Cabin fever anyone? How about YouTube.com for relief?
I stumbled upon Time Team in January 2019, a British archaeology “reality” show, which ran from 1994 to 2014. It began slowly with just four episodes during its first year. The places visited ranged from the hiding place of the man who would become the only English king to be called the Great, to a Bronze Age village, to a Norman castle, ending with dig at a crannog, an artificial island meant for defensive purposes.
All in all, the show presents history, a dash of drama, a touch of humor, and, now, a way to ease your cabin fever.
Time Team caught on, and, over the years, visited the United States, explored sites associated with World War II, as well as sites linked to the legendary Arthur, and taught a curious public just how science and technology are changing archaeology. From time to time, the crew spoke with ordinary citizens who watched the program religiously and even chuckled over some of the idiosyncrasies of the real archaeologists who participated in the weekend digs.
While the cast and the emphasis changed over the years, the connecting thread was the host, Tony Robinson, also known as Sir Anthony Robinson, knighted for his contributions to society, and as Baldrick, servant to Edmund Blackadder, played by Rowan Atkinson.
How much of a fan was I? I spent six months with the show. When I traveled to England last summer, I had hoped to run into my favorite English people, including archaeologist, flint knapper and beer authority Phil Harding, whose midlands accent and knowledge enlivened Time Team through most of its long run.
If you finish their offerings, and are still hungry for history and archaeology, you could go to YouTube’s search function and ask for BBC history documentaries, which are often listed by their presenters. Through the second half of 2019, I watched people with whom I was already familiar, the late Terry Jones, who, in addition to his Monty Python career, was a respected Medievalist, and Lucy Worsley, as well as Elizabethan-era scholars and writers David Starkey and Claire Ridgway.
I could not resist revisiting the cheerful and dishy Michael Wood. Unique among the presenters is David Dimbleby, a retired journalist known for hosting political debates and reporting on current events. He views history through the lens of art. Or, rather, in his “Seven Ages of Britain” series, he uses art as an entree to history. Ever wonder where Britannia, the feminine personification of Britain came from? He tells you.
I have watched more, and was introduced to hosts Dan Jones, Mary Beard, Suzanna Lipscomb and Neil Oliver. If you set out to meet them, they will lessen your cabin fever. Most of these people speak from the moneyed platforms of the BBC and Channel Four. They travel to the locations they talk about. Some hosts engage in daredevil rock climbs, cave exploration and underwater archaeology.
But there is another kind of documentarian, the home-grown history buff. Some are “independent scholars” who present stripped down stories of eras, personalities and events without the luxury of action sequences and with the most basic of graphics. Some broadcasts are over in five minutes, but some will last more than 90.
As you’ll be watching on your computer, you can always pause when you need to. You won’t like all of the amateur hosts. Some are a conceited. Some have annoying voices. Some you just wish you could trust.
But there are some outstanding presenters. To me, the best of the independent, serious homegrown historians is Pete Kelly. You can ask YouTube to give you a play list of Pete’s videos or you can search for them using his channel name, History Time.
His material is straight-forward lecture presented in his soothing voice. Although he concentrates on British and Scandinavian history, he does wander afield into religious conflicts. In the short time he has been sharing his love of history on YouTube, he has acquired a quarter of a million followers.
Another favorite is an American from “the Greater Chicago land area,” The History Guy, also known as Lance Geiger. Geiger, like Kelly, supports himself through his channel. His pieces are shorter than Kelly’s, although he sometimes finds it difficult to present his material in the 15 minutes he originally planned to spend. His material leans toward the quirky and to things that he feels might other wise have been forgotten.
Hopefully, you will find some of these programs fun, informative and distracting. For me, I am glad that people are taking an interest in history.
A native of Michigan, Susan Wozniak belongs to three alumni associations with at least one other woman named Susan Wozniak in each. She can be reached at email@example.com.