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Open Access Teaching history through entertainment: the pedagogy of Who Do You Think You Are?

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Who Do You Think You Are? is a documentary series about history in which celebrities go on a journey to retrace their family tree and to learn about their ancestry. Originally broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom, it has been adapted in sixteen other countries, including Australia. The Australian version of the franchise has been broadcast since 2008 on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), a public service channel whose stated purpose is to “provide multilingual and multicultural radio, television and digital media services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians”. This article investigates the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are? as an educational text, which teaches history by exploring a range of eras and historical events through the celebrities’ genealogical investigations. Based on interviews with the producers and textual analysis, it explores the series’ pedagogy and demonstrates that Who Do You Think You Are? aims to teach history through entertainment. It shows how entertainment elements like storytelling and emotions are used as pedagogical tools, and how this “edutainment” model influences the historical and historiographical lessons taught in and by the text. Thus, this article highlights the intrinsic connection between televisual pedagogy (how a programme teaches) and educational content (what it teaches). It is argued that by adopting an edutainment model – and, more specifically, by using storytelling and emotions as pedagogical tools – Who Do You Think You Are? promotes a particular conception of history and of “doing” history, which involves active investigation and personal memories.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2017

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  • Die Zeitschrift SPIEL. Neue Folge ist eine internationale Zeitschrift, die sich allen Themen und Fragen der Medien- und Kulturwissenschaften widmet. Dabei spielt eine besondere Rolle, dass die in SPIEL. Neue Folge behandelten Fragen und Antworten dazu beitragen, die theoretischen, methodischen und methodologischen Perspektiven der medienkulturwissenschaftlichen Forschung zu erweitern und zu verbessern.

    SPIEL. Neue Folge is an international academic journal dedicated to a wide range of topics and research questions in the discipline of Culture and Media Studies. In particular, SPIEL. Neue Folge aims to publish research that addresses theoretical and methodological questions and that helps to broaden, advance and improve existing research approaches to the discipline.

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