Am in the middle of moving house and have an insanely busy start-of-term type couple of weeks coming up, but while I was packing yesterday I happened to catch Horrible Histories on television, so here are a few quick thoughts while I get my life together!
The Horrible Histories television programme uses cartoons in the style of the book illustrations along with live action comic sketches that tell children various weird and wonderful facts about the world. Rather than spending an entire episode on one period of history, the episode I saw jumped about between various places and times, with a very wide geographical and chronological spread - they must have covered a decent proportion of books in one episode! So each period just gets a quick sketch or two and some fun facts. Some periods were talked about in a more general way, others were attached to what looked like regular segments on medicine, religion and so on. At first I was thrown by the sudden switch, but after a few minutes I realised I really liked this format, because any time it switched to a period you weren't so interested in, you knew another one would be coming up soon. I'm actually interested in pretty much every period of history, but not everyone is, especially children, so this seemed like a nice way to keep their attention through the whole programme. There was one rather nasty segment on Stupid Deaths - nasty not because of the deaths, which were presented in a comic-book style, humourous way, but because of the Death figure with a very odd voice who presided over it. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it was just unpleasant. Other than that, though, the sketches were fairly amusing and informative as well.
As I watched, I wondered why the stuffed rat who was supposedly in charge kept popping up with signs syaing 'This really happened!' and' That's true!'. It's a history programme, I thought - the children watching this are far too young for a lecture on how we don't really know anything about history and it's all argument not fact, won't they just believe all of it? The answer appeared later in the programme, as the show included both a segment on 'Scary Stories', with a Vile Victorian theme, and, to my groaning despair, the story of the Trojan War. The programme didn't claim truth for these, and they specifically described the story of Achilles as a story that inspired the phrase 'Achilles heel', so they weren't intending to suggest this was really history or that any of it was true (especially all the stuff about Achilles being nearly immortal!). And the bit where they dramatised Homer's description of Achilles chasing Hector around the walls of Troy was hilarious. But I did wonder - wouldn't it be easier to just stick to history, and do a special episode on myths and stories every now and again? If I was a small child with a short attention span and lowish reading skills, I don't think I'd notice the difference between that section and the others. It's no wonder so many children are convinced it really happened.
I enjoyed the show a lot, and it looks like a fun way to get children interested in history. I even learned a thing or two about Incan llamas! But real history is so full of weird and wonderful things, I wish they'd just stick to that so I don't have to disillusion people years later!