Tag Archives: Media Education

Teaching History and the Social Sciences in a Post-Literate Visual Media Age

For the student of today, school is only one of the places from which they will develop their understanding and relationship to the past. In our post-literate age, when most of us can read, but many of us don’t want to, we would prefer to watch a film or surf the net rather than read a book (Rosenstone, 2001). Through the medium of the nightly news; in the press; as television docudramas, Hollywood films, or cable TV documentaries; in novels; through museum exhibits; commemoration ceremonies; monuments to the fallen; and increasingly on the internet, through websites, vodcasts and podcasts, we cannot avoid the encounter with history as media text (Davies, 2006). of course, historical representations arising within and across various media have varying degrees of reliability as historical accounts, presenting complex “mixtures of fact, fiction, fabrication and faking” (Ellsworth, 1991); and may be the artefact of rigorous scholarship executed within recognisable traditions of historiography, but are just as likely to be the products of a commercial imagination with little respect for disciplinary rigor or forms. This problem is compounded in contemporary postmodern culture, where the line between fact and fiction in historical work has been questioned (Curthoys & Docker, 2006; Jenkins, 2003; White, 1999) and is often deliberately blurred in reality television, mocumentaries, historical novels, and other popular media forms; where, even in television news, as Jean Baudrillard (1995) has argued, reality and representation implode, leaving us with only an endless array of simulations which often supplant any reality they were once intended to depict. It is within this cultural context, that the positive public reception of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (2003), a fictional novel which claims to be drawing on a ‘hidden history’ of Christianity, but which clearly gets the history confused (Ehrman, 2004), comes to represent the very problem being articulated. These cultural developments present a challenge, not only to public understandings of history and its discipline, but also to History and Social Science education in our schools (Vinson, 2006). Working at the intersection of History Education and Media Studies, I am increasingly interested in how we teach History in this post-literate, new media age. I am currently writing up the results of a collaborative study, funded by the University of Newcastle, that explored the use of visual media across the teaching of the Humanities and Social Sciences.


Baudrillard, J. (1995). The gulf war did not take place (P. Patton, Trans.). Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Brown, D. (2003). The Da Vinci Code. Berkley: Doubleday.

Curthoys, A., & Docker, J. (2006). Is history fiction? Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Davies, M. L. (2006). Historics: Why history dominates contemporary society. Abingdon: Routledge.

Ehrman, B. D. (2004). Truth and fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A historian reveals what we really know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellsworth, E. (1991). I pledge allegiance: The politics of reading and using educational films. Curriculum Inquiry, 21(1), 41-64.

Jenkins, K. (2003). Refiguring history: New thoughts on an old discipline. London: Routledge.

Rosenstone, R. A. (2001). The historical film: Looking at the past in a postliterate age. In M. Landy (Ed.), The historical film: History and memory in media (pp. 50-64). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Vinson, K. D. (2006). Social studies in an age of image: Surveillance-spectacle and the imperatives of “seeing” citizenship education. In A. Segall, E. E. Heilman & C. H. Cherryholmes (Eds.), Social studies – the next generation: Re-searching in the postmodern (pp. 27-46). New York: Peter Lang.

White, H. (1999). Figural realism: Studies in the mimesis effect. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

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