THE CRITIC’S CORNER: Are Historical TV Shows the way Forward for Getting Teenagers into History?

Image courtesy of Teen Vogue

For the past few months, there has been one TV show that you probably haven’t been able to escape, Bridgerton. Whilst some viewers may get distracted by the gorgeous characters and the actors that portray them, the show is surrounded by a rich history. With the show predominantly aimed at the 18-25 age group, it introduces young adults to the wonderful nineteenth-century and the eccentric balls that came with it. Whilst I know that Bridgerton watchers won’t go off and write a Ph.D. about the show, it is a good way to educate people about the historical period. Therefore, are these types of TV shows the way forward for getting this generation interested in History?

Having a basis in History is essential to most subjects in school but still, there are fewer young people opting to study it at university. Most students seem to have a short attention span when it comes to the subject of History and I can see why, when the subject is portrayed as dull and uninteresting. Perhaps films and shows that are as radiant as Bridgerton will help to spark some intrigue within students. Bridgerton has made the period more digestible for young audiences compared to the many lengthy history books about the nineteenth century. 

After talking with my friend about her experience watching the show, I realised the gateway that Bridgerton has possibly started to open to young adults. Like most people watching this show, she found Bridgerton through Netflix’s top 10 list. Most likely due to being in a global pandemic, Bridgerton reached 82 million households with diverse backgrounds and differing knowledge about the nineteenth century. Despite being infatuated with the glossy scenery and Gossip Girl-esque storyline, my friend confirmed that the show had increased her understanding of social expectations from the time. Being a History student currently studying women’s lives in the eighteenth century, it was not very surprising that the first thing to be mentioned by my tutor was Bridgerton. When asked who had watched the show, it was even less surprising that the majority of my class started nodding their heads. Whilst being set slightly too late to be completely relevant to my studies, my tutor made sure to highlight how the show was a good introduction to the concepts that we would be studying. 

Critics of the show have pointed out some of its historical inaccuracies but that is to be expected with a show that advertises itself as vibrant and fresh compared to many historical documentaries. While the show doesn’t offer viewers a comprehensive overview of the period in question, it opens up a new world that is so seemingly different from ours. Introducing young people to the ‘Regency slang’ of the nineteenth century, such as ‘rake’ and ‘diamond of the first water’, may be the way forward in making History more accessible to younger audiences.  Transporting viewers away from what has been dubbed the ‘new normal’, historical television shows offer a form of escapism. These shows have been linked to improvements in mental health, according to studies cited in a CBC article, which explores the possible psychological effects of watching historical shows. 
Overall, I think that Bridgerton has opened up a new genre of historical television shows that would be more suited to young adults. With historical references sprinkled throughout a scandalous storyline, Bridgerton holds the fleeting attention of its audience and subconsciously, enriches one’s brain with a little historical knowledge.

By Amy Britton