Lockdown History: Now That Everything Is Suddenly Accessible
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
While this pandemic has put a spanner in the works of a lot of academic historical projects, mine included, it has vastly increased the number of places offering online materials for learning, for any age and ranging widely from primary source research materials to fun podcasts and museum tours.
Access to history and heritage is one of the hardest areas for disabled and chronically ill people, what with the age of buildings and "listed status" giving all excuses for not doing anything towards helping us access this history. Everyone loses if disabled people can't access culture and heritage, and I'm sure I'll be continuing to complain and shout about that for years, but right now history is more accessible than ever.
We can only hope this will continue to exist after our lockdown, as everything so far suggests that we'll be living very differently for a long time, and these things will stay accessible for us disabled and chronically ill folks who can't get to these places so easily, although I am not so naive to think that we won't have to fight for it.
In the meantime, here are some of my favourite free lock down history resources:
Histfest Online, Youtube
I went to the first Histfest in London in November 2018 (I stayed in a really crappy hostel with one plug socket in the 10 bed dorm and signs pointing the wrong way to the toilet) and it was great. It was a way to go, but I really enjoyed all of it, so it was a great shame when this year's had to be postponed.
However, the team (and in particular Rachel Rideal) has come through and posted a whole day's worth of talks on their Youtube channel. Talks with authors and researchers about race and gender in Ancient Greek texts, Bollywood and the history of celebrity, as well as a talk about disability in the Tudor age which I fell over my own knees to watch.
They also have a history quiz (which I haven't dared tackle) and a children's history quiz (which is still probably beyond my capacity).
All videos have auto-generated captions with mixed success, but clear speakers.
Online museum tours
Lots of museums have for a long time had virtual tours, but they were often quite limited in their scope. With the lockdown preventing us from going anywhere near museums for a while, many of these have expanded to include not just Google Street View style walkthroughs of the buildings, but also in depth looks at artifacts.
If you can manage with the futuristic horizontal guitar style of the British Museum's tour, then you can organise the artefacts by theme, as well as navigate by continent and time. I'm not sure how accessible it will be for screen readers (I'm taking a stab in the dark at not at all) and there's some tinkly music which was quite a surprise but that can be muted. (They do have a walkthrough tour as well here)
As well as the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament have a virtual walkaround tour and the National Computing Museum in Bletchley Park. The Parliament one is closer to the Google Street View style but it's very pretty and quite relaxing to go around. Further afield, we have the Natural History Museums in both London and New York and The Vatican.
Also available at the moment are places that many of us might not otherwise be able to see due to accessibility issues or the sheer expense. (Not to mention that none of us are allowed to go anywhere etc etc.) Some of note:
The Ancient City of Petra. A virtual trek and tour with audio track and sweeping visuals. So incredible, I'd love to go in person, but until Ryanair starts flying there it's probably out of my price range.
The Colosseum in Rome. A virtual walk around. No audio track or interactive tools, but pretty cool
The Anne Frank House. Due to the nature of the place, I'll probably struggle ever getting to the Anne Frank House. Stairs don't go well for many of us, so this is the next best way to see it! Interactive elements, including extracts from her diary.
The Palace at Versailles. Maybe it's just because I studied the Treaty of Versailles for such a long time while I was at school, but I've always been fascinated by Versailles. However where it is, outside of Paris, is very awkward to get to and I may not ever be able to realistically be able to go. Also it's HUGE and walking is terrible so being able to see all the detail like this is great.
OpenLearn is run by the Open University and has free courses on all subjects (not just history) for anyone, from beginners to advanced and taking from one hour to 20.
I went to have a look just to see if they had any relevant courses for disability history, medical history or heritage. Guys. I found 9. The variety of them and the scope of how much they're covering is incredible, and you don't have to do any that take weeks and weeks, they have loads that are just an hour or two.
I do like watching history documentaries and factual programmes, it's learning without trying, but I usually need something a bit different from the person walking around a historical site spouting facts. My brain struggles to continue concentrating for a full hour, brain fog kicks in and I can't remember everything, but there are still a lot of documentaries around for us easily distracted history fans.
Civilisations. For all of the time you're reading this, you're not watching Civilisations. (AD, CC and BSL)
A House Through Time. I'm ashamed to admit I only started watching when it was set in Bristol, where I live. I will go and sit on the stairs and think about what I've done. (AD, CC and BSL)
Lost Home Movies of Nazi Germany. Well, it ain't light but it's incredibly compelling. Not really a pick me up but I do like watching war documentaries when I'm down. Don't question it. I'm sure it's a thing. (CC and BSL)
Hidden Killers, The Tudor Home.
America's Book of Secrets (CC)
History 101 (it's fine, but basic) (AD and CC, weirdly with the option of English or British English CC)
The Miami Showband Massacre (and other ReMastered) (AD and CC)
Five Came Back (AD and CC)
4oD (or All4, whatever it's called now)
Britain's Most Historic Towns. And not the obvious ones, no Bath mentioned at all! (AD and CC)
Unremembered: Britain's Forgotten War Heroes (AD and CC)
Lost Pharoahs of the Nile (AD and CC)
Channel 4 does not make it easy to find history documentaries. You can't really narrow down your search terms much more, so you end up browsing through pages of 18 kids and counting and sisterhood of strippers before you find a really interesting history one. (Nothing against either of those documentaries, they're just not history. The documentaries that are "look at all these disabled people", I do have an issue with. Obv.)
There are so many podcasts around, but I love them so I'm fine with it. (I would love to start one myself so by all means let me know if you would actually listen to a fun podcast on disability history.) Here are some of my favourite history ones:
You're Dead To Me. Obviously. It's Greg Jenner, it's bound to be good. They've put the main podcast on pause for the pandemic to do short 15 minute programmes for Radio 4 for kids at home (which are also excellent called Homeschool History) but there's 25 full episodes on various topics for you.
Sawbones. A medical history podcast by some of the prolific podcasting dynasty of the McElroy's. (Anything they speak about becomes gold. They are one of the reasons why I don't podcast yet. I'll NEVER BE AS GOOD.) (Transcripts available at https://maximumfun.org/podcasts/sawbones/?_post-type=transcript)
Killing Time. Rebecca Rideal podcasts all the ways people died with knowledgeable historians. It's excellent and feels like I'm investing in myself by learning while really just having a morbid curiosity about how people died.
Dan Snow's History Hit. So many episodes, on all different topics and all around the 20-30 minute mark, so definitely something for everyone. (Many transcripts available at https://www.historyhit.com/tag/podcast-transcript/)
HistoryExtra. From the makers of the BBC History magazine, always a good shout. (Some transcripts available at https://www.historyhit.com/tag/podcast-transcript/)
Mine if I ever get round to it obv
Any other recommendations? Let me know!
Online research sources
JSTOR has increased their free reading limit from 6 articles a month to 100 until the end of the year