History and television in Europe 2006-2012
The past does not exist as an autonomous entity; we only have access to its relics in the present. Relics become evidence when somebody takes an interest in them, asks a question or makes a case. Since we have no direct access to the past, all historical account is a construct, based on the resources available in the present. The past therefore has no conceptual meaning independently of the present. With the recognition of the relativity of historical reconstruction, professional historians have lost their authority to speak on behalf of the past.
The media fill the gap; the nations’ narratives are still being produced but increasingly by television documentaries and mini-series. Such narratives help provide a feeling of community for all those who happen to live in the same area, a unity in which they can be said to share certain common features. But the past is a much more continuing presence in some societies than in others, different societies necessarily take different views of it, and some simply don’t have the conceptual resources or feel the need to develop a self-contained or even an independent concept of it. Television channels, getting most of their money from advertisement, must gratify their spectators. Therefore, they tend to follow blindly audience assessments and repeat successful programs, the same periods, the same characters endlessly return on the small screen, history becomes thus enjoyable but does not give a chance to reconsider previous bias against other countries.
For that reason, television broadcast open a window onto the standard historical knowledge, the trickiest questions, the on-going sources of distrust and also on the mechanism of evolution taken for granted by a good many onlookers. To reckon the dominant trends of history such as they are represented in the countries of the E.U., the Parri institute gathered from 2007 through 2012, a team of experts representing slightly more than eighty per cent of the inhabitants of the Union. The proceedings of the research allow comparing the various treatments of the past and the more enduring prejudices against other members of the E.U.
History and Web in Europe 2012-2014
Television programs are only a proposition, they present a version of the past and spectators can approve or reject it. An argument does not exist until given signification by individuals; consumption is in itself a kind of production. Before the beginning of the 21th century it was extremely difficult to know how onlookers reacted to what they watched on tv and more generally how they made use of their historical knowledge. At the best statistics help build aggregates of types of consumers. The quick development of social networks provides us with a tool allowing investigating the response of consumer groups and even that of many unique receptions and viewings/readings. From 2012 through 2014 a group or researchers from various European countries, sponsored by the Parri institute, has analysed the historical stereotypes, commonplaces and representations circulating on the Web. The exploration of Web messages requires an understanding of the particular circumstances in which the viewers/readers/diarists communicate with other surfers. The exegesis of their forms of consumption and (re)production requires to think carefully how to approach the experience of receiving a particular type of text so that, in the work of this group, much time was devoted to the elaboration of a methodological approach. There was an agreement over a strategy which was to play down the importance of broad uniformities and to focus instead on the qualitative differences of experience, but such kind of exploration of the range of individual experience offset questions about the representativeness of the individuals whose messages had been taken into account.
However, social communication, being both permanently inchoate and a moving target, cannot, taken overall, be an object of sustained, steady examination, much more is going on in it than we can possibly keep track of. The problem is still to know how to give an understandable account of the way people make sense of the past when chatting with friends and comrades but our procedures may have been inadequate, a debate about our aims and the ways to achieve them will be of crucial importance.