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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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