History and the YouTube Generation

You can learn just about anything on YouTube.  There are thousands of “how-to” videos for fixing things in your house, setting up the Bluetooth in your car, or solving complicated math problems.

There is also a lot of historical content, some of it very well done and surprisingly popular.  Well, surprising to me, but probably not the generation who has grown up looking for short-cuts to history lessons, which is why historians like me should be involved in their creation by providing reliable content and expertise.  Very recently, I did just that.

A video producer named Coleman Lowndes contacted me and asked me to Skype with him and talk about the “Lost Cause.”  It’s a term that I often have to explain to students and even public audiences. That interview, along with one given by historian Kevin Levin, were then incorporated into the video Lowndes produced for Vox, an online news media outlet that reaches a large millennial audience.

Here is the end result:

Now, while I might take issue with the title, the content was spot on.  And entertaining. It’s also not a lecture, although many of those exist online, too.  At least one lecture I found had been viewed over 400,00 times.  Not bad at all.  But the video above?  It’s closing in on one million views.  ONE MILLION.

I credit this to the video producer who made it, Coleman Lowndes.  He knows his audience–the millennials of the YouTube generation who want to learn and be entertained at the same time.  Please understand: I’m not saying that this generation is limited to one learning style, but if they are going to seek out a video explanation of a historical idea or an event then it’s important to grab, and hold, their attention.  Lowndes did that well.

Even we, historian/teachers, appreciate an entertaining history lesson, which is why so many of us like Drunk History, which began as a YouTube series.  Students like them, too.  One of my favorites is about Harriet Tubman, played by Octavia Spencer.

They get students’ attention and instructors can use them to enhance lectures and prompt discussion.  Just like those Vox videos.

There’s much more out there in YouTube land.  There is history in song (here’s one on the Declaration of Independence), traditional documentaries, and restored historical newsreels.

YouTube videos aren’t the only way to reach the latest generation, of course. But maybe, just maybe, they can spark a real interest among those viewers to go beyond the video in search of more information.  For historians, that’s a win-win.