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The Best British History Books

Do you wish you knew more about the history of Britain? Whether you're interested in the royal family or the working class, there are books that have delved into many aspects of Britain's history.

We've taken a look at some of the best places to start. These books cover a variety of topics and are suited for a variety of different age groups, so the right one for you might vary.

Top 6: Best British History Books

1. History of Britain and Ireland

History of Britain and Ireland

This visual journey by DK Publishing is a great way to learn about Irish and British history. The book covers some of the most important events that changed the countries, including military and politics and culture. The book has been updated and revised several times with new historical information.

If you're a visual learner, this is a great choice. There are more than 700 images put together into a single book. The images include significant artwork, maps of different areas, and photographs.

In addition to covering Ireland and Britain, the book talks about the histories of Wales and Scotland, the other countries making up the UK.

The book is divided into six sections that examine different periods of history. You'll learn about how the royal family changed the country, how the country became involved in the world wars of the 1900s, and how the 2000s have brought up new challenges to the economy.

The guidebook helps to show you the larger context for many different aspects of British history. It looks at figures like Alfred the Great, who united England, to figures like Winston Churchill, who led the country in times of great crisis. You'll also learn how events like the invasion of the Romans affected later historical developments.

2. The English and Their History

The English and Their History

This epic book covers more than 1,000 pages of English history. It has been critically acclaimed by multiple publications in the UK, making it a great choice for British people who want to learn more about their own history.

England hasn't existed forever. The country was united more than a thousand years ago. This book digs into the history of England before it was officially England. It discusses how the country might be the oldest nation in the world, despite the challenges in documenting the history.

The book was put together by the historian Robert Tombs. He has dedicated his life to researching England's history. In addition to documenting the past, the book explains how these events shape the present day. It adds some much-needed context to political and social events happening in today's UK.

Tombs uses a great deal of recent works to study the UK. There is information about how the English government has changed over the years, how people in the UK have been united and divided, and how English people have persistently united when facing danger.

The book also presents some of the ways that English people discuss their own history. It talks about arguments that people have for and against different interpretations.

This is the first singular book that's dealt so thoroughly with English history in over 50 years.

3. Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy

Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy

If you're interested in the history of the royal family, this is one of the best places to start. Spanning 400 pages, this book discusses the members of the family and their connections to each other. It is written by a popular historian who is dedicated to preserving the royal family's legacy.

This reference book is the first volume that has ever provided a complete genealogy of the British royal family in a single place. The book talks about the connections between every member of the royal family in Scotland, England, and Great Britain, beginning in 800 AD and continuing all the way to the present.

The book uses a variety of sources, both from modern historians and from past documentation. Alison Weir has put together the most in-depth look at the royal family's history and heritage that exists today.

This book might not be the best choice if you're not interested in genealogy. Rather than detailing historical events and political issues, the book focuses on familial connections and heritage.

4. Foundation: The History of England

Foundation: The History of England

This history book talks about the foundation of British society. It is the first of five volumes that discuss British history. The other volumes span time periods up to the modern day. This series helps teach people the context for different events throughout England's history.

The timeline of this volume covers the early beginnings of the country to the era of the Tudors. Historian Peter Ackroyd creates a narrative that studies how England came to be. The book covers the prehistorical forests that spanned England to the death of Henry VII in 1509.

If you want to learn more about the ancient history of Britain, this is the best place to go. It has almost 500 pages of information about the ancient trials and tribulations of those in the UK.

You'll learn about everything from Stonehenge to the cathedrals and common law that set England apart from the rest of Europe. The book also talks about the variety of different people who defined England's culture, even though many of them came from other places.

You'll learn about the Saxons, Vikings, and Romans. You'll learn how they warred and united and turned the country into what it is today.

The book brings ancient England to life by telling detailed stories about the people who lived in these times. It discusses civil issues, wars, and resistance to invaders.

If you've ever been curious about the lives of people in ancient England, this book is also a great resource. Rather than touching on historical events alone, it discusses the day-to-day existence of people in the country. You'll learn about the people's humor, their food, their clothes, and how they built their homes.

All in all, this is a book you can't miss if you want to learn about the ancient history of England. To learn more about the eras after the early 1500s, you can also check out the other four volumes in this series.

5. Great Tales from English History

Great Tales from English History

If you're interested in English folklore, this is a great place to start. This book spans 544 pages and covers some of England's most legendary stories. Historian Robert Lacey has vividly brought ancient history to life with a narrative that reads like the most compelling fiction.

In this book, you'll learn about the events and the people who had the most profound impact on English history. The book discusses how the English language spread throughout the land, how the traditional rule of kings was established, and how different important figures influenced history.

The timeline covers the years of the late 1300s to the late 1600s. It begins with the Canterbury Tales and ends with the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary. The book explores the different aspects of myth and legend and true historical fact that make up England's folklore.

Each tale takes a different tone. One talks about the military victory in which a group of archers defeated an invading army with three times as many soldiers. Another talks about two tragic princes locked in a tower, murdered by a scheming uncle. Another explores Henry VIII and his divorces from both his wives and the country's primary religion.

Other tales include the tragedy of the Great London Fire, the way that Francis Drake helped to defeat the Spanish Armada, and the way the country burned those who defied the institutional religion.

If you're a fan of British history, you'll learn surprising facts about your favorite figures from history. There are also additional volumes of tales from English history, which focus on different parts of the timeline.

6. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

For people who are more interested in the past few centuries of history, this is a great choice. The influence of the British Empire has changed radically over the past 400 years. The book chronicles how the country became a global power through conquest, and then how the country's empirical power waned in various regions throughout the world.

Britain used to control more than half of the globe. The country was one of the richest powers in the world. Today, that political power is a fraction of what it once was. The economy is unstable, and the government is constantly dealing with strife from the neighboring areas.

This insightful work takes a look at how Britain has changed from 1600 to the modern day. It uses a combination of academic discussion and accessible history to give people a better understanding of the past.

Final Thoughts

The history of England spans more than a thousand years. There's a lot to learn, whether you're looking into the royal family or the wars of the past century or the ancient history that's been turned into folklore.

For a readable and digestible history, we recommend the DK visual guide. This book has more than 700 images along with accessible text. It's a great place to start if you want to learn about basic events that have shaped British history.

For a more in-depth look at the country's history, the best choice is The English and Their History. This stunning book has more than 1,000 pages that delve into different aspects of British history. It covers everything from ancient times to modern warfare.

No matter your taste, the books on this list can help you learn more about Britain.

Best Black History Books

Have you wanted to learn more about Black history? Do you wish you had more context for the ways that history has shaped the modern world?

We've taken a look at some of the best Black history books on the market. These range from books for kids to more in-depth discussions of how historical events have changed modern life for Black people in the US.

Top 6: Best Black History Books

1. Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, and Legacies

Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, and Legacies

This is a children's book that's packed with information about Black leaders and innovators throughout history. Even for adults, the book has facts that you might not expect.

The book focuses on parts of history that are often overlooked or hidden. It teaches you about how the world is different because of the contributions of these individuals, along with how they changed the world they lived in.

Each of the timelines was individually commissioned by DK. They have visual information that makes it much easier to digest the facts. There are the same number of timelines for Black women and men, focusing on both the people you've heard about and people who are often overlooked in European history books.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the US, the book focuses on important historical moments that happened in North America, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. It includes important leaders from before Africa was colonized all the way through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era.

The book also covers leaders in the time period between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement of today. It explains some of the context surrounding Black Lives Matter and explains how the movement compares to historical movements.

This item was written, edited, and put together by a diverse team of people from many different backgrounds and communities.

The book focuses on over 100 different Black leaders in history. It also has 30 different timelines that outline pieces of world history. You'll learn about everything from Ethiopia's resistance to colonization to the way Lewis Latimer contributed to the lightbulb.

Overall, this is a super accessible book for people of all ages to learn more about Black history.

PROS

  • There are 30 timelines and over 100 Black leaders and innovators that have been written about.
  • The book was put together by a team of multicultural people with a wide range of life experiences.
  • It covers events from prior to African colonization all the way to today.

CONS

  • The book isn't as in-depth and academic as some histories that are written for an adult audience.

2. Black History 1619-2019

Black History 1619-2019

This inspiring history book covers 400 years of Black history. It focuses on the history of the African-American community. The goal is to give an in-depth look at the past by using documentation and research. It preserves materials from the time periods, which helps to prevent the history from being erased.

In addition to the rich textual information, the book also contains nearly 400 visuals including photographs, illustrations, and maps. They show the lives of Black people throughout eras like slavery, reconstruction, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, and Jim Crow.

Rather than focusing on how the US has changed life for Black people, the book focuses on how Black people have influenced and changed American history.

There are 14 total chapters. The book begins with a chapter on the slave trade in the colonies. It ends with a chapter on the Civil Rights movement, which spans 1967 all the way through 2019.

PROS

  • The book covers four centuries of US history with a focus on correcting misinformation.
  • Multiple textual sources and photographs are used to preserve the accounts of what really happened.
  • There are fourteen chapters, each of which details a different point in African-American history.

CONS

  • The book focuses on African-American history, so it's not the best resource for learning about global Black history.

3. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History

1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History

This engaging book is a vital tool when studying African-American history. The writing explains significant people, events, ideas, movements, and terms that relate to the history of Black people in the US. It has been critically acclaimed.

The book is authored by Jeffrey Steward, a historian who previously won the National Book Award. It focuses on both the pieces of history that people know and the lesser-known facts. For example, you'll learn about Sojourner Truth's involvement in the women's rights and abolitionist movements, along with Estevanico, who was the first African to explore America.

In addition to talking about Black leaders and explorers, the book discusses the artistic contributions of people like Ira Aldridge and Oscar Micheaux. It talks about how Black people have served in the military in wars from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.

The book covers five hundred years of history and is divided into six different sections. Instead of dividing information by year, the categories include:

  • Medicine and innovation
  • Military contributions
  • Religion and culture
  • Sports
  • Migrating to the US

PROS

  • The book covers both well-known and obscure information in an interesting, easily digestible way.
  • Each section focuses on a different aspect of African-American contribution, rather than being divided by time period.
  • The author is a historian who has won the National Book Award.

