Popular Culture and History

By Jennie Epp

Popular culture is a medium that a vast majority of the population uses on at least a daily basis. Whether it is in the form of television and movies, to a book about Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter, the emphasis is the same. People love to be entertained and many do love the way that popular culture portrays historical events. Popular culture is abused when the mainstream public assumes that the history that they are being fed by the mainstream media is one hundred percent accurate. It is this cafeteria approach to history that creates situations where people do not know what is true or not. The positive thing about popular culture is that it does reach so many more people than ‘traditional history’. Many people that find history boring or just tedious memorization still find movies like ‘300’ and ‘National Treasure’ interesting and enjoy them.

People believe that history is boring, but at the same time history captivates the popular mindset. Human beings long to not only remember the past but strive not to make the same mistakes and at the same time repeat the same successes. Margaret Malamud, “As the Romans Did? Theming Ancient Rome in Contemporary Las Vegas” writes that, “Caesars doesn’t make a serious attempt to replicate the real ancient Rome: instead it celebrates its play fullness and cinematic outrageousness. ‘At Caesars,’ comments critic Ralph Rugoff, ‘the staff dress not like Romans but like extras from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.’” This represents the constant love/hate relationship that mainstream public has with history. They do not necessarily want it to be historically accurate, but they want it to be accurate to what their perception of a historical event was like. Places like the Las Vegas strip and Branson, Missouri are popular tourist destinations because they bring what the public wants history to be, combining the flashy elements with entertainment.

Comparatively, websites like the “Facebook News Feed of the World” offers Facebook status updates, events, and other things that are a part of our daily lives in working with social media to make history come alive. This condensed history is similarly, the YouTube account “Funny or Die” does many videos with ‘drunk historians’ narrating enactors doing a particular historical event. As great as both of these mediums are, the problem with bias and the fact that the people doing these videos and status updates could have very little history background. The temptation to give the public what they think they already know about a historical event, instead of doing to the research to see the actual facts is a concern. At the same time, putting history on a social media that millions of people use, or filming history using popular comedic actors, has the potential to be a great teaching tool to get the average human being who does not find history interesting, accessible and fun.The main key to remember is the historical background and credentials of were the historical information is coming from.

The great thing about the Facebook “Newsfeed of the World” is that it gives history majors a place to send their less history inclined friends, and it also allows historians to show, in a popular media form, what makes history such a worthwhile and important thing to learn. The main thing to get from all forms of history and popular culture and how the two intersect is that it is increasing the knowledge of history and creating a medium were people will want to learn more about a certain event and that is the beginning of a love of history. If popular culture is the doorway to get more people involved in understanding how the past affects our present, than popular culture and media is a medium that more historians should use to bridge the gap between the academic world and the public one.


Joshel, Sandra R., Margaret Malamud, and Donald T. McGuire. Imperial projections: ancient Rome in modern popular culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Print.

Wineburg, Sam. Philadelphia: Temple University. ” Something Old, Something New.” Something Old, Something New. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <;

“Facebook.” Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <;.

“Drunk History.” Funny or Die. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <;.

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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Somewhat of a Rant About The History Channel

By Neda Kacarevic

You guys, I heard a legend about the History Channel a while back that I simply must share because it has haunted me ever since. I have spent countless hours mulling it over in my head, and wondering whether or not it could possibly be true, but that hasn’t been enough. No. Today is the day that I address this legend.

Are you ready for it?

Well, according to the legend, apparently a long time ago, in a land far far away, The History Channel dealt with, well, actual history!  Can you believe it? Actual shows about actual history! Crazy, I know!

Now, I warn you, this may be just a rumor – an old folktale if you will — however, there seems to be some evidence behind this theory. You see, behind all of the Nazi-World War II documentaries, not to mention the shows about aliens and Swamp People, there exist actual remains of old shows and documentaries that were broadcast on The History Channel which dealt with history! Real, factual, history!

I know what you may be thinking to yourself, “Can be this true? Is this real life?” The answer is yes! It is true!

Okay, okay, I’ll stop being so sarcastic about it all, but seriously: when did the History Channel become so unhistorical? When did it begin to shift away from history and towards Alien theories and World War II/Nazis? I mean, could it be that the History Channel has succumbed to “The Man?” More importantly, do viewers really take the shows they broadcast now about aliens as actual history, or do they have more common sense than that? If they do take it seriously, then should the History Channel take responsibility for the misconception, seeing as it is called the History Channel? Well, should they?

Yes, I think so, but let us start with the first question.

Who is this ominous “man?” Well, it’s you and me, and audiences alike!  “What?” Well, simply put, in order to make money, the History Channel has to appeal to the audience. The audience doesn’t really want to think too hard when it comes down to watching TV, and besides, many find history boring. Therefore, in order for the History Channel to stay afloat, it has to provide the audience with shows that they would be interested in. Unfortunately, we would rather watch a documentary about aliens, then about some revolution. Therefore, aliens it is for the History Channel. (I’m kind of surprised they haven’t done a thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, but maybe they have and I just haven’t seen it.) Therefore, we are the “man” because we demand that the History Channel broadcasts more entertaining shows, not historically accurate ones. Yuck! Real history for entertainment?! That’s like eating broccoli for dessert – no fun whatsoever.

