Monday 26 June 2017

Extra History: the best thing on Youtube

I know I've whinged about this before but the myopia of history education in this country really annoys me. As a child, I hated history lessons because there were only ever four topics: vikings, Tudors and the two world wars. As an adult, I found I actually loved history through shows like The Mark Steel Lecture, which introduced me to a much wider field of history.

Which brings me to Extra History, definitely my favourite series on Youtube and maybe my favourite thing on the internet.

This is a series on the Extra Credits channel which tackles historical subjects voted for by Patreon supporters. The videos are about six to ten minutes long each with main series of four to six episodes plus one- or two-part specials. Obviously, they're only brief discussions to a subject but that makes them absolutely perfect for someone who wants to experience a great breadth of subject matter, which I do.
It was Walpole...
There are so many series that have been about people and things I've heard the names of but had no idea what they actually. I'd heard of the South Sea Bubble and knew it was something about economics but was completely unprepared for a) the startling reality of this mad confidence trick or b) the existence of Robert Walpole, a man so corrupt and yet so brilliant you can't help but like him. In fact, in future series, the running gag of how Walpole was connected to everything has lead to the writers of this series playing “Six Degrees of Walpole” to see how many different subjects they could connect him to (and that they managed it with the First Crusade and the Japanese Warring States Period tells you something about the guy).

All I knew about Catherine The Great was the (totally untrue) horse story but not only did I find her fascinating but also her (supposed) husband General Potemkin, who turns up in episode five of her series. The same holds true for Ned Kelly, Hiawatha or Justinian and Theodora. Even more fun, at least for me, are the series on subjects I'd never even heard of like the Brothers Gracchi, Kamehameha the Great, Admiral Yi (especially interesting, that series) or Suleiman the Magnificent (who had the most petty way of addressing the Holy Roman Emperor you can imagine).

The series that has just started is about The Bronze Age Collapse, an event I had never even heard of or even imagined that something on this sort of international scale would be part of the Bronze Age world.

My favourite thing about the series, though, is that each main series ends with an episode called Lies. Whilst the main episodes are narrated with still art, Lies is presented to camera by the writers. These are the episodes where the writers confess to all the places they editorialised, skipped details for time, or just plain screwed up and got told so by the comments section (there is a downright parodic history in the series of not getting the British flag right, not that I blame them as the history of our flag is a mess where every change is heralded by a law that always has the same name), and, of course, this is also where you get Six Degrees Of Walpole. The reason I love these episodes (aside from Walpole) is that they're not only a fantastic way to introduce extra context that would be a distraction in the main series but also that they demonstrate how important it is not to take any one source as gospel. They even point that out in the show, that no source should be trusted absolutely.

So, if you have an interest in history, go to the Extra Credits channel, examine the Extra History playlist and jump in on the first series that interests you. You won't be disappointed. 

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