Creating history through YouTube

In my article from last week, I wrote about the censorship of historical footage which was uploaded on YouTube. In that article I tried to explain why YouTube is popular with institutions for sharing historical footage. I mentioned that YouTube removed videos and even briefly suspended accounts that uploaded historical material. In this week’s blog I would like to take a more positive approach towards YouTube and actually give some examples of how YouTube is also of great value for those who are interested in history. To highlight that YouTube is a great medium for historic enthusiasts (and honestly also because of a lack of inspiration to write about something else this week) I decided to write a brief article on some YouTube channels that I particularly like that create videos for historical enthusiasts like me.

  • The Great War is with over 1 million subscribers one of the most popular YouTube channels devoted to history. As the name of the channel already suggests, this channel is primarily devoted to videos about the First World War. Initially the videos on the channel were hosted by historian Indy Neidell, who talks about the Great War in a set styled after the early 20th century with artefacts from the Great War. His storytelling is interchanged with historical images and maps. The first video was uploaded on the 28th of July 2014, exactly hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War. The idea behind the channel was to keep uploading videos for the next four years, thereby pretty much following the sequence of events as they happened during the war. On the 11th of November 2018, hundred years after the end of the war, the last video of this series was uploaded. It was not the end of the channel however, as its success led to the decision to keep creating videos. They are now also uploading videos about the period after the Great War.
  • Historia Civilis contains videos explaining a variety of historical topics. Although the videos on this channel range from Philip II of Macedon all the way to the expansion of the NATO alliance, its primary interest seems to be ancient history and more particular the history of the Roman Empire. Besides videos expanding on events like the Battle of Alesia and the Roman Civil War, it also contains videos describing other topics of ancient history like the Lupercalia festival and the concept of the Pomerium. In contrast to the channel The Great War, there is not really a host but instead a narrator who’s voice-over is combined with animations. The animations might at first seem a bit simplistic, but I think they work very well in making the narrative more understandable.
  • History Matters is a channel which is in style somewhat similar to the previous channel. In fact, there are more channels I could mention here, as there are many with videos in which animation is combined with narrative. The videos of History Matters however are about topics all across history and compared to the videos of Historia Civilis, they are relatively short. What I particularly like in the videos is the animation style, which might not be the most impressive, but are still nicely done and even have some sense of humour in them. The narrative tends to keep a quick pace, so despite the videos being relatively short, still a lot of information is given.
  • Although timelapses are not one channel but comprise a variety of channels, I would still like to mention it here. Channels like EmperorTigerstar and Olly Bye upload videos, mostly without commentary, in which the entire video is pretty much just a timelapse of history created with maps. The example of timelapses shows that there are more creative ways to do something with the subject of history. Most timelapses completely rely on visualisation, which makes them very different than the other channels that I mentioned. A disadvantage might be that it lacks a real narrative, which is important for the field of history, as we believe history is more than just a sequence of years and events.

So here are a few YouTube channels that I particularly like which aim at making history. Every channel has its own way of doing this, but most of them use a combination of narrative and visualisation. The existence of all of these channels implicate that there is a substantial amount of internet users with an interest in history, an online community which also come together in other places on the internet.