CONS

  • The book was published in 1998, so it doesn't cover the past twenty years of civil rights advocacy.

4. Stamped from the Beginning

Stamped from the Beginning

This book won the National Book Award. It focuses on where racist ideas and structures in America came from, exploring their creation and spread throughout history.

The concept traces modern racism back to its historical sources. This enlightening read teaches you about the racism that still exists in America, along with the racial issues you might not even be aware of.

The narrative uses compelling language and in-depth research to tell a story of anti-black racism. It explains how these ideas have persisted, grown, and affected American history.

To do this, the author focuses on the stories of five different American thinkers. He talks about the minister Cotton Mather, the president Thomas Jefferson, the activist Angela Davis, the abolitionist William Garrison, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

The author explains how racism doesn't arise from hatred and ignorance. Instead, racist ideas were created for the sake of discrimination. Simply put, the book exposes how racism exists to benefit those in power.

Stamped from the Beginning gives you valuable insight that will help you spot modern racism. It also helps you think critically about today's world and hope for a brighter future.

PROS

  • The work is critically acclaimed and even won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016.
  • The book traces the origin of different racist ideas and provides a better understanding of modern racism.
  • The ideas are presented through the lives of five different influential Americans.

CONS

  • The book focuses more on tracing the origins of ideas than on a linear history, so it's not the best if you want a linear timeline of historical events.

5. Black Heroes: A Black History Book for Kids

Black Heroes: A Black History Book for Kids

If you're looking for a Black history book to inspire children, this book is a great choice. It chronicles the lives of 51 people throughout history, from today's America to ancient Africa.

Rather than focusing on America alone, the book talks about influential Black people from Britain, the US, Egypt, and other parts of Africa. It talks about the lives they led and what things were like as they grew up. The book focuses on how they overcame obstacles and changed the course of history.

In addition to well-known individuals like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr., the book talks about less well-known people like the astronomer Benjamin Banneker.

Another great aspect of the book is that it encourages further research. Each of the biographies has information about how to learn more, like visiting a website, watching a video, or reading another book.

The colorful illustrations help to liven the reading and make the figures realer. Suitable for children from ages 8 to 12, this is a great choice to learn about influential Black people from all over the world.

PROS

  • The book has illustrated biographies of 51 people for readers of ages 8 to 12.
  • There is a focus on influential individuals throughout history all over the world.
  • Each biography includes information for how to learn more.

CONS

  • The writing is fairly simplistic, so it might not be best for adults looking for an in-depth read.

6. The Color of Law

The Color of Law

The Color of Law is a book that focuses on the ways that the American government imposed and enforced segregation. It looks at the history of segregation in a variety of metropolitan areas throughout the United States, talking about laws that are often overlooked.

The book's thesis is that the government created and enforced segregation on purpose at the local, state, and federal level. It also explores how segregation took different forms in different areas. The goal is to do away with the idea that segregation occurred as an unintentional side effect of economics or private racism.

A good deal of the book is dedicated to the segregation in residential areas. It talks about segregation in public housing, racial zoning, and whites-only suburbs. There were tax exemptions if an institution enforced these rules. The government even supported violence toward Black people who entered white neighborhoods.

This is an essential book for those who want to learn more about urban history throughout the 1900s.

PROS

  • The book takes a very specific look at how segregation was created and imposed in a variety of urban areas in the US.
  • There is vital information about how these segregation policies still influence these cities today.
  • The book will change the way you think about African-American history in the 1900s.

CONS

  • Since the book focuses on modern segregation, its historical scope is too narrow for people who want a broad view of Black history.

Final Thoughts

Black history is a vital topic that is often overlooked in the historical field. Many historians have written books that shed light on different aspects of Black history. Whether you're a child or an adult, there's something on this list that can help you learn.

For a broad look at Black history for all ages, we recommend Timelines from Black History. This visually-engaging book has 30 different timelines from global movements spanning thousands of years.

For a look at African-American history, we recommend 1000 Things Everyone Should Know. The broad categories allow you to learn about your interests even if you don't have much interest in chronological timelines.

The Color of Law is a compelling look at segregation in American in the twentieth century. To learn more about how the government created and enforced segregation, this is essential reading.

Art History Books

The history of art goes back thousands of years. Have you ever wished you could learn more about the artists who have changed history? With the right art history books, you can.

Art history books teach you about different movements throughout history, as well as different artists and their works. We've put together a list of our favorite art history books.

Whether you're a scholar or just looking for a light read, there's something here for you.

Top 8: Best Art History Books

1. Artists: Their Lives and Works

Artists: Their Lives and Works

This reference book focuses on more than 80 specific artists. It details their life histories, including their passions and loves. The book also has rich printings of the most famous works by each of the artists.

It talks about people who pioneered different art styles, people who showcased a unique voice through their art, and people whose work is still talked about centuries after they lived.

Especially grand are the full-page prints, which show color reproductions of an artist's work.

More than 500 years of art history is considered. The chapters are organized by century. The final chapter covers 1945 to the present day.

Even if you're an art history student, this book is likely to have information you haven't heard before. It contains many anecdotes about the lives of different artists, including rivalries and romances they had with their peers.

PROS

  • The book covers more than 500 years of art history, with each chapter organized by the century.
  • There are biographies of more than 80 artists, including interesting stories about their lives.
  • The book features full-color full-page prints of each artist's most famous works.

CONS

  • The book doesn't have a very academic approach to different art styles, so it's not the best if you want a scholarly analysis.

2. Art That Changed the World

Art That Changed the World

Instead of focusing on the lives and biographies of individual artists, Art That Changed the World brings you on a journey through different art movements. The book functions as a tour of over 2,500 vital pieces crafted by over 700 artists.

Another key selling point of this book is that it doesn't focus exclusively on European art. Though it does devote time to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, you'll also learn about art from China's Ming era, indigenous Australian art, and traditional Japanese and Hindu art.

The book analyzes themes that recur in the art, like religion and love. It explains the differences in genres, how the art reflects the society of the time, and what the different themes might mean about humanity as a whole.

Each artist has their most important works highlighted. The book talks about the most striking aspects of their technique, including what sets them apart from other artists before and after their time.

The book shows how different genres were influenced by each other. For example, it explains how some of Van Gogh's inspiration came from Japanese art, and how impressionists were inspired by the art style of those who came before.

All in all, this is a great choice if you want an art history book that discusses the evolution of art all over the world.

PROS

  • The book showcases over 2,500 pieces from more than 700 artists spanning centuries.
  • It looks at art from parts of Asia and Australia as well as European art.
  • It analyzes the technique and themes used by different artists, as well as how these reflected the time period.

CONS

  • The book doesn't get as in-depth with artist biographies as the previous option on the list.

3. Discovering Great Artists (Bright Ideas for Learning)

Discovering Great Artists (Bright Ideas for Learning)

This hands-on art book allows you to learn about more than 60 different artists. The simple, fun appreciation activities let you get in touch with your inner creative. It's a great option for both kids and adults who want to learn more about the art world.

Each featured artist is given a quick, concise biography that explains why their work is important. The art activities let you try out the techniques of each artist. For example, you might design machines like da Vinci, or sketch in nature notebooks like Audubon.

The book allows you to try different approaches to art. You get to think outside the box and develop your own sense of style. Perhaps most importantly, you learn that there is no one "true" way to be an artist.

In addition to the projects, the book has information about the movement or style that the artist worked within.

PROS

  • The hands-on projects let you try the techniques and approaches of more than 60 different artists.
  • Each artist has a biography page with information about why their work matters.
  • It's a great book for both kids and creative adults who want to learn more about art history.

CONS

  • Since the book is geared toward kids, it's not as packed with information as some options.

4. Discovering Infinite Connections in Art History

Discovering Infinite Connections in Art History

This stunning book was put together by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It discusses more than 6,000 years of the history of art, including the ways that different movements have influenced artists.

The book features over 800 works that are found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It also has an organizational system totally unlike any other. Instead of being sorted by geography or time period, different pieces are sorted by theme.

This allows you to see how different key themes and techniques have persisted in human artwork across different cultures for thousands of years.

In addition to the artwork, there are over 160 essays that explain the context of the different works. A detachable folding timeline shows you exactly where and when different pieces and movements took place.

PROS

  • The book is made by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and features over 800 artworks with over 150 essays.
  • Works are sorted by theme, so you can see parallels in global art spanning thousands of years.
  • There's a focus on art from all over the world, rather than just European art.

CONS

  • The reading can be a little dense for people who want something lighter and easier to digest.

5. The Joy of Art

The Joy of Art

This is an art history book written for people who want to better appreciate art. It discusses the different elements of visual art, teaching the reader how to understand and analyze what they're seeing.

Rather than being a dense art history lesson, the book is built to show you how to discuss the art you see at a museum. It is an illustrated guide that was created by an artist.

Inside this book, you'll find a vocabulary to help you understand the art you're seeing. You'll learn about the different elements to look at in visual art, highlights of some of the most popular art genres, and basic information regarding the artists who pioneered them.

The book also features visuals that teach you about aesthetic practices. You can play a few little games to test your knowledge once you've completed the reading.

PROS

  • Written by an artist, this book teaches you to recognize and analyze different pieces of visual art.
  • It includes information about different art movements and the artists who pioneered them.
  • It has multiple visual examples, including 150 color photographs.

CONS

  • While the book has strong art history elements, it's not chiefly an art history text.

6. The Visual Arts: A History

The Visual Arts: A History

This stunning art history book has been the leader in art history education for more than 25 years. The 7th revised edition was published only recently, and it includes information about contemporary art movements and artists.

The book aims to introduce you to the basics about humanity's art history. Rather than focusing on great works alone, it discusses the ancient arts done by past cultures all over the globe.

Even though the subject matter is broad, covering thousands of years all over the world, the book strives to provide fine details. It explains the different art movements and how they related to society.

The book is almost 1,000 pages in length. It features over 1,500 black-and-white photographs. Every chapter starts with a timeline that matches different art movements to the relevant historical events of the time period.

