Empathy and enfranchisement: Popular histories

This article considers the media phenomenon of 'history' over the past decade. In particular I am interested in the complex types of historical engagement available, and what these various models of 'experience' suggest for consumption and understanding of the past. Analysing re-enactment, 'reality' history TV and first-person shooter (FPS) computer games, I suggest that engagement with the discourse of 'history' in popular culture is a complicated and problematic issue. I further suggest that these models offer the professional academic historian a number of interesting methodological and epistemological paradigms. All three of the media I consider refuse to fit into specific, disciplined or institutionalised order. Their dynamism and levels of complexity are crucial to their consumption. Analysis of history-as-experience illustrates that it is a set of narratives divorced from an institutionalised framework, used in different and dissident ways by a variety of social groups. These uses interact with the notion of 'history' as an academic pursuit but also create a space between ontological and intellectual approaches to the past. On the one hand increased access and interrogation of historical narratives suggests an enfranchising of the population into history; on the other the factuality of history organises and disciplines.