I feel rather guilty that it’s mid-March already and this is only my first blog of 2013. Work and various other projects have been keeping me busy, but I have also watched some great history programming over the last couple of months. I studied Medieval and Modern History at undergraduate level, and although for a while afterwards I didn’t want to read or watch anything remotely academic, a keen interest in certain eras and events has recently rekindled. TV documentaries are a great way of accessing new knowledge or gaining alternative insights into more familiar historical topics, so here are three programmes that I have greatly enjoyed recently: all history-based and all, coincidentally, broadcast on the BBC.

Lost Kingdoms of South America

A Quipu

A Quipu

One of my favourite second-year modules was called ‘Blood and Steel: The Spanish Conquest of the New World’ and it sparked my interest in both European expansionism and Mesoamerican civilizations. Lost Kingdoms of South America, on BBC Four, was equally fascinating and introduced me to cultures I don’t think I would ever have heard of otherwise, such as the Chachapoya and the Tiwanaku. Presented by Dr Jago Cooper, a curator at the British Museum, each of the four episodes examined people who built powerful kingdoms in some of the harshest environments of South America, long before the Inca hegemony and the Spanish invasion. Particularly mind-blowing are quipu, also known as talking knots, which may hold further stories about these civilizations but are yet to be decoded due to their complexity.

 

Queen Victoria’s Children

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

I’ve never studied the Victorian era in any depth, but I was nonetheless aware that the unrequited love between Victoria and her husband Albert is widely considered one of the great romances of history. Whilst Queen Victoria’s Children supported this, it also presented a very different side to the monarch’s domestic life and I was quite shocked to learn just how flagrantly horrible she often was to her nine sons and daughters. If I have a child and my mother refers to me as a cow for choosing to breastfeed I shall not be amused!

 

The Holocaust and My Father: Six Million and One

Although I’ve watched numerous Holocaust documentaries, this was something quite unique and in many ways one of the most emotive films about the Nazi atrocities that I’ve come across. Israeli filmmaker David Fisher, whose parents survived the Holocaust, travels with three of his reluctant siblings to the camps in which their father was interned during the 1940s. Archive stills and footage were kept to a bare minimum, yet the realities of being a prisoner were still extremely vividly portrayed. Seeing an Austrian town where, incredibly, people now have homes in buildings that were once part of the concentration camp machinery was quite bizarre and seemed somehow disrespectful and morally wrong. Unusually, the focus was on second-generation survivors of the Holocaust and the different reactions of each sibling as the journey progressed were raw, passionate and truly moving.

 

Next on my historical ‘to watch’ list: Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War.

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