History on Television, Lincoln HOTLinc   
'Televising History 1995-2010', an AHRC-funded research project   


Director: Prof Ann Gray, Lincoln School of Media
Research Fellow: Dr Erin Bell, Dept of Humanities

Research Administrator: Carolyn Williams

PhD students: Sarah Moody and Barbara Sadler
1 March 2006 to 28 February 2010



The project originated in September 2004, when Ann Gray received 12 months' funding as a start-up project, to support an application to the AHRC and fund a Research Fellow. Erin Bell joined the project as Research Fellow at the same time. In September 2006, 2 doctoral students, Barbara Sadler and Sarah Moody, joined the project. Their research considers regional history programming in the UK, and the use of history programmes and other broadcast material in the secondary school classroom, and in museums.


Since the 1990s non-fiction history programming has flourished on British and other national televisions. This interdisciplinary project asks how do we get the kinds of television histories we do, and why. Starting with the relationship between the academy and media professionals, through commissioning and programme making, the study will explore the often competing professional discourses about how to ‘do’ history. Key sub-genres will be identified and analysis will examine how historical meanings are achieved. A small-scale user study will be conducted in an educational context to explore the kinds of knowledge produced about the past.

Focussing on ‘non-fiction’ programming the four-year project examines the different genres employed by producers and seeks to track their commissioning, production, marketing and distribution histories. A key focus is the relationship between ‘public history’ and academic history. Through a number of case studies, including interviews with academic and media professionals involved in history programming, the Director and Research Fellow will analyse the role of the ‘professional’ historian and producer/directors as mediators of historical material and interpretations. In addition the project includes a ‘user’ study and a close analysis of programming and related texts.

Research undertaken by the two PhD students attached to the project includes a user study of history programming in schools undertaken by Sarah Moody. How and what kind of history is taught in schools via the National Curriculum is a contentious area and subject of recent political debate. Many teachers use special history programming made for schools, and more general broadcast material, in the classroom. This research particularly focuses upon Years 7 to 9 (ages 11-14). Interested history teachers may access the history teachers survey here. Sarah won an AHRC Library of Congress Scholarship and visited Washington August-November 2008 to undertake comparative research into US history teaching.

Barbara Sadler is researching the articulation of ideas about the past through different televisual forms, including comparative analysis of programming produced in the regions of Britain, and in other European regions and nations. Existing methods of analysis are being developed in order to address questions of claims to truth and authenticity, and examine the ways in which historical meanings are produced, with particular reference to national and regional identity.


The project so far: symposia, colloquia and conferences held at Lincoln

The 'Televising History: the past(s) on the small screen' symposium was held 14-15 July 2005, at the University of Lincoln. Our keynote speaker was Prof. John Corner of the University of Liverpool, and the symposium was attended by British and overseas scholars; postgraduate students and established scholars from the fields of history, film studies, literary studies, television studies, sociology and communication.

A special issue of the European Journal of Cultural Studies on 'Televising History' published in February 2007 was based in part on papers presented at the symposium.

In June 2007 an interdisciplinary postgraduate symposium was held for Postgraduate Research Students and Scholars, attended by doctoral and Masters students from across the UK and Europe. Plenary speakers included Wolter Braamhorst (Erasmus University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands), Angela Piccini (University of Bristol), Andrew Hoskins (University of Warwick) and Prof Helen Weinstein (University of York). Further details, including the conference programme, are available here.

Another was held in February 2008 for Media Professionals and Scholars, on the broad themes of reenactment and docudrama/dramadoc. Speakers included Advisory Board members Taylor Downing, Juliet Gardiner, Alex Graham and Steve Humphries.The conference programme is available here.

On 22nd November 2008 Ann Gray and Erin Bell attended the 'For a European TV History' workshop in Bologna, Italy.

On 7th April 2009 Erin Bell attended the second 'For a European TV History' workshop in Bologna, Italy.

