Every once in a while, many of us feel the impulse to learn something new. To tackle our minds with a fresh subject, idea or experience. In the words of Walt Disney, “we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”. This article is for those of us who desire to begin to learn more about the history of our world, from east to west. From ancient times to the present.
Based on their free cost, accessibility, and wide-ranging topics, these resources are our most recommended for getting a foot in the historical door. They will help provide you with a broad recap of our History (with a capital H), the great events and people that shaped our past, and how this relates to us today.
Understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. That, in a nutshell, is why History matters. It is not just ‘useful’, it is essential.
Penelope J Corfield
Since 2001, the non-profit History News Network (HNN) has been publishing daily, quality articles by (often) professional historians, pondering on how past events are shaping or influencing current events. Although the site is aimed more at history professionals, its articles are more than accessible to even us laypeople, with over 1.5 million unique visitors each month.
If you’re after a wide array of disparate (and less academic) historical articles, exhibitions, photo galleries (and even games), BBC History is a worthy starting point. Although the content seems to focus rather heavily on British history, there’s also plenty of interesting content on other areas of the subject, too. From ancient history and war, to science and timelines, the BBC has you covered. There’s plenty of content for teaching kids about history, too.
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One of the top rated podcasts on iTunes, and one of my personal podcasts of choice, Hardcore History is Dan Carlin’s generous gift to the world. Each hefty series (recent episodes are free, older ones have a small fee) is often recorded in one lengthy sitting, and is later professionally edited. This offers a quality podcast that’ll excitingly and accessibly take you through often extremely complex histories in just a few hours.
Dan’s approach feels as though you’re attending a lively public lecture, along with twists, turns, tangents, and wisecracks that offer a fresh perspective on topics that may have seemed mind-numbing at school (including Roman History, and the Cold War).
Recommended: Wrath of the Khans
There’s plenty of free episodes (usually around one hour in length) here on some gargantuan, yet predictable topics, along with some more off-the-cuff ones. Interestingly, some of these are hosted by guest contributors to add some additional flare to the proceedings.
The format can flick between monologues and debates, but all episodes are packed with interesting insight, and quirks of history that you’d struggle to come across elsewhere. The HistoryExtra website also has a huge number fantastic articles for you to peruse at your leisure.
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We’ve also published an article on Educational History Podcasts To Listen To, if you’re looking for more.
Join 66,000 other history buffs who follow HistoryTube for their fill of (primarily) modern military history documentaries. Some of these include How It’s Made: Forging Aircraft, A Technical History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch and D-Day to Berlin: The Longest Day. Subscribe when you’re logged into YouTube to be kept up to date with other videos that HistoryTube chooses to share.
HistoryScholar provides a fascinating array of history documentaries to keep you (and 10,000 other followers) entertained during a quiet evening. The channel covers a far greater number of topics than HistoryTube, ranging from Indian Warriors to The Ancient City of Timbuktu, with many of these being one to two hours long.
Of all the websites I searched for online History courses, AcademicEarth offered, by far, the most comprehensive and easily accessible options. Although the site doesn’t provide direct links to its courses, finding what you need on the site is simple.
Each course has many online lectures, which play via YouTube. Leading scholars on the subject conduct the lectures, made available online thanks to several world-class universities. If you’d like to download the videos to watch/listen to them offline, you could use 4K Video Downloader (read our review here). A few courses I’d recommend (find them by scrolling through the site) are:
- Introduction to Ancient Greek History
- The Early Middle Ages, 284-1000
- History of the World Since 1500 CE
Learning about our history is a major step to understanding our present. So, whether you’re a dilettante, student, fact sharer on curation sites Learni.st, or simply a curious browser, these top history resources should prove the stepping stone to consuming quality content on the subject that’ll keep your curiosity high.
Which other resources would you include in this list? Which are the best ones we have missed?