If you're getting started on a serious art history journey, you'll be pleased by the further reading recommendations. Every chapter has sources that you can peruse for greater detail. There's also a glossary to keep terms straight.

Since this is such a dense and academic book, it is one of the more expensive options on the list. But it's a must-have for any serious art history student.

PROS

  • The book features over 1,500 images and almost 1,000 pages of text.
  • It discusses art movements and art history on a global scale spanning thousands of years.
  • Each chapter has references for further reading, so you can do a more in-depth study if something piques your interest.

CONS

  • It's fairly expensive, especially if you're just looking for a casual read.

7. The Short Story of Art

The Short Story of Art

The Short Story of Art is a book that functions as a field guide to art. It's a small, pocket-sized travel book with a simple layout. The author has chosen to explore 50 works that have a marked impact on art history.

One of the biggest selling points is that this book makes concepts accessible to those without a strong art history background. If you're intimidated by the dense academic text in some of these options, this is the book for you. It's a primer to the most important terms in art history.

The book explains different concepts, shows how different movements and periods are connected, and gives information about who changed the game.

It's a very simple book, but it's one of the best if you want a beginner's introductory guide.

PROS

  • The pocket-sized book can be easily carried around, and the text is simple to read.
  • There is information about 50 different artworks that have influenced art history.
  • The book explains how different art movements are connected and who pioneered them.

CONS

  • It's a little more simplistic than someone who already has a background in art history might be looking for.

8. ArtCurious: Stories of the Unexpected

ArtCurious: Stories of the Unexpected

This is a great choice if you're looking for a more entertaining venture into art history. While the book is educational, it doesn't have the dryness of a textbook. Instead, it tells you quirky and fun anecdotes about different parts of art history.

For example, you might not know that Monet's work was originally considered ugly. Or that Andy Warhol has an entire tail built around a moldy birthday cake.

Even if you're a learned art student, the book will have stories that surprise you. You'll learn about the humanity of different artists, and about how that humanity influenced their art.

Consider this a book of art history for people who aren't particularly interested in art or history. The stories are zany enough that you don't need to be interested!

PROS

  • The book is filled with quirky anecdotes that can entertain even those who are bored by art history.
  • It's educational about different art movements, but in such a fun way that you won't get bored.
  • It has compelling information about different artists and their lives.

CONS

  • It doesn't have the same global, in-depth look at art history that some pieces do.

Final Thoughts

Art history is a broad and nuanced topic. There are so many different angles that you can explore. Do you want to learn about artists, or movements, or the ways that different civilizations have painted through the centuries?

The right book for you will vary depending on your interests.

For a look at many different artists, we recommend Artists: Their Lives and Works. This book includes biographies and artwork from multiple artists.

For a general history, Art That Changed the World is a great start. It showcases different pieces and explains how they influenced art history.

For an in-depth global history, we recommend Visual Arts: A History. This book comes with nearly 1,000 pages of information about artistic traditions that span thousands of years on every continent.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was art first created?

As far as scientists and historians can tell, humans have been creating art for as long as we've existed. The oldest known example of two-dimensional art is dated at about 32,000 years ago!

What is art history?

Art history refers to the history of art: different artistic movements, influential artists, and the ways that art shapes and is shaped by society. It spans thousands of years across all known cultures.

Best US History Books

Are you struggling to find US history books that actually make history, well, interesting? We know your pain. The history of the United States is such a fascinating topic with so much to explore, but a lot of academic discussion just seems dry.

We've put together a list of our favorite US history books, along with some information about what you'll find in each.

Top 7: Best US History Books

1. Howard Zinn's People's History of the US

Howard Zim's People's History of the US

This book is one of the most fascinating US history texts on the market. It does something that no other book has ever tried to do: It tells the entire story of US history from the point of view of the average person.

The author doesn't focus on the different founding fathers or prominent political figures of each time period. Instead, he describes the struggles and triumphs of the average American. He sheds light on people who are often forgotten in discussions of American history.

In doing so, he makes a powerful statement: History is written not by the elite and the powerful, but by the common people who work together to achieve their goals.

He also highlights the tragedies of certain groups: atrocities faced by enslaved African Americans, genocide survived by Native Americans, deaths and disability caused by lack of labor regulation, and more.

Despite shedding light on some of the darkest parts of US history, the book is ultimately hopeful. It shows how we can have an impact on the future of our country by standing together as people.

The author has also gathered primary sources in the form of writings and interviews given by involved individuals. You'll read words from groups including:

  • Native Americans and African Americans
  • Impoverished individuals
  • Factory and manual laborers
  • Poor working immigrants
  • Suffragettes

You'll get a chance to think about the incredible things these people have accomplished, things that are often ignored in traditional history classrooms.

The book begins with the arrival of Columbus and continues all the way through the first term of Bill Clinton. In addition to facts and primary sources, the author provides analytical insight into how these events affect life today.

PROS

  • The book sheds light on parts of US history that are often forgotten, focusing on the words and accomplishments of average everyday individuals.
  • The timeline comprehensively covers important events from the arrival of Columbus to the first term of Bill Clinton.
  • The writing style is lively and engaging, making the history interesting even for those who aren't usually interested in history.

CONS

  • The book doesn't focus much on "traditional" events like certain battles or the lives of the founding fathers.

2. American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

This book from DK Publishing was created with contributions from the Smithsonian Institution. It is a visual journey through the history of the United States, built for children anywhere from infancy to twelve years old.

The encyclopedia has over 750 full color paintings and photographs. It also has specific information about each state, along with maps and charts that explain different events.

Every spread discusses a single part of US history. It might be an event like the moon landing or a time period like the Great Depression. It might be a movement like the civil rights movement or a war like the Civil War.

The book begins by discussing the thriving Native American cultures that existed when Columbus first came to the land. It takes you through different aspects of colonialism, war, independence, slavery, emancipation, and other events all the way up to today.

The biggest selling point of the book is the images. But there is also important historical information that's laid out in an easily-digestible format.

You can read the book from beginning to end to understand how the US became the powerful country it is today. Or you can flip through to learn more about different specific events and time periods.

Teachers will appreciate that the text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is included as well. It's a great book for classrooms or for casual at-home perusal.

PROS

  • The encyclopedia is perfect for visual learners, packed with photographs, charts, paintings, maps, and diagrams.
  • It's a great tool for both younger kids and adults who want a more casual read.
  • The timeline covers pre-Columbus societies all the way up to the modern day, so you don't miss out on any important historical events.

CONS

  • There aren't as many primary textual sources as you'd get with something more academic.

3. American History: A Captivating Guide

American History: A Captivating Guide

Captivating History has put together a whopping eight different manuscripts to create this comprehensive look at the history of the United States. In addition to covering events like the Revolutionary War, it also explores more recent events like the Gulf War and Pearl Harbor.

There are eight different sections of the book. Each focuses on a different time period in US history and has extremely detailed information about what happened.

Whether you're a big history buff or just getting started, this book has something for everyone. It covers more topics than most history books do, and it provides greater detail and nuance than you'd expect.

The first part covers the Native American nations that existed when Columbus arrived, the colonization of the US, the French and Indian War, and the factors leading up to the Revolution.

The second part discusses life in the colonial US, the struggle for independence, and the talking points around taxation without representation. It also explains what the Seven Years' War was and the impacts that it had.

The third part is focused on the Revolutionary War itself. The book talks about the tensions and the different battles in the war. It talks about the strategies that generals like George Washington used to turn the tide and establish the US officially.

The fourth part focuses on the city of Chicago. It talks about how Chicago evolved over the years, what the worst parts of it were, and what the best parts of it were. It discusses how Chicago represented changing times.

The fifth part discusses the earlier part of the 20th century, like Prohibition and World War One. Part six focuses on the Great Depression, how it happened, and how FDR saved the nation.

The seventh part talks about how the world changed following the First World War. In the eighth part, you'll learn about the Gulf War: when it started, why it started, and what the costs were.

PROS

  • The book is divided into eight parts, each of which focuses in great detail on a different aspect of US history.
  • There's a lot of time devoted to understanding events that occurred in the 20th century.
  • This is one of the most detailed accounts of US history on the market today, with a length of nearly 700 pages.

CONS

  • The information may be a little dense and overwhelming for those looking for something casual.

4. Scott Corbett's U.S. History

Scott Corbett's U.S. History

This book is perfect for those who have been seeking an academic textbook approach to US history. The goal is to cover the topics required by the majority of basic introductory curriculums.

The book offers a nuanced view of US history. It talks about the ideas and the people who have had a lasting impact on the United States. It discusses events that shaped the country's trajectory.

Some of the book focuses on big picture concepts like economics, politics, and diplomatic relations. But it also includes the experiences of real people along with eyewitness accounts. This makes it much easier to read than a dense academic text.

In addition, the book pays attention to gender, class, and race. It seeks to emphasize that the "American experience" is very different depending on your wealth, skin color, and gender.

PROS

  • The textbook covers the majority of curriculums that introduce US history to pupils.
  • The nuanced writing considers how race, gender, and class affect the experiences of people in America both historically and today.
  • The book is packed with information, including eyewitness accounts and primary sources.

CONS

  • It's built for a classroom setting, so those who want an at-home read might struggle with it.

5. A History of US

A History of US

Rather than being a single tome, this is actually a set of eleven paperback books. All together, they make a stunning portrait of US history. Because it's an entire book set, the price is a little high. But it's worth it if you want a comprehensive look at the nation's past.

Each of the books focuses on a different aspect of US history. The title War, Terrible War explores the horror of the Civil War. There's also Or All the People, which is a modern book that considers how the 9/11 terror attacks have changed our world.

The series is designed for children, but many adults find themselves riveted by the writing. It's easy to read, but it doesn't gloss over the more brutal details of different historical events.

Many critics have hailed it as the best historical account written for children on the market. It's a series that turns US history into a thrilling, high-stakes narrative, one that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

PROS

  • The compelling writing makes US history accessible to children and adults alike.
  • Each volume focuses on a different aspect of US history, from the modern era to the Revolutionary War.
  • It has been hailed by critics as one of the most brilliant and thrilling nonfiction series ever written.