Anyway, it saddens me to think that the human race has come to this, but apparently there are those that take the History Channel very seriously. “What? Really?!” Yes, yes indeed my dear friends. The fact that the History Channel still calls itself the history channel is humorous in itself, but the fact that some viewers actually believe that stories about aliens and “secret passageways” are true, is hilarious. However, to be fair, these shows are being shown on a channel that identifies itself with history. Whether you have common sense, or not, it is easy to be fooled by its name. Is it really fair to mislead people like that? No, of course not. Therefore, I believe that the History Channel should take some responsibility for the fact that some poor nine year old will now believe that the Stonehenge was a secret passageway for Nazi-Zombie-Aliens to enter our world.

Don’t you agree? Should they not change their name? I understand that it is now part of a brand, but a little rebranding never hurt anyone.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


Public History and Popular Culture

By Kevin Lopez

My three unexpected references to history in popular culture are as follows:

U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek

1. The U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek. It is the star ship that is focused upon in the TV series. The U.S.S. Enterprise was the U.S.’s leading battleship during WWII. The following U.S.S. Enterprise was the U.S.’s first nuclear power aircraft carrier. It was deployed to hotspots during the Cold War such as Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S.S. Enterprise has been the flag ship of the United States naval fleet.

Darth Vader’s Helmet

2. The Imperial Empire, The design of Darth Vader’s Helmet and the Jedi. The Imperial Empire is a reference to the Japanese Imperial Empire. Empire Palpatine represents the Japanese Emperor. Darth Vader’s helmet is designed in the traditional style of a Samurai warrior’s helmet. The face cover was added due to his breathing problem. The Jedi represent the Samurai way of life. Their fight with the Imperial Empire is representative of the fight between the traditionalist Samurai and the Modernist Imperial Empire in Japan during the 19th century.

Severus Snape

3. In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series one of the major characters is named after Septimius Severus. This character is obviously Severus Snape. Septimius Severus was the 21st Emperor of Rome. He is well known as being stern and untrustworthy. He betrayed other Roman leaders and killed the then emperor to come to power. His legacy would be the Severan Dynasty.

The REAL U.S.S. Enterprise

By using the U.S.S. Enterprise, the writers of Star Trek tied the idea of a flagship to the U.S. flagship. It seems that it would be an easy way to connect the idea of a flagship in space to something the audience would already be familiar with on a daily basis. It also reinforces the idea that the U.S. Navy would always continue and be dominating. The idea that the first flagship is the U.S.S. Enterprise is appealing to the audience in that way. I did actually learn history from this reference. As a kid watching Star Trek: TNG, I became interested in the Enterprise. So I looked for more info on the Enterprise and learned about the real life Enterprise. So the fact that they used a real ship’s name connected me to the real ship. I would definitely argue that this is a great way to connect pop culture to history in a way that it can benefit both pop culture and history. I think this was an appropriate way to use history in pop culture. Naming a vessel in a Sci-Fi show after a real vessel seems like a logical thing to do.

Samurai helmet

George Lucas has said in many interviews that his ideas for Star Wars would largely based on his love of Japanese culture and history. There are interviews where he shows how he used the design of a Samurai helmet to make Darth Vader’s helmet. He used a piece of history and culture that he found interesting to create a new universe. His reasoning fell on his own knowledge and interest in Japanese history. I actually learned a lot through this reference to history. As a kid I loved Star Wars. I would watch any interview George Lucas gave did. I even named my dog after Luke Skywalker. In an interview I saw, George expressed his love of Japanese history and how it influenced his designs and ideas for the Imperial Army and the Jedi. Because of that interview, I fully became interested in Japanese history and culture. I learned all about the Way of the Samurai and their history. I think this was a very interesting way to use history to create pop culture. I think that history often finds its way into pop culture.

Septimius Severus

J.K. Rowling used many interesting references in names of her characters. She used many mythological names for her characters. She also used real names like Severus. I believe she used names that had meanings that gave info on the characters. With Severus, she gave insight into the type of man he was and how he would be inside the realm of the story. I think it was a clever way of using history to give insight into a character. After hearing her speak about her characters and also catching certain references on my own, it made me want to further study these historic figures to see why she would use their names in her books. I learned all about Septimius Severus because she used his name in her books. I think this is a good way to use history in pop culture. It creates interest on both sides. You get more insight on the character by looking into the historic figure and you learn about a historic figure because of interest in a pop culture character. It seems like the perfect formula. While this form may not always be perfectly accurate, it does allow you to look into an accurate telling of a historic figure.

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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Museums, Education, and Programming: Issues and Problems

By Brandon Mason

One of the primary goals of every museum should be to educate the public through their collections. The way in which a museum educates the public is multifaceted. The interactions between collection and visitor can be as varied as the objects within the collection. Depending on the age group of the target audience, a museum collection can be utilized in a variety of ways in order to deliver an educational lesson.

