres, all hosted by Rick Green aka Bill from The Red Green Show. They utilised news segments, sitcoms, talk shows, game shows, soap operas, etc. to show different aspects of the event as it unfolded and the sketches were shown as though the viewer (or Rick) was flipping through the channels. Definitely not for children, but older teens might be up for looking past the production levels to enjoy a different take on history.

Memorable moment:

Who Killed JFC – A JFK-style conspiracy about Julius Caesar’s assassination

Horrible Histories

This UK comedy sketch show is based on Terry Deary’s best-selling Horrible Histories books (which has spawned a range of spin-offs). Off and on since 2009 as a live action television show, Horrible Histories prides itself on sharing the gross, disgusting, and even horrific details that school history curriculum tends to leave out of the story in a show meant for young people. At one point 50% of British children aged 6-12 were watching the show. With a rat playing host, a great cast, writers who were openly influenced by Blackadder and Monty Python, catchy songs with impressive historical content, and a love of jumping around time periods and locations, it’s amusing for kids and parents.

Memorable moments:

The Monarch’s Song – A quick, catchy look at every British monarch since 1066

RAF Pilot Song – A touching, boy band-style tribute to the RAF pilots of WWII

Further Reading:

Leo Hickman, ‘How Horrible Histories became a huge hit’, The Guardian, 17 March 2011.

Margaret Scanlon, ‘History Beyond the Academy: Humor and Horror in Children’s History Books’, New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship Vol. 16 (2011): 69-91.

Department for Education, ‘National curriculum in England: history programmes of study’, Statutory Guidance, 11 September 2013.

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