The University of Oklahoma raised some eyebrows last year when it announced it was partnering with the History Channel to offer a new U.S. history survey course. The thrust of the initial interest was the university’s decision to pair up with a relatively old-school medium -- cable television -- to offer distance learning in the midst of a digital platform boom. But after a successful first run of the course, another story has yet to be told: that of history faculty members’ lingering distaste at what they call being left out of the process and, more generally, at the university partnering with a commercial entity now perhaps better known for reality TV shows such as Ice Road Truckers and Swamp People than college-level history. Proponents of the partnership, meanwhile, tout the channel’s top-rate archives and audiovisual capabilities, as well as its mission to make historical study more accessible.
I understand the concern about the pop nature of many of History Channel's offerings. I spent the weekend in the hospital, and tuning into HC gave me Sons of Liberty (which wasn't bad) and Ancient Aliens (which would lower the IQ of Joe "I remember when FDR went on television at the start of the Depression" Biden). But the solution to Ancient Aliens and Pawn Stars is to produce popular history of high standards that will interest the masses. The Master's Whip: Homoerotic Sadomasochism And The Maintenance of Herrenvolk Democracy is not going to cut it. (Those who have already switched over to Amazon.com to see if there is an illustrated edition, sorry.)