YouTubers are coming up with fun and unusual ways to teach history – here are some of my favourites

Over at my old blogspot, I happily talked about the awesome weirdness of YouTube history videos: as a cure for insomnia and as a Trojan horse hiding behind porny thumbnails.

What I didn’t give YouTube credit for is that many videos provide new and exciting ways to learn about history. It’s an especially great gateway for people who aren’t necessarily interested in watching traditional history documentaries (I’m thinking specifically of my kids!)

I wanted to share three favourite YouTube history series that I’ve recently discovered with you. Don’t worry, while they’re educational, there’s still some awesome weirdness in there.


For the kids

OverSimplified

What is it? A stick figure-like cartoon (think South Park in terms of visuals) explainer for historical events.

What makes it so good? The segments provide a great summary of history, moving along at a cracking pace. Yet somehow, it still manages to combine deep dives into the context of events while packing in kid-friendly jokes. It seems like a perfect mix for for school age kids to learn about history. My own kids love repeating the jokes they hear from this series.

Series highlight: The War of the Bucket. The medieval power struggle between Pope and Emperor is explained through an odd little war in Italy. The more obscure the episode of history, the more I love it. This one also has a memorable gag where the Pope and Emperor take turns deposing each other.


For the kids at heart

Puppet History

What is it? [Note: let’s be clear here, Puppet History is not actually meant for kids!] Pretty much what it sounds like a puppet (the Professor) teaching history, with the help of more puppets. While the Professor puts on his show, two human guests need to answer questions, competing for the honour to be declared History Master.

What makes it so good? This comes from the same mad genius that brought you Ruining History. If you enjoy the quirky, silly humour of the Ghoul Boys (aka Shane Madej and Ryan Bergara), this has got it, along with a heaping dose of history. The Professor has also obviously put a lot of energy into his puppet theatre props.

Series highlight: The Black Plague. An eerily prescient episode that came up shortly before the pandemic exploded around the world. It also features the re-enactment of a flea who partied too hard.


For those ready to adult

Fall of Civilizations

What is it? A visual podcast about what has made different civilizations decline and fall. A lot of care has been put into matching the material to illustrative visuals and sound effects.

What makes it so good? What makes civilizations tick and what causes them to decline is inevitably top of mind as we deal with multiple global crises. The historical examples covered by this podcast are well researched and include a lot of information not easily found elsewhere. Unlike a lot of history content, it’s not centred on Western Civilization, with episodes on the Songhai and Maya, among others.

Series highlight: Easter Island. This episode blows up some common myths that have developed about the civilization that created the mysterious statues on Easter Island. It also features evocative music by the Toki School of Music and Arts, based on Easter Island. Creator Paul Cooper ends with a call to donate to the school and its worthy cause.


This is just a tiny sampling of the fun and exciting ways to approach history that YouTubers are coming up with.

What are your favourite history videos on YouTube?