Making Sense of the Past? Television history and its participatory audiences

Rebecca Williams, Ruth McElroy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Whilst the figure of the audience often appears rhetorically in debates between historians and television producers, there continues to be little empirical study of the audiences of television history. Given the rise of dedicated history channels, the burgeoning of an array of different genres of television history, and the development of online archives of viewers on historical recollections, this absence is both bizarre and needs urgently to be addressed. In this paper, we offer some initial findings from our qualitative, mixed methods study of the audiences of BBC Wales' Coal House. Describing itself as 'the reality of living in the past', Coal House (Indus, 2007) saw three Welsh families 'transported' back to 1927 to experience day to day life in the south Wales coalfield. In 2008, Coal House at War employed the same conceit, setting its reconstruction in 1944. Both series used an historical site open to the public - Stack Square, Blaenavon Ironworks - as the set for filming and in doing so they made significant use of both the domestic and communal spaces afforded them. In this paper, we explore how Coal House, as both a TV programme and a specifically multiplatform project, may be read as an instance of televisual formations of imagined communities in small nations. We draw upon first-hand accounts of the series' commissioners, producers and participants, together with findings from our audience research on the second series, to examine how such national/regional representations of the coalfield past were formed and given cultural, aesthetic and political value in a post-devolutionary nation. In so doing, we raise questions regarding the specific nature of audience research in small nations, and the relationship between TV production and place.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationN/A
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2009
Event Television History conference - University of Lincoln
Duration: 24 Jul 200924 Jul 2009


Conference Television History conference


  • television history audiences
  • bbc wales; coal house at war
  • participatory audiences; multiplatform television


Dive into the research topics of 'Making Sense of the Past? Television history and its participatory audiences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this