Children's Museum in Tucson, AZ

In Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube’s article, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” she discusses several ways in which museums’ collections interact with the public for educational purposes. One of the ways Brüninghaus-Knube states that collections interact is through exhibit labels and captions on individual items. Technology has also become an important element of museum education. Visitors often learn through audio, visual, and computer media presented in the museum.

Another way in which the collections interact is through tour guides and educational speech. Brüninghaus-Knube also mentions activity workshops, field exercises, and tactile displays and aids which allow visitors controlled hands-on experience with cultural items in collections.

In addition to the several methods already mentioned, Brüninghaus-Knube points out that although the interaction is intended to be educational, it also provides an entertainment value to the visitors. Games, role-playing theater, and demonstrations provide entertainment and educational opportunities.  The many ways, in which museums use their collections in order to educate the public, illustrates the importance placed on education by museum management.[1]

According to Nina Simon, museum visitation has dropped due to availability of information to the public via the internet and social networks.[2] Without having read Simon’s book, I assumed the decrease in museum visitation was due to increased access to information via the internet, social networks, and television programming. With so much history and culture available at one’s fingertips, why leave the house to learn about the Sam Davis home?

Old Museum Display: La Porte County Historical Society & Museum in La Porte, IN -

I believe that many people have the idea that museums are just dusty old displays cases filled with an artifact and a note card telling what it is. While, sadly some museums are exactly what I just described, many are beginning to give the public reasons to visit. I believe that the only way to get a larger audience into museums in 2012 is through interactive and entertaining methods.

Museums have to offer a cultural learning experience that is not offered through watching television or surfing the internet. Simon’s solution to the museum visitation problem is to develop museums into participatory cultural institutions. She defines a participatory institution as a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content.[3]

Simon states that the first thing museums have to do in order to combat the current trend is by becoming more comfortable, accessible, and convenient to the public.[4]With that said, museums and libraries must adapt to fit the needs of today’s visitors by allowing the public to engage with the content and collections in ways that create new dialogue.

In a sense, participatory simply means to establish an environment in which visitors are actively involved with the content of the institution in their own way. Without making these necessary changes, museums will continue to be in danger of becoming useless to the general public. By producing a more comfortable and inviting environment in which the public can readily access and learn, museums and libraries will be able to effectively compete with corporate entities. If museums refuse to change, the public will simply seek more convenient outlets for knowledge and culture.

[1] Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” ICOM – International Council of Museums and Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. Selections: • Museum Education, pp. 119-132
[2] Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum – Preface
[3] Ibid.

Posted by on March 27, 2012 in museums, Uncategorized


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Ancient Egypt and Public History: Connections? By Callie Lopeman

For most people, including many historians, ancient history is an irrelevant time so far in the past that it is no longer important for the people of today; interesting to watch a few History Channel shows on but not anything that actually matters.

The Sphinx, Photo by Callie Lopeman

However, I firmly believe that there is so much that can be learned and taught from ancient history. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see that ancient civilizations are the window to the actual development of society and the cultural roots of the human race.

In the beginning, the entire population of an area would have been consumed with farming as the necessary component to survival. Then, as farming methods became more effective, there would have been extra food, meaning that everyone no longer had to farm to survive. Because of this, some people would have become more important and some societal stratification began to occur. During this early time, the roots of traditions and rituals that are later vital to the culture can already be seen developing. Then, as time and the society advance, these rituals also grow and shape the foundations of the belief, moral and political systems of that civilization.

Deir el Bahri, Photo by Callie Lopeman

By looking at ancient civilizations as a connecting tool between the prehistoric and our own society, it is possible to see humanity’s progression from simple farmers to a diverse and complex society which, in many cases, has directly influenced our own culture. It is this ability to actually watch the cultural growth of humanity and the later interconnections in ancient civilizations through trade and military force is what has long interested me in history.

So, what does all of this have to do with public history? How do ancient trade routes and farming techniques matter to the relatively new field of public history? First of all, because ancient civilizations WERE ancient and therefore thousands of years ago, there is really only one good way to learn anything about them: archaeology. This involves excavating sites to reveal the ancient structures there and collecting artifacts to learn more about the culture. These artifacts are the greatest connection between ancient civilizations and public history because the artifacts go from the archaeological site to a museum. The museum then puts them on display to educate the public on the civilization from whence they came.

Karnak Temple, Photo by Callie Lopeman

Another way that ancient civilizations have become connected to public history is that when these archaeological sites and artifacts are found, books are then published to inform the public of the findings.

Okay, the importance of ancient civilizations and their relevance to public history has now been established, but why do I care? First, I care because this is what fascinates me. It always has and probably always will. The ancient past is still filled with holes, mysteries that only discovery in the field can solve. Although much of the past is lost forever, it is some of these holes that I hope to fill. While I plan to get my PhD in Egyptology, the time that I plan to study is the Roman occupation of Egypt. This is an area that has largely been ignored by scholars in the past, so I hope to be able to shed more light on an otherwise fairly uninvestigated time in ancient history.

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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Uncategorized



Welcome to the Explorations in Public History, Spring 2012 Class Website!

This page will host student public history projects produced during the semester.

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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Uncategorized