CONS

  • Since the set comes with eleven books, a purchase tends to be a little pricey.

6. Advanced Placement United States History

Advanced Placement United States History

This textbook is specifically made for AP US History courses. In addition to buying the book, you can also rent a copy.

The book is excellent for AP students who want to study. It covers all of the material in an AP history course, and it also has study tools and review questions to help you retain the information.

In addition to the educational information, the book talks about how AP tests are structured, how they're graded, and what essay prompts look like. There are sample questions and essay prompts available, so you can get some much-needed practice before your exam.

PROS

  • It includes all the information that you'll need for an AP US History exam, plus some study and review tools.
  • It provides practice essay prompts and teaches you how the AP test is structured.
  • It's a good reference manual when studying or learning new material.

CONS

  • The book is exclusively made for AP students, so it won't provide much benefit to people who aren't taking AP US History.

7. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Native American voices are often missing from literature about US history. Which is absurd - Native American history goes back much farther than colonial history! This book is written for adolescents, but adults can also enjoy the experience.

The book goes back over 400 years and turns traditional US history on its head. Instead of talking about the founding fathers, the author discusses how Native Americans have suffered and triumphed and resisted under imperialism.

Author Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz is an indigenous rights activist. Her goal with this stunning book is to help open people's eyes to how genocide and settler colonialism shaped the nation.

PROS

  • This is a look at US history through a Native American lens, shedding light on vitally important subjects.
  • The timeline covers 400 years and explains how imperialism has affected Native Americans.
  • The prose is geared toward adolescents, giving America's youth a more nuanced look at the nation's history.

CONS

  • The text deals with a lot of hard topics, so it's not exactly a light read.

Final Thoughts

The right US history book for you will depend on your interests, needs, and age range.

Overall, we highly recommend the People's History of the US. It's a fresh perspective that sheds important light on topics that are often overlooked. It also shows us how we can make a difference in our day-to-day lives.

For a denser read, we recommend the Captivating Guide to American History. The eight parts are each packed with detail.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is US history?

US history refers to the history of the United States. The US became an independent country in 1776, but some people consider history before that to count as well.

European settlers had been in the country for over a hundred years. Meanwhile, Native American nations had been thriving in the land for thousands of years before the US came into existence.

Best American History Books

There are quite a few books that discuss the history of America. The best one depends on what you want to learn. We've taken a look at some of the top books on the market that can teach you about American history in an easy, entertaining way.

Top 8: Best American History Books

1. Captivating History: American History

Captivating History: American History

This is the best American history book if you're looking for a comprehensive guide that spans centuries. In fact, this single book comes with eight different manuscripts from Captivating History. Rather than focusing just on the American Revolution, it covers time periods including:

  • The French and Indian War
  • The Civil War
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • The Great Depression
  • Pearl Harbor
  • The Gulf War

There's also a manuscript that details the entire history of the city of Chicago.

Captivating History works to detail different aspects of American history with nuance. It talks about the Native Americans who lived in the country first, as well as detailing the horrors of slavery and the Trail of Tears.

It's an excellent account if you want a book that isn't afraid to shed light on not just the achievements of the American government, but the mistakes as well.

PROS

  • This history book covers pre-colonial times all the way through the Gulf War.
  • The text is extremely detailed and has eight manuscripts put together.
  • It's a nuanced look at different aspects of American history.

CONS

  • The subject matter may be too broad for people who are only seeking American Revolution information.

2. A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States

A People's History of the United States is a book written by the historian Howard Zinn. Rather than teaching history the same way most American curriculums do, this book focuses on the voices that are often forgotten in American history.

It chronicles the history of America for the average individual. As such, you'll learn about the struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, factory workers, women, immigrants, and poor individuals. These people are often forgotten when talking about the achievements of the American government.

This is a comprehensive history of the US that begins with the arrival of Columbus and continues up until Bill Clinton's first term as president. Spanning more than 700 pages, the book's prose gives you good insight into what different events meant for people.

It dispels many common misconceptions about American history, and it also delves deep into the last century.

PROS

  • The book retells American history from the point of view of the average American throughout the years.
  • It covers events from the arrival of Columbus to the first term of President Bill Clinton.
  • It has information that is often omitted from the average American history course in public school.

CONS

  • It may be a little dense for people who prefer a lighter, faster read.

3. The Virginia Dynasty

The Virginia Dynasty

The Virginia Dynasty is a book that focuses on the four first presidents to come from Virginia: James Monroe, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

The book seeks to explore the different roles that these four men played when working together, along with the legacy they left behind. It also explores the hypocrisy in their being slaveowners while creating a society built on the idea of freedom.

It's a good way to learn about the differences between these presidents and how their individual actions changed the course of history.

PROS

  • The book focuses on the first four presidents from Virginia.
  • There is a sharp characterization that helps to differentiate each of the men.
  • It's a good book for those who want to learn more about people who created America.

CONS

  • It only covers American history through the first five presidents of the US, so it's not the best if you want a longer book.

4. Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

This biography, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow, was the inspiration for the musical Hamilton. It is an account of American history that follows the life of Alexander Hamilton through the creation of the nation.

Chernow also relates the struggles that Hamilton faced to the struggles that the modern American faces. Alexander Hamilton often championed ideas that others found too strange or dangerous to put into place.

This is a compelling look at history that will appeal to those who prefer strong characterization over dry facts. It seeks to give Alexander Hamilton a complex portrayal that takes into account both his mistakes and his triumphs.

PROS

  • This fascinating book gives us a human look at Alexander Hamilton, the circumstances that shaped him, and the struggles he faced.
  • It's a good book for those who often find American history to be dry and boring.
  • Through one man's life, we get to see an entire nation form.

CONS

  • Since the focus is on Alexander Hamilton, you don't get the same broad view of American history that you might with other books.

5. 100 African-Americans Who Shaped American History

100 African-Americans Who Shaped American History

This book is part of a series, with every volume detailing 100 different people in a certain group. In this case, the focus is on 100 African Americans who had an impact on history in America.

The biographies are arranged chronologically, so you can follow American history through the struggles and triumphs of each person. Each entry illustrates how the person contributed to American history. The text is easy to read and concise. If you want to find historical figures to research more, this is a great place to start.

This is a great choice for kids who want to learn more about American history. It's also ideal for adults who want a book that's a little more digestible.

PROS

  • The book looks at the contributions of 100 African Americans to American history.
  • It's a quick read that's great for kids and adults who want a more relaxed book.
  • It focuses on people who are often forgotten in discussions of history.

CONS

  • It might be too light for people who want a denser, more in-depth read.

6. Everything You Need to Ace American History

Everything You Need to Ace American History

This study guide is built for middle schoolers who need to pass American History. It's built to contain all the information you'll learn in class, but the format is very easy to read.

The book is created for kids who grew up on study games like Brain Quest. It is divided into multiple units, each of which focuses on a different aspect of American History.

The book begins with colonial America, takes you through the Revolutionary War and the founding of America, explains how the Western expansion worked, and details the Civil War and the Reconstruction period.

In addition, notable events throughout the 1900s are touched on. You'll learn about the Great Depression, the World Wars, the Civil Rights movement, and other events that are likely remembered by your parents and grandparents.

PROS

  • This is a fun study guide for middle schoolers that comes from the makers of Brain Quest.
  • The book covers the Revolutionary War, Civil War, events of the 1900s, and much more.
  • It's a great supplemental study tool for students who are worried about passing their American History classes.

CONS

  • The book is made for middle schoolers, so it's not the best choice for adults who want an in-depth read.

7. American History, Combined Edition

American History, Combined Edition

This textbook by Thomas Kidd combines the two volumes of the American History series. It begins with Columbus in 1492, detailing the rich Native American cultures and the changes that came over the land. The text then chronicles events all the way up to modern times.

The prose is clear and easy to read. Rather than focusing only on the best-known figures, Thomas Kidd discusses both the well-known founders and the lesser known individuals who impacted American history.

It's an ideal book for students who want to learn the basics of American history. In addition, it functions well as an educational tool for older people who want to remember what they learned in school.

PROS

  • The history spans Columbus's arrival in 1492 to the present day, touching on both well-known and lesser-known historical figures.
  • It combines two American History volumes for a complete look at the nation's history.
  • The textbook is great for both beginning and intermediate learners who want to know more about the nation.

CONS

  • It is an academic textbook, so it's not the best for people who want a non-academic historical account.

8. American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

American History: A Visual Encyclopedia

This visual book is designed for children up to age twelve. It discusses many different historical events that have shaped today's America. You'll learn about the Roaring Twenties, the American Revolution, and everything in between.

The reference guide was created collaboratively with the Smithsonian. Not only does it include detailed information about different historical events, it also has more than 750 paintings and photographs. The book uses charts and maps to detail different events, battles, and state issues.

Also included is the complete text of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Whether you want to learn about civil rights, the Civil War, the moon landing, the Great Depression, or the different battles fought during the Revolution, this book works as an excellent reference.

It's the perfect choice for younger children and for visual learners who want an easy-to-understand guide to American history.

PROS

  • This encyclopedia has more than 750 paintings and photographs, along with charts and maps.
  • Historical events are covered from the Revolutionary War all the way through the Civil Rights movement.
  • The text is easy to digest and great for kids who are studying at home.

CONS

  • The text is not as in-depth as with some other reference guides, since the focus is on the visuals.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of great books on American history. The best one for you will vary depending on your reading level, your interests, and the time period you want to focus on.

For a fair and thorough look at American history, we recommend the Captivating History book. This text combines eight different manuscripts to give you a robust look at many different aspects of history. It details the struggles and triumphs of Native Americans and African Americans in addition to talking about the founding fathers.

For a book that focuses more on unseen heroes, we recommend A People's History. Instead of talking about those in power, this book focuses on the people who have struggled throughout the centuries to bring change to America. It has excellent information about women's suffrage, labor rights, and slavery.

If you're looking for a textbook, we recommend the American History book by Thomas Kidd. This academic text covers the history of the United States from 1492 to the present day.

