There are so many good history documentaries out there – and lots of crappy ones as well. As a historian and documentary lover, I watched a lot historical documentaries. Good ones. And many bad ones. This list is about the first group.True history documentaries, made by historians. Other criteria are the presentation, the chosen subject and the quality of the source-material. The following 5 are on top of my list. In the end, it is still a matter of choice and taste – so if you disagree, post your comments and suggestions. Of course, all documentaries are embedded on DisputedPast.com.
Number 5: The Crusades, by Terry Jones
Don’t let Jones’ his Monty Python background fool you – for his documentaries he uses true historians as backup. Nevertheless, the Crusades is fun to watch and Jones uses his humor to lighten up this dark page of European history. Jones relive the Crusades by taking an epic journey made by a ruthless medieval knight. How this religious war altered the way The West is perceived in the Middle East is explained by Jones, as he struggles through Europe wearing a crusaders-outfit.
A personal favorite. This documentary may be a bit outdated, the research done by Wood is still accurate. Wood recreates the struggle of Heinrich Schliemann, the protagonist of the newly born science of Archeology, as Schliemann tried to get to the truth of Homers Iliad. Wood vividly shows how the archeological investigation developed as he travels through Europe – always following the story of the famous myth of the blind poet. The enthusiastic art of Homer, combined with his historical investigation, makes this documentary a must see for all history documentary lovers.
Number 3: History of Britain, by Simon Schama
Simon Schama is one of the most famous historians out there. And that’s not because he has made a score of documentaries; his publications range from the French Revolution to Rembrandt – and all are outstanding publications. As if that wasn’t enough, Schama made several moving documentaries, like The power of Art. His erudite yet gripping art of storytelling makes every documentary a success. Nonetheless, the History of Britain protrudes above the mixture, mainly due to the fact that the enormity of the subject successfully is represented in 15 episodes, while keeping true to the subject.
Number 2: The Cold War
The only documentary on my list without a presenter, only a voice-over was needed to explain the footage and the interviews. And that’s exactly what makes this documentary outstanding: all episodes are stuffed with eye-witness accounts and interviews of main figures acting in the Cold War on both sides. The series is very well researched and give an objective representation of this influential event in the history of mankind – and helps us to understand many problems we encounter today.
Best documentary series: Ancient Worlds, by Bettany Hughes
Bettany Hughes has it all. She is a compelling storyteller, easy to look at, and has a very interesting perception on her historical subject. In this series she gives an insight view of long gone civilizations, focussing on society as a whole and especially the position of in these ancient societies. From Egypt, Athens, Sparta to the early Islam empire of the Moors, Hughes brings these long gone ages back to life. The last episodes are the best, covering the democracy of Athens, the soldier-state of Sparta and downfall of the Minoan civilization.