'Negotiating Imagined Communities: the making of a national TV history programme'

Ruth McElroy

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


This paper examines how different actors involved in the commissioning, production and reception of history on television negotiate the challenges of making a landmark programme on a nation's history. In Europe and beyond, history is both popular and contentious when narrated on the small screen. Specifically national history series - designed from their conception to tell a story of 'our' past, of who 'we' were and how 'we' lived - offer particular challenges to commissioners and programme-makers to tell complex narratives. This is especially acute at a time when the legitimacy of nations and states is under question and when ne governmental and political settlements are under construction as is the case in the post-devolutionary United Kingdom. Is it possible and desirable for national history series to avoid nationalism? If so, how is this best achieved? How can prime-time history negotiate historiography to capture the contingency and contestability of historical interpretation to a popular audience? What visual and exhibitory techniques are most effective on the small screen? This paper raises and answers some such questions through recourse to the academic literature on televising history (see Bell and Gray 2010, for example) through empirical participant observation in the commissioning and making of a BBC Wales series, The Story of Wales (BBC Wales 2012) and close textual analysis of the transmitted programme. By following a case study series from initial conception to reception, we offer original insight into how different constituencies involved in mediating a sense of a national past meet the challenges of winning audiences for national histories on television.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationN/A
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Jan 2012
Event Narratives and Social Memory Conference - Location unknown - please update
Duration: 1 Jan 19901 Jan 1990


Conference Narratives and Social Memory Conference


  • television history
  • a story of wales
  • imagined communities


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