For younger audiences, the Everything You Need study guide is a great option. The Visual Encyclopedia is another reference guide that can help to supplement your studies.

If you want a history book that focuses more on people than places and events, Alexander Hamilton is a good place to start. This biography has a human portrayal of Alexander Hamilton that shows how he struggled during the early days of America.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did America start?

Europeans began colonizing America when Columbus first sailed to the continent in 1492. Prior to this, there were thriving Native American nations with rich histories.

The majority of colonies were formed after the year 1600. Jamestown was one of the first colonies and was established in what is present-day Virginia. It was the first permanent settlement started by Englishmen.

What were the United States first called?

The United States were originally called the United Colonies. It wasn't until September 9, 1776 that the members of Congress made a formal change to the United States of America.

What is George Washington known for?

George Washington is known for being the first president of the United States. Prior to that, though, he played an important role as a general in the Revolutionary War.

George Washington also served just two terms as president. He decided not to run again so that he could set a precedent. It was important to him that the country not be run like a monarchy.

Washington also wanted to keep political parties out of Congress. Despite his best efforts to discourage political parties, there were two parties forming by the time he finished his tenure as president.

Nowadays, George Washington is remembered as the father of the United States. His legacy lives on in classrooms all over the United States of America.

Best Non Fiction History Books

With history being so vast and full of exciting events, individuals and adventures, it's no wonder that millions love learning about it in their free time. Additionally, since history extends back millions of years, the amount of books on the subject is just as broad. While some books cover some of history's most well-known happenings, others cover the little details and lesser-known individuals who are just as important.

Studying history is imperative not only for children in school, but for adults alike. By understanding who made history and the events that occurred, individuals can comprehend how to create a future that avoids the mistakes and trials of the past. Any time period or civilization can lead to lessons for modern-day readers to take way with them.

Fortunately, though there are millions of nonfiction books on history, we've narrowed down the top ten history books for you to immerse yourself in. All of these works are available on Amazon, ready for you to indulge in and soak in the thrilling tales of history. From the very beginning of human civilization to the world wars, here are the best nonfiction history books:

Best Non Fiction History Books

1. The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

If you have always been fascinated by the Roman Republic but feel you lack comprehensive knowledge of the era, you should check out The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic. This book has garnered plenty of accolades that recognize the work's blend of intricate detail and light-hearted humor. As Dan Carlin notes, it's "massively entertaining."

The book, a number #1 seller on Amazon's nonfiction historical works, covers the period of 146-78 BC, detailing the ruthless leaders, inequality and inevitable destruction of the Republic. Readers will find some of the most thrilling events of history in the book's 350 pages. If you love the book, you can also check out the author's podcasts on the subject.

PROS

  • The book is a great value for its price.
  • It is on the list of #1 Bestsellers on Amazon.
  • The work is available in a variety of formats, including hardcover, paperback and as an e-book.

CONS

  • There are some repetitive passages.
  • Some readers were put-off by humor included in text.

2. History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age

History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age

With an average 5-star rating from over 1,100 customer reviews, History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age, is a huge hit with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Besides a rich amount of information on various periods in history, the book is also filled with beautiful imagery, maps and timelines. Even better, the book uses easy-to-understand language whether you are a beginner of studying a historical study and or if you would like a refresher on historical events.

History Year by Year covers history through eight different periods, from 6.5 million years ago to the present day. While originally marketed for children aged 9-12, adults have fallen in love with this work for its engaging content. Besides images, maps and timelines, the book also has fun blurbs, such as "children of history" that cover children who have impacted history themselves.

PROS

  • Included in the work are an abundance of maps, images and timelines.
  • The book has easy-to-understand language for both children and adults.
  • The work covers many periods of history.

CONS

  • Readers have claimed that there are some historical inaccuracies included.
  • Some readers may find language of the text not challenging enough.

3. Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

Greek history is full of captivating characters, enthralling events and an enormous influence through the rest of time. Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece has over 500 pages worth of historical coverage and analysis of this highly important time period in history. IMHQ calls the work a "A distinctive and decidedly modern interpretation of Greek history."

What makes this book stand out is the author's interpretation of Greek history through the inclusion of analysis by modern-day historians and archeologists. You will not only learn about Greek history, but you will also be able to think critically about history and learn to develop your own educated opinions on the matter. Soon enough, you will be able to talk about Greek history as a scholar!

PROS

  • The work also has a modern-day interpretation of events.
  • The book is a broad overview of the time period.
  • There are mostly positive Customer Reviews.

CONS

  • Some readers sees the book as more of an introduction rather than a detailed account of the period.
  • Compared to similar works, the book has a high-end price.

4. Founding Fathers: The Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America

Founding Fathers: The Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America

If you loved to learn about American history in school, you would fall in love with Founding Fathers: The Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America. Not only does this work cover the most prominent figures of American history, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, the book also provides insight into lesser-known figures such as Samuel Chase and Charles Pickney. In doing so, the book expands knowledge of the Founding Fathers for all kinds of audiences.

The book takes on an 'encyclopedia-approach' to the figures and events that shaped early U.S. history, with the Founding Fathers and events listed in alphabetical order for easy reference. Readers of the text appreciated this more simplistic layout and agree that the book is well-researched without coming off as tedious. If you are looking for a quicker and easier way to learn history, this is the book for you.

PROS

  • The work has a very easy-to-read layout.
  • The book is well-researched and referenced.
  • It is an shorter work compared to similar reads on the subject.

CONS

  • The writer can occasionally showcase biased views of history.
  • There is some missing historical information.

5. The Middle Ages: Everyday Life in Medieval Europe

The Middle Ages: Everyday Life in Medieval Europe

If you don't just want to learn about history but want to feel truly immersed in a historical time period, you should add The Middle Ages: Everyday Life in Medieval Europe to your list. What makes this work stand out is the details the author includes about life in the Middle Ages, including how people bathed, what they cooked, and even made their beds in the morning! Soon, you will be able to fully understand life in a different age.

Customers loved the mix of lengthy passages on history with the colored and black-and-white images of the period. They stated that they felt truly thrown back into the time period and came away with a plethora of new knowledge that they could show off at parties or trivia nights. At the same time, they were able to gain an in-depth insight into the time period.

PROS

  • The work is a unique take on the Middle Ages.
  • The work includes both text and imagery.
  • There are mostly enthusiastic customer reviews.

CONS

  • Missing some important events of the time period.
  • Some readers thought there were too many small details.

6. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings

What makes the Vikings so alluring for many around the globe is how mysterious this group of individuals was. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings is a collaborative effort by twelve scholars and their understanding of just who the Vikings were and what made them so feared during their time. While much information on the Vikings is unknown, these authors provide all the information available.

The work traces the Vikings history and its many memorable characters while sharing images of the time period. The scholars who wrote the work share their insights on the era in an encyclopedic manner, making this a great pick if you are a student of the era or are just very interested in the Vikings. The photos in the book also bring the stories and characters of the Vikings to life.

PROS

  • There are multiple viewpoints on the period.
  • Interesting photos are provided to match the text.
  • This remains a great option for students.

CONS

  • According to readers, some information is seen as contradictory.
  • Additionally, some information can be disputed.

7. The World War 1 Trivia Book: Interesting Stories and Random Facts from the First World War (Trivia War Books)

The World War 1 Trivia Book: Interesting Stories and Random Facts from the First World War (Trivia War Books)

If you're not looking for a droning work full of forgettable names and dates, The World War 1 Trivia Book: Interesting Stories and Random Facts from the First World War will spark your interest. This easy read covers little-known-facts about World War I along with stories of the time period that you definitely didn't learn in your high school history class. Readers will become inspired by this work and find themselves looking up even more trivia about the time period!

Some of the book customers were history teachers and scholars who wrote that they learned plenty of new information themselves from this handy book. Students and newcomers to this historical event were also drawn to the book's easy format and found themselves speeding through the work. They also appreciated that the work didn't just go over the typical stories known from the war.

PROS

  • Considered a very entertaining read.
  • Good for history buffs and newcomers alike.
  • A concise work.

CONS

  • Not optimal for those who want a more detailed history.
  • Some readers wanted more trivia.

8. World War II Map by Map

World War II Map by Map

Geography fans will go nuts for this work: World War II Map by Map. This extensive book is compiled of maps that trace the events that led to and made up World War II. In addition to the detailed maps, there are also plenty of blurbs that explain just what occurred throughout the era.

Besides listing off the events and figures that influence the war, the book also gives background into the social, economic, cultural and political reasons for the war and why it happened. You will be able to put yourself in the mindset of those who lived during the war and better understand this brutal time's thinking and emotions. This will help you to understand present-day events within the same context.

PROS

  • There are visually appealing and informative maps.
  • Included are easy-to-dissect historical blurbs.
  • Takes a thought-provoking approach to the period.

CONS

  • Some reader complaints about the physical binding of the book being weak and easy to fall apart.
  • Some of the maps may be very complex for newcomers to the era.

9. Ancient Asian History: A Captivating Guide to the Ancient Civilizations of China and Japan

Ancient Asian History: A Captivating Guide to the Ancient Civilizations of China and Japan

Asian history is extensive, going back thousands of years as portrayed in Ancient Asian History: A Captivating Guide to the Ancient Civilizations of China and Japan. If you're intrigued by present-day China and Japan, you will enjoy this look into the countries' extraordinary pasts. The combination of both China and Japan's coverage will save readers from having to buy two whole works as well!

The first part of the book details China from its birth to inventions that the Ancient Chinese people introduced to the world. The second part of the book discusses the origins of Imperial Japan to an overview of Japan's traditional culture. Even better, the book features information on much-loved aspects of Chinese and Japanese culture, such as information on swords, samurais, martial arts and much, much more!

PROS

  • Covers two countries' histories rather than just one.
  • Good price for hardcover copy compared to similar books.
  • Includes blurbs on cultural aspects compelling to modern readers.

CONS

  • The number of dates and names of individuals may be overwhelming for some.
  • The focus can be confusing at times and seen as "all-over-the-place".

10. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

As written by an expect on the subject, Egypt is found to be a fantastic read, as is proven by The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. This work covers ancient Egypt from its origins to its eventual takeover by the Romans. The amount of detail included in this work continues to astound and compel readers.

If you want to learn more about Egypt besides the usual pyramids and hieroglyphics as covered in school, you can't miss this work. Readers praised its engrossing material and ability to draw in even the most skeptical reader. Your knowledge of Egypt will extend far beyond the usual scope understood by many of this intriguing region that continues to dazzle to this day.

PROS

  • This book has a lengthy exploration of the time period.
  • The work gives attention to lesser-known details.
  • The author is clearly passionate about text.

CONS

  • Some readers claim there is unnecessary bias from author.
  • More important events can be skipped over to focus on less important topics.

Final Verdict

The above books remain some of the most-purchased and well-loved on Amazon. While the books vary in format, layout and kinds of details shared, there is bound to be a perfect fit for every type of reader, including yourself. Whether you want to go all the way back in time or learn about wars of the last century, there is a book here for you.

Learning about history isn't only fun; it's important to understand how people built the world and why it works the way it does. From children to adults alike, everyone will benefit from examining the figures, events, and decisions that shaped the world and will continue to shape the world for the future by learning more about the past.

Lastly, there are plenty of works on history, and it can be confusing to pick which one is best for you as a reader. What's most important is to pick a book that not you can not only learn from, but also become inspired by. Whether it's a 600 page intensive look at one civilization or a work that is filled with pictures and maps, you should always feel that you are having a great time learning about history!

The Best History Documentaries Of 2021

"The Last Days Of Anne Boleyn"

The Last Days Of Anne Boleyn

In my opinion, I have to say that this is a superb documentary. It's a BBC documentary that was made in 2013.

It features commentary by several well-known experts on the subject of Anne Boleyn. This documentary is loaded with historians such as Suzannah Lipscombe, who is the author of five history books, including three about Henry VIII. She is currently writing a book about the Six Queens of Henry VIII.

David Starkey is another historian that comments in this documentary. He has written several books about Henry VIII.

Other historians include George Bernard and Alison Weir, who has also written several books about Henry VIII's queens.

Although this documentary focuses on the last days of Anne Boleyn, it also describes her life in general.

History Documentaries

January 7th, 1536

Catherine Of Aragon Dies

January 7th, 1536

Anne Boleyn Has A Miscarriage

April 18th, 1536

Eustice Chapuis is forced to bow to Anne Boleyn

April 19th, 1536

Thomas Cromwell Leaves Court, Citing Illness

Late April 1536

Rumors that Anne Boleyn is an adulteress Begin To Circulate

April-May 1536

Thomas Cromwell puts Anne Boleyn and Several Men On Trial

May 19th, 1536

Anne Boleyn is Beheaded

History Documentaries

Here is a synopsis of the documentary:

Anne Boleyn was executed on the 19th of May of 1536. She was the first Queen ever to be executed in England.

On May 2nd, 1536, the King's Guard and some members of Henry VIII's Privy Council arrived at Greenwich Palace with a warrant for the arrest of Anne Boleyn. She was charged with committing incest with her brother George. She was also charged with Adultery. In addition to that, she was charged with conspiring to kill Henry VIII.

Several men, including her brother George, were tried with her. All them, including Anne Boleyn, were imprisoned at the Tower of London. They were all executed there as well. The English people had never seen a Queen arrested, let alone executed.

The reasons behind her execution have been a subject of many debates over the centuries.

Many historians think that Anne Boleyn was framed. They take into account the speed with which her downfall happened. They also consider the nature of the charges against her. They argue over why she was framed and who framed her.

1536 Started Well

History Documentaries

The year 1536 started off well for Anne. Catherine of Aragon, who had been Henry's first wife, died on January 7th of that year. With Catherine's death, Anne felt she would be recognized by everyone as the Queen.

By that time, Henry had cut England off from the Catholic Church and formed the Anglican Church. The reason he did that was because he wanted his first marriage to be annulled by the Pope on the grounds of a Biblical passage in Leviticus. The Pope refused.

Henry was so desirous to marry Anne that he split from the Catholic Church and formed the Anglican Church when the Pope refused to grant the annulment. With Henry as the leader, the new Church agreed that the marriage to Catherine was invalid.

Anne Boleyn had been a Lady In Waiting for Catherine of Aragon. She was stylish. She was intelligent. She spent time in France. She impressed Henry's Court. She impressed Henry as well. Some considered her to be ambitious. It was said that she wouldn't settle for anything less than being Queen.

From Mistress To Queen

History Documentaries

When Henry married Anne, she went from being his mistress to being the Queen. This was shocking and extraordinary, especially in Tudor times.

When Catherine Of Aragon died in early 1536, Anne saw this as a good thing. She would now be the undisputed Queen of England. Prior to Catherine's death, it was feared that Catherine's nephew, Charles V of Spain, would invade England to save his aunt. With her death, that threat was removed.

Miscarriage

History Documentaries

Anne's joy would be short-lived. On the same day that Catherine of Aragon was buried, Anne suffered a miscarriage. The unborn child was a deformed boy. Henry VIII was furious. He had desperately wanted a son. After several years of being married to two wives, he had two daughters who had survived. There was no male heir. Eustace Chapuys, who will be mentioned later, had this to say about the miscarriage: "On the day of the Interment, the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child...at which the King showed great distress."

Henry began to think that he had been the victim of witchcraft and was tricked by either that or magic spells into marrying Anne. Adding to this was the belief that was held back then that a malformed baby was a clear sign of sin or witchcraft. Henry was convinced that God did not approve of his marriage to Anne.

Some historians think that the downfall of Anne Boleyn was the result of a power struggle involving Anne, Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell. It has been said by some historians that there was animosity between Anne and Cromwell. Some disagree.

An Ambassador Is Forced Tow Bow

History Documentaries

What is known was that Eustace Chapuys, who was an ambassador to Catherine of Aragon's nephew, Charles V at Henry VIII's court, was forced to bow to Anne on April 18th of 1536.

Chapuys had disapproved of Anne. The fact that he bowed to Anne was taken as a sign that he had recognized Anne as the Queen. This was seen as a diplomatic victory for Anne. Paul Friedman, in an 1884 book entitled "Anne Boleyn", wrote that a "good many people who had hoped that Chapuis would be rude to his former enemy were grievously vexed, and Mary herself was astonished when she heard that the ambassador has bowed to 'that woman'."

Thomas Cromwell

History Documentaries

A few weeks later, Anne would be dead. Some historians argue that Thomas Cromwell may have engineered Anne's demise. Shortly after Chapuys had bowed to Anne, Henry VIII gave Cromwell a severe reprimand during a meeting between Chapuys, Henry, and Cromwell wherein they discussed a reconciliation with Charles V.

The day after that, Cromwell claimed he was ill and left Court. Right after that, rumors began to circulate about Anne. Her Ladies In Waiting began to talk. Mark Smeaton was mentioned and interrogated by the now suddenly healthy Cromwell. Smeaton confessed to having relations with the Queen. It was not known whether or not Smeaton was forced to confess this, but Cromwell reported this confession to Henry.

Henry VIII felt that he was betrayed by Anne. He had her arrested. He ordered Cromwell to begin a full investigation. Within a few days, people were arrested.

"Dead Man's Shoes"

The most monstrous thing she was accused of allegedly happened during a conversation she was said to have had with a Henry Norris. She asked Henry Norris why he hadn't gotten married. He told her he wanted to wait a while. Her response was that she thought he looked for a "dead man's shoes" because she thought he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and would eagerly do so if Henry died.

Envisioning Henry's death was Treason. Many thought this meant that Anne was telling Henry Norris she wanted Henry VIII to die.

Cromwell Organizes A Trial

History Documentaries

As a result of these accusations, Cromwell was ordered by Henry VIII to organize a trial. Some think Cromwell masterminded the whole thing. Some don't agree. It simply isn't known whether Cromwell was masterminding the whole thing or merely following orders.

The Tudor Court played a game that was known as "Courtly Love." This involved flirtations. Some historians argue that the "dead man's shoes" accusation was nothing more than a game of Courtly Love gone horribly wrong.

The end-result was that Anne Boleyn was executed on the 19th of May of 1536.

Anne's Guilt

History Documentaries

Anne's Ladies In Waiting made statements about Anne. It is the opinion of many historians that these statements were a sign that Anne was guilty.

There is also the matter of Mark Smeaton's confession. It isn't known with certainty if he was tortured into that confession or not. The other men denied any guilt regarding affairs with Anne Boleyn. Mark Smeaton never denied it.

It is known that Henry VIII married Jane Seymour 11 days after Anne's execution.

Thomas Cromwell became a Baron in 1536, but he was executed in 1540 after being charged with Treason.

I think this documentary misses on one very important point. In 1536, just before Anne's miscarriage, Henry was badly injured in a jousting accident. His horse fell on him. He was unconscious for two hours.

There was a great concern that he might not survive. He suffered severe injuries to his leg and head.

Many people said that Henry VIII was not the same after that injury. His behavior certainly changed, and many people attribute that to his head injury. Whether or not this had any effect on what happened to Anne Boleyn is a matter of conjecture.

This documentary, in my opinion, should have at least mentioned that incident.

This is, however, an excellent historical documentary that is fast-moving and will be informative and interesting to many people. I highly recommend it.

Bob-Lo

History Documentaries

"Bob-Lo Memories" is another historic video that I love. This wonderful video is look at the history of an island in the Detroit River that is well-known to Detroiters who are old enough to remember when it was an amusement park. I think you will enjoy it as well.

