The Appeal of the Past in Historical Reality Television: Coal House at War and its audiences

Rebecca Williams, Ruth McElroy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Television history channels and programming have seen considerable growth in recent years, yet empirical research on television history audiences remains limited. This essay argues that media history scholars need better to understand what happens when audiences consume television history, examining the critical debates concerning the genre's specific modalities of rendering the past on screen before exploring what opportunities and problems it affords viewers. The essay draws on original qualitative, empirical research on audiences of historical reality television through a specific, small-scale case study of BBC Wales' Coal House at War (Indus 2008). It argues for the need to retain a dual focus upon such programming's historical content and its televisuality if we are to appreciate the intricacies of viewers' cultural consumption. The essay concludes by demonstrating that audiences' own oral and written responses to television history reveal something of how people, situated in their specific times and places, understand both their past and their present.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79 - 86
Number of pages7
JournalMedia History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • television history
  • wales
  • audiences


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