The BBC’s Horrible Histories Videos Will Crack You Up and Teach You About WWI (and More)

My 12-year-old, home-schooled son recent­ly expressed an inter­est in study­ing World War I. This was encour­ag­ing, but also nerve-wrack­ing, giv­en the dis­dain that led me to spend most of World His­to­ry pass­ing notes and doo­dling (not in the Lyn­da Bar­ry col­lege course / this will help you absorb the infor­ma­tion bet­ter way). I retained noth­ing of what I’d been for­mal­ly taught. My most sol­id knowl­edge of the peri­od was gleaned from the sec­ond sea­son of Down­ton Abbey and an Audrey Tautou movie that was rat­ed R for sex and vio­lence. (There’s also a fam­i­ly pho­to­graph of us pos­ing on the Sara­je­vo street cor­ner where Franz Fer­di­nand was assas­si­nat­ed, but the sig­nif­i­cance of the spot had to be explained to me first.)

Some online scrab­bling led me to the BBC’s Hor­ri­ble His­to­ries’ brief overview of the “caus­es of World War I” (above). Wow. If only this series—and, ahem, the Internet—had exist­ed when I was the boy’s age! I think it’s safe to say my atten­tion would have been cap­tured. It’s sil­ly, yes, but that’s the whole point. The play­ers’ over-the-top comedic style ensures that even the dri­est of his­tor­i­cal facts will stick, as any­one who’s watched Michael Cera bring Alexan­der Hamil­ton to life in Drunk His­to­ry can attest. It’s the per­fect gate­way for fur­ther study.

Hor­ri­ble His­to­ries’ take on World War I proved  such a hit, the boy imme­di­ate­ly delved into oth­er peri­ods, often when he was sup­posed to be doing oth­er things, like play­ing Minecraft or watch­ing YouTube (tech­ni­cal­ly, I guess this sort of counts). Still it’s grat­i­fy­ing to hear him stud­ding his con­ver­sa­tion with casu­al ref­er­ences to the Bor­gias, the Tudors, and Mar­tin Luther. It makes me want to learn more, or at least bring myself up-to-speed on the videos. In the words of School­house Rock, knowl­edge is pow­er.

A WWI cen­ten­ni­al’s loom­ing, folks. Don’t get caught with your draw­ers down.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Drunk His­to­ry: An Intox­i­cat­ed Look at the Famous Alexan­der Hamil­ton – Aaron Burr Duel

The Dead Authors Pod­cast: H.G. Wells Com­i­cal­ly Revives Lit­er­ary Greats with His Time Machine

School­house Rock at 40: Revis­it a Col­lec­tion of Nos­tal­gia-Induc­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Videos

200 Free Kids Edu­ca­tion­al Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Web­sites & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day  grad­u­at­ed from North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in the­ater and has been mak­ing up for it ever since. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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  • Kate says:

    Great find! I became inter­est­ed in WWI because I saw Mel Gib­son in Gal­lipoli on video :) A few years lat­er I end­ed up doing my under­grad senior the­sis on home front pro­pa­gan­da in the war.

    Hor­ri­ble His­to­ries start­ed as a very pop­u­lar series of books in the UK and has since branched out into oth­er sub­jects.

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