The History Of Bob-Lo

Early 1800

Catholics build and Indian Mission on Bois-Blanc Island

Early 1800s

British build an Outpost on the island

1815

Bois-Blanc Island is declared to Be Canadian Territory

1834-1865

The island is part of the Underground Railroad

1898

Bois Blanc Island opens as a recreational spot

1902

The Steamer Columbia starts taking passengers to the island

1906

The island gets a new carousel

1909

The name of the island is officially changed to Bob-Lo

1913

A Big Dance Pavilion is opened

1920s

Prohibition starts. Gangsters use the Bob-Lo Boats as shields

1929 and 1930

The Ambassador Bridge and the Tunnel to Canada open

1944

The Bob-Lo Boats Are Converted to Oil from Coal

1949

The Browning Company Buys Bob-Lo

1979

Bob-Lo Is Sold

1983

AAA Buys Bob-Lo

1988

Bob-Lo Is Sold To IBC

1993

Bob-Lo Closes

History Documentaries

Bob-Lo is an island in the Detroit River. It's across from Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada.

Catholic Missionaries established and Indian Mission on that island in the early 1700s.

In the early 1800s, a British Outpost was built there. One of the blockhouses that was built at that time is still there.

A famous Indian Chief named Tecumseh held Counsel Meetings on Bob-Lo Island.

In 1815, the island was officially declared to be in Canadian Territory.

In 1839, the British Government built a lighthouse on the island.

Between 1834 and 1865, Bob-Lo Island was a part of the Underground Railroad. A woman who was a slave named Eliza came across the Detroit River and went through Bob-Lo Island with her baby. This was during the winter time. She was being chased and ran across the frozen river, carrying her baby.

The island is best known as having been an amusement park. The amusement park started in 1898. It was then known as Bois-Blanc Island. That was its French name. On June 20th of 1898, it opened as a recreational spot. Passengers boarded a ship in Detroit called "The Promise" and cruised the 19 miles to the island, which featured several attractions.

Many church groups and other conservative organizations loved to go there because alcohol was not allowed. Companies also held company picnics on the island. They all loved the idea the alcohol was not permitted.

In 1902, a new pavilion was opened in Detroit that the ferries docked at. A new steamer, the Columbia, started making its runs to Bob-Lo in 1902 as well. This boat would be known for almost a century to Detroiters as one of the two Bob-Lo Boats. The other, slightly younger boat was the "St. Claire."

In 1906, an amusement building that was designed to house the new carousel was constructed. It housed the carousel and provided shelter for patrons when it rained. The hand-carved carousel had horses, goats, deer, and even chariots to ride on.

In 1909, the ferry company officially changed the name of the island to "Bob-Lo." Patrons had found it too difficult to pronounce its French name.

The "St. Claire" was built in 1910. Both the "Columbia" and the "St. Claire" had 3 decks and featured hardwood dance floors on the second deck.

In 1913, a Dance Pavilion was built on the island. It was the largest such pavilion on Canada. In the United States, there was only one dance pavilion that was larger. The pavilion on Bob-Lo was a 39,000 square foot building. When the bands weren't playing, a German-made organ kept people dancing.

When the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect in January of 1920, the Prohibition Era started. By 1924, laws in Canada changed and made it legal to produce liquor in some areas. Gangsters used the Detroit river to smuggle alcoholic beverages into.

Michigan. In the winter, they drove across the frozen Detroit River. In the summer, they sailed their boats close to the Bob-Lo Boats to avoid the Federal officers that were pursuing them.

The "Detroit and Windsor Ferry Company" suffered a major set-back when the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel were opened in 1929 and 1930, respectively. The company owned the Bob-Lo Boats and Bob-Lo Island. It also ran a ferry service between Detroit and Canada. The Ferry service was devastated by the bridge and tunnel.

The Bob-Lo boats kept sailing because they were not affected by the bridge or tunnel.

The Browning Company Took Over In 1949

History Documentaries

In 1949, the Bob-Lo Boats and the island were sold to the Browning Company. The made it into the famous amusement park that everyone in Detroit has heard about. The owned it for over 30 years.

One of the most popular rides that they added was the Wild Mouse. Two of the owner's sons rode the Wild Mouse 72 times the day it was installed. Their "reason" was that they were testing it.

Bob-Lo was a popular destination throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The Browning Family sold Bob-Lo to "Cambridge Properties" in April of 1979. They added a theater with a Broadway-style review. They added a giant 180-degree movie screen.

The Decline Starts

History Documentaries

Attendance started to fall off in 1980. That was partly due to the fact that the Republican National Convention was held at Detroit's Cobo Hall, which was right where the Bob-Lo Boats docked at the time. The boats were not allowed to run during the convention for reasons of national security.

In 1983, Cambridge Properties filed for bankruptcy. AAA bought Bob-Lo in 1983. They started a 5-year plan to improve the amusement park by adding roller-coasters and other attractions.

The island was again sold in 1988 to the International Broadcasting Corporation. They added new shows and updated the attractions. That company filed for bankruptcy in 1991.

The island was sold in 1993 to two brothers. Unfortunately, one of them suffered severe injuries in an auto accident in December of that year. The company that was backing the brothers took over ownership of the island and sold it. The rides were sold off individually. The two Bob-Lo boats were sold.

The island was sold to a developer in 1994, who has since been building homes on the island for residents.

Bob-Lo was a special place for those who remember it when it was an amusement park. To me, this video was a wonderful, nostalgic look back at a bygone era.

Outstanding public history project award: Histories of the National Mall

Editor’s Note: This series showcases the winners of the National Council on Public History’s awards for the best new work in the field. Today’s post is by Sheila Brennan, project co-director with Sharon Leon of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Histories of the National Mall mobile website.

Histories of the National Mall map slice. Image credit: Sheila Brennan

Every year, nearly 25 million people visit the National Mall and wander from monument to museum vaguely aware of the rich history of the space. Histories of the National Mall is a place-based public history mobile website designed to allow visitors to access that history while on the Mall itself. Created primarily for tourists and a secondary audience of history enthusiasts not physically in Washington, DC, Histories is accessible from any web browser on any phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University developed this site with support from a grant in 2012 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The National Mall has a history of its own that is nearly invisible when walking its paths, and there is very little interpretation available on the Mall. Most visitors see what appears to be a finished product: a deliberately planned landscape with memorials, monuments, and museums symbolizing the history and values of the United States. The Mall, however, is a contested public space and its meanings, uses, and purposes have changed over time. In its earliest days, the Mall was a messy place where transportation arteries and commercial markets existed and was bordered by lively neighborhoods. Visitors, and many DC area residents, have no knowledge of the unregulated zone of muddy grounds, vegetable gardens, grazing cattle, or the slave pens that existed before the completion of the Washington and Lincoln Memorials.

Mobile view of the site’s homepage. Image credit: Center for History and New Media

Our key strategy for making the history of the National Mall engaging for tourists was to populate the website with surprising and compelling stories and primary sources that together build a textured historical context for the space and how it has changed over time. Drawing on the extensive range of primary sources available at DC cultural heritage institutions, we assembled a rich documentary record of the many historical facets of the National Mall. Then, we added a layer of rigorous historical interpretation to those sources, synthesizing the most recent public history scholarship, raising provocative questions about the space, its role in national life, and the expressions of American ideals that have taken place there–questions that have engaged scholars for decades. Importantly, Histories uses the Mall to connect the development of Washington as a residential city with its role as the nation’s capital. For users interested in digging deeper into the secondary material, we created a public Zotero library and link to it from the Project Development page in the About section.

User Experience

The mobile-optimized website allows users to engage in a self-guided exploration of over 440 items, including people, sites, past events, and primary sources, with 40 inquiry-based explorations. We created four different entry points that are place-based, thematic, chronological, and biographical, connecting the physical space and its development, together with the social, cultural, and political events that have transpired there.

  • Maps offer a wayfaring guide to today’s Mall and eight historical maps that depict the Mall’s features and environment at different points in time. Historical events and sources appear as pins on the maps. Choosing a historical map layer then reveals to users events and sources from that time period located near them.

    Map filters on the mobile site. Image credit: Center for History and New Media

     

  • Explorations are short episodes about the Mall’s history that begin with a leading question, such as: Were slaves bought and sold on the Mall? How have protests on the Mall changed over time? Why is there a lockkeeper’s house on the Mall? Each question is answered with historical sources from DC area libraries, archives, and museums. Users may browse by question or theme (including politics & protest, design & monuments, work & play, commerce & trade, and ghost Mall).
  • Past Events offer users a chronology of significant Mall-related events, grouped in eras of roughly 30 years. Users may jump to time periods that interest them or scroll chronologically from the pre-1800s to the present.
  • People provides short biographies of individuals who shaped the Mall’s past and present. These elements highlight the contributions of lesser-known individuals whose impact would be impossible to find anywhere on the Mall itself.

Design and Outreach

Histories runs on the Omeka open-source platform developed by RRCHNM, using a custom responsive design theme. We built a custom map layering plugin that uses the leaflet.js libraries for tiling and serving historical map layers that works together with Omeka’s Geolocation plugin. We created the Explorations using the Exhibit Builder and the About sections with Simple Pages. The Simple Vocab and Search by Metadata plugins allowed us to create controlled vocabulary for linking items through metadata fields, such as eras, event types, and occupations. Our decision to design for the mobile web, and not develop an app, is tied directly to our goal of reaching the largest percentage of visitors to the Mall over the long term. Histories of the National Mall is not constrained by the quickly evolving world of mobile application development protocols, making the project easy to maintain after the grant period ends. Importantly, this means the content is accessible to the broadest audience of users and mobile devices, including international visitors who can use the free wifi available on the Mall and in the Smithsonian museums. This approach makes the content more discoverable because it is indexed by major search engines. We have noticed that local journalists use Histories for their research, and links to the content have appeared on Politico,Curbed DC, as well as on individual blogs interested in special topics.

An active and on-going outreach plan is central to our efforts in attracting visitors to Histories. Colorful brochures containing the site URL and a QR code are available at DC visitor centers, including the White House Visitor Center and Walter E. Washington Convention Center, as well as at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. We hosted a scavenger hunt and a MeetUp to interest local residents and digital cultural heritage professionals in the project. Also, we regularly share content from Histories on Facebook, tumblr, and Twitter, which is often shared and recirculated by cultural institutions located on the Mall. The social media strategy has cultivated a following of return visitors to the site. These combined outreach efforts contribute to a steady increase in site traffic each month.