From July 22nd-25th 2009, the international 'Televising History 2009' event at the University of Lincoln brought together Media Professionals and Scholars from the UK, Europe, North America and Australasia, and members of the Advisory Board. The conference programme is available here along with a list of those who attended the event, and photographs taken at the keynote address of Dr David Starkey are here.


Publications and conference contributions/dissemination of findings in local and national media


E. Bell and A. Gray (2007), 'History on television: charisma, narrative and knowledge', in H. Wheatley (ed.), Re-viewing Television History I. B. Tauris

E. Bell and A. Gray (2007), 'History on television: charisma, narrative and knowledge', European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.1, part of a special issue of the journal on ‘Televising History', guest edited by Erin Bell and published in February 2007.

E. Bell (2008), ' "No one wants to be lectured at by a woman" - women and history on TV' Women's History Magazine 59, based on the conference paper given in Winchester, September 2007.

E. Bell (2009), 'Sharing their past with the nation: reenactment and testimony in TV and related media' in E. Castello, H. O'Donnell and A. Dhoest (eds) The Nation on Screen: discourses on the national on global television Cambridge Scholars Publishing based on the conference paper given in Reus, October 2007.

E. Bell (2009) ' "No one wants to be lectured at by a woman" - women and history on TV' Herstoria.

Proceedings from the first Televising History symposium, including chapters by Ann Gray and Erin Bell, were recently published in their (Bell and Gray eds) collection Televising History: mediating the past in postwar Europe Palgrave Macmillan, May 2010.

History on Television, based on the findings of the project, will be published by Routledge in 2011/12.


Conference papers have been presented at:

The Media History conference held at Gregynog, University of Wales in April 2005

The 'Televising History' symposium held at Lincoln in July 2005

The World Congress of History Producers held in London, November 2006.

The History and the Public conference held at the University of Swansea in April 2007

The ‘Televising History’ postgraduate symposium held at Lincoln in June 2007

The IAMHIST conference held at the University of Amsterdam in July 2007

The Women's History Network conference at the University of Winchester in September 2007

The Ideograms conference on contemporary media held at the University of Leicester in September 2007

The Performing Regions/Regional Performance conference at the University of Lancaster in September 2007

The 'Narrating the Nation' international conference in Reus, Spain in October 2007

The Visible Evidence conference in Bochum, Germany in December 2007

Inside Coal House: a symposium at the University of Cardiff in June 2008

The IAMHIST conference held at Aberystwyth University in July 2009

The Centre for the Study of Journalism and History seminar series, University of Sheffield in December 2009, and

The 'Cultural Histories: close readings, critical syntheses' International Society for Cultural History conference, Turku University, Finland in May 2010.


Local and national media have already expressed an interest in the project and interviews have been broadcast on the findings to date. The project will seek to disseminate the findings through these and other publicly accessible media.

The Advisory Board

Members of the Advisory Board were selected from media organisations, the academy and education in order to bring their range of expertise to the project and to facilitate dialogue across the different professional areas. They were invited to an annual meeting in Lincoln or London, when the Project Team reported on progress and invited feedback and comment. Given their knowledge and experience of different aspects of the research their individual insights were also sought through interviews with members of the team. The third Advisory Board meeting was held on Thursday 5th March 2009 in the Wall to Wall boardroom, London, at which the 'Televising History 2009' conference, and the project's publication plans, were discussed. A final board meeting was held at the IHR in London on 14th July 2010.


Recent and forthcoming events

Events over the past 4 years of the project are reported in the project flyer and newsletter.

Interviews with historians and media professionals in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are continuing, as is initial research into related areas of interest.


Further details are available from Ann Gray and Erin Bell, ebell@lincoln.ac.uk or agray@lincoln.ac.uk. We can also be contacted by post at this address:

Prof Ann Gray,

'Televising History' AHRC research project,

Faculty of Media, Humanities and Technology, University of Lincoln,

Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS

Arts & Humanities Research Council

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