The results of our design and outreach decisions suggest Histories of the National Mall has struck the right balance between the accessibility of the mobile-first design and the engaging historical content and interpretation. Woven together, these elements create a digital public history project that will enrich the experience of the Mall’s visitors in years to come. RRCHNM plans to continue adding content and to continue our outreach efforts beyond the grant period, which ends officially in the summer of 2015.

~ Sheila A. Brennan is Co-Director of Histories of the National Mall, and Associate Director of Public Projects and Associate Research Professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

Digital history for undergraduates….without the coding

The digital humanities are rapidly transforming both the discipline of history and the pedagogy of public history.  When I taught my first Introduction to Public History course six years ago, my course schedule had two weeks devoted to digital history; today it occupies more than half of the semester.

Digital history presents several obstacles for introductory-level students, though.  For all the claims about the millennial generation’s tech literacy, they are more adept as consumers than creators.  This is perhaps even more true at institutions like my own – a mid-size state university with a student body drawn largely from the suburban and rural counties in a 100-mile radius.  More than half of them are first-generation college students.  These supposed “digital natives” use smartphones and Twitter with relative ease but rarely have had access to the educational enrichment programs or expensive technology that might give them familiarity with computer programming.  Within the confines of a 15-week academic term, learning the intricacies of Javascript or Google Earth databases from scratch AND deploying those for a digital history project seemed unrealistic.

And yet, just telling students about all the possibilities of digital history and demonstrating some tools on a classroom screen seemed flat and sterile.  I wanted more experiential learning and some way to allow undergraduates to understand the potential of digital history and create a presentable public history project, without the technical skills proving an insurmountable barrier.

 

I found a workable solution via the site HistoryPin.com.  HistoryPin is operated by a nonprofit organization, We Are What We Do, and the site enables users to “pin” historical images to their original geographic locations via Google Maps and then add historical information to those images.  Visitors to the site can participate by making comments, suggesting more accurate historical information, and pinning their own images.  HistoryPin also has mobile apps for most platforms.

My Introduction to Public History undergraduate course partnered with the Lawrence County Historical Society in nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania, to select, research, and upload historical images to HistoryPin.  Lawrence County Historical Society, like most of the public history institutions in our area, is understaffed and underfunded even though their historical resources are amazing.  They need to create greater community investment and engagement and to connect with younger audiences.  Students worked in groups of three, divided by subject areas (Immigration, Sports, Labor & Industry, etc.) with each group member performing specific roles – as editors, digital technicians, and community liaisons. After selecting images from the society’s digitized collections, students researched the event or place in each photograph, wrote 150-200 word “exhibit labels” for each image, and then uploaded the photos to the proper location in HistoryPin.[*]

HistoryPin screenshot, taken by Aaron Cowan.

The project was great for teaching students research skills.  Even some of our History majors found local history research to be a new challenge – rather different from writing a standard term paper where they could pull together some books and journal articles from the library and synthesize those into an essay. One advantage we had is that the city’s main newspaper has been digitized and available through NewspaperArchive.  Keyword searching is a wonderful thing!  Still, the challenges were also instructive.  After one student’s attempts at researching a 1930s photo of the town’s police officers ran into a dead end, he visited the police station and found a wealth of institutional knowledge in the long-time members of the staff. As he later commented in class, “I learned the value of getting away from my computer and talking to people.”

HistoryPin screenshot, taken by Aaron Cowan.

Beyond the digital aspect, students were also practicing core skills of public historians.  Selecting the images became a basic practice in curation.  The Sports group, for example, was adamant about showing the local high school’s sports teams across a wide range of decades because the group wanted to demonstrate the gradual integration of African Americans as teammates.   In addition, students had to tailor their image labels to a public audience.  Finally, they had to consider how to handle sensitive and potentially controversial subjects.  What to do, for example, with the 1927 image titled “Darktown Minstrels in Blackface” or another, also from the 1920s, of a Ku Klux Klan picnic in the town park? It was rewarding to see students debate this and make decisions that we too often only discuss in the abstract.  Furthermore, HistoryPin is interactive, allowing viewers to comment, suggest more correct information, or post their own pictures and interpretive information, which provides a model for how interactive media allows for conversations, debate, and shared authority. Reflecting on the project at semester’s end, one student commented that

the HistoryPin project was my favorite project I’ve completed in college because it showed me just how much work a public historian truly does. Public historians conduct a great deal of research, which is not always easy. Sometimes, they must do some digging to find that missing element that brings the whole project together…the experience also showed our group just how much collaboration needs to be done for the end result to be successful.

In large measure, students took ownership of the project.  They were very enthusiastic about the fact that their research was going to be publicly presented, not simply submitted to the professor at the end of the term and never seen again. As another student reflected, “For the first time in my four years as a history major, I felt like a historian and not just a history student.”

HistoryPin screenshot, taken by Aaron Cowan.

Of course, there are limits to conceptualizing such a project as “digital history.”  Students aren’t learning much about the technical infrastructure behind a site like HistoryPin, and, because the format and structure are predetermined by HistoryPin, the use of the site narrows the options for students to consider entirely different interpretive methods.  Still, for introductory students, I’m satisfied that most came away with a much clearer grasp of how geospatial technology, digitized collections, and good historical research can be combined to present local history in new and engaging ways.

~ Aaron Cowan is Assistant Professor of History at Slippery Rock University. His research interests focus on modern US history, urban history, and public history.  In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Cowan also serves as curator of the Old Stone House, a reconstructed 1822 stagecoach tavern museum owned by Slippery Rock University.

Introducing History Communicators

Just as science has Science Communicators, I’ve proposed that history needs History Communicators. The idea of History Communicators, and how public historians may fill these roles, will be discussed in a panel at the National Council on Public History annual meeting in Nashville.

History Communicators, like Science Communicators, will advocate for policy decisions informed by historical research; step beyond the walls of universities and institutions and participate in public debates; author opinion pieces; engage in conversation with policymakers and the public; and work diligently to communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal across print, video, and audio. Most important, History Communicators will stand up for history against simplification, misinformation, or attack and explain basic historical concepts that we in the profession take for granted.

Public historians are well-positioned for this role, as we do much of this work already. Academic historians within the American Historical Association are also looking in this direction, and the recent AHA conference in Washington, DC, featured several panels on historians as public intellectuals, including Yoni Applebaum, Peniel Joseph, Eric Foner, and Michael Kazin. These historians frame issues of politics, race, power, and civil rights in a historical context. But while they may sometimes speak out against history that is oversimplified or dishonest (Foner, for example, was critical of the way that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment is depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln), they generally do not devote time to communicating the value of public history institutions to the public at large. They are also not in the business of conveying basic historical concepts to mass audiences. This is where History Communicators can make enormous contributions.

Many public historians do currently engage in public outreach of various kinds, of course. But the goal of such outreach is often narrowly-focused on increasing visitorship or engagement rather than aiming for larger, society-wide goals. History Communicators will focus their work on behalf of the field as a whole rather than just for specific institutions.

There is clearly much scope for action here. For example: at AHA, a colleague mentioned to me that she recently overheard congressional staffers in Washington ask one another, “What’s an archive?” She was appalled that the staffers helping to write the legislation of our country do not know what a modern-day archive is, what it entails, and what value it has to historians, policymakers, and the general public. She presumed they had never visited an archive, either. I would hazard a guess she’s correct and that this is also true of the great majority of Americans.

In our hearts, public historians feel passionately that part of our job is to ensure Americans do know what a modern-day archive is and how it serves its function–as well as what museums, historic homes, government history offices, and historical research have in service to history and the public. But what public history is, and that public history (and history more generally) is a space of interpretation, nuance, and continual reassessment based on new information, remains opaque to most Americans. Among the public, there remains a perception that public historians only safeguard antiquarian objects and perpetuate accepted narratives. Joyce Appleby’s observation in 1997 that historians who choose interpretation over perpetuation of traditionally held beliefs are chided by political and popular forces still rings true today. Part of History Communicators’ charge will be to evangelize and popularize our message. It is a natural extension of the work we already do.

Participants in a 2012 symposium at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are part of a growing movement in science communication. Photo credit: Virginia Sea Grant

The science community has cultivated a generation of such people–Carl Sagan, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Brian Cox, David Grinspoon, Bill Nye, and Alice Robert. Science also has invested resources to train a new generation of communicators. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is one example of such an investment, and scientists have teamed up with communications departments at universities to produce media training and communications protocols for scientists who wish to engage in public debates.

Public history should do the same. We have sharpened our methods over the years, but they can be sharpened further. We must strengthen media and communications training for public historians to enhance the receptiveness of our message. As NCPH President Bob Weyeneth said in his 2014 Presidential address, which sparked a discussion of these topics here on History@Work, we need to “let the public in on the trade secrets” that historians share and take for granted. We must develop household names and engaging personalities who communicate about public history in popular culture and who have credibility in communities beyond our own. We must develop a cohort whose specialty is not to communicate within public history, but on it, mastering all media available to us, television, YouTube, Vine, Podcasts, radio, music, print, social, and Web. This is part of the vision for History Communicators.

So are History Communicators actually History Mediators, as Jim Grossman and I wrote in November? Are they History Advocates? History Popularizers? History Evangelists? The answer is all of the above, in my vision. And if many questions feel unresolved in this short blog post, it is because they are. Is History Communicators simply an attempt to put a new, more intentional spin on the kind of work that public historians already do? Is it merely an advocacy campaign–and how does is it differ from advocacy work done by NCPH, AHA, the Society of American Archivists, and others? What actual positions can public historians hold in order to function as History Communicators? Shouldn’t academic historians be History Communicators, too?

These are among the questions we’ll debate in April. This post merely serves to open the conversation and to get us thinking about the possibilities. I hope the conversation expands in many directions and takes what is at present a germinating idea and turns it into a fully viable concept. I invite you to comment below with your initial reaction and to join us in Nashville to discuss further.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

~ Jason Steinhauer is a public historian in Washington, DC. He works and blogs at the Library of Congress, and he sometimes uses Twitter: @JasonSteinhauer.