Impact of Television on History Education

The invention of Television (TV) has provoked an enormous impact on culture and society. Since the beginning of its development until today it has been pushing profound changes in humans’ thinking. As it is a technology that stimulates attention, fosters students’ motivation, allows for recalling and reinforcement, its use on the classroom can bring lots of benefits. On this research I will discuss about the evolution of this technology, its cultural impact, its implications for literacy and learning of history.

History and Technological Development of TV

Television is a product of the inventions of various scientists. The first generation of TVs consisted of a mechanical device that was primarily developed by Paul Nipkow. During the late 1880s he invented a screen and a rotating disk with a series of holes arranged in a spiral, each spaced from the next by the width of the image. A beam of light shining through the holes illuminated each line of the image.  Later, in 1907, A.A. Campbell Swinton and Boris Rossing separately created a new television system composed by a cathode ray tube in addition to the mechanical scanner system. In 1923 Charles Jenkins developed a perfected version of the TV. It had a screen and a small motor with a spinning disc and a neon lamp. These devices worked together in order to provide a blurry reddish-orange picture. Between 1926 and 1931, the mechanical television system saw many innovations. And so on, television was perfected throughout the twentieth century by many scientists, who ended in the TV that we watch today.

Added to this technology, many scientists worked on the development of transmitters. The first transmitters were installed in the capital cities of developed countries (e.g. London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, New York). Only a small proportion of the population of each country was able to benefit. During World War 2 (WW2) many studies about the enhancement of TV were in development. On 1952, when the war ended, the electronic television replaced the mechanical TV. Picture sources became more sensitive and new equipment has made its appearance. Before 1950s television pictures were delivered in black and white. After 1950s it appeared the color television. The emergence of electronic television brought digital technologies. As the device was perfecting, transmitters were too.

The word “television” was used for the first time by the Russian physicist Constant Perskyi, during his speech on the Paris exhibition (1900). The French term “telèvision” became “television” in English,”televisión” in Spanish, “telvisie” in Duch, etc. The continual development of this technology and the associated facilities have enabled producers and directors to overcome one after the other the limitations of the tools at their disposal and to offer an ever-greater challenge to the ingenuity of man’s imagination (Peters, 2000). During the 1990s emerged new technologies for TV: high definition and stereoscopic TV. A wider image format, higher spatial resolution, and larger viewing screens characterize high definition. It offers a better quality and allows films to be shot electronically. Stereoscopic corresponds to 3-D TV. Researchers are investigating techniques using neutral polarized glasses. One of the long-term possibilities being researched is the design of picture tubes incorporating lenses that present images separately to the left and right eye.

Implications on culture, literacy and education

A number of researchers (Anderson, 1981; Gerbner,,1976; Shrum,, 1998) suggest that TV has brought enormous cultural effects. TV consumption has effects on viewers’ social perception. Gerbner (,1976) argue that TV consumption may have some detrimental consequences for users, such as promoting violence and crime (Gerbner,,1976). The sexual and violent content of some TV shows may modify attitudes, beliefs and behaviors towards aggression. However, there are authors (Shrum,, 1998) who suggest that the impact of TV can be both positive and negative. Not denying the damaging effects of consuming violent attitudes, there are other issues that TV might foster, such as the representation and portrayal of minorities, wealth affluence, and occupational roles.

According to Buckingham (1993) talking about television is instrumental in constructing and sustaining our social relationships and thus our sense of our own social identity. What we think about television and how we use it in our daily lives depend to a great extend on how we talk about it with others (Buckingham, 1993, p. 39). By talking about TV we display our moral values, our perceptions of others and ourselves (Buckingham, 1993, p. 40). Talking about television defines our identity. TV encodes sounds and images into electronic signals. These signals are delivered to users, who convert them into sounds and images, which are not inherently meaningful. Users see, hear and give them meaning. This process does not occur as an isolated encounter with the screen. It involves many actors in a spoken and non-spoken communication. Watching TV usually takes place in the company of others (Buckingham, 1993). David Olson suggests that TV has found its place in the mental and social lives of consumers (Olson, 1987, p. 145).

According to Buckingham (1993) TV produces lower and higher order literacy that might include:

Lower order literacy

Higher order literacy

  • Distinguish between voices on a soundtrack, or between figures and backgrounds.
  • Understand the principle of editing, and the ability to follow a narrative.
  • An ability to relate sounds an image tracks.
  • Elements of ‘television gramar’ such as camera angles and movements.
  • Understand the codes or ‘rethoric’ of television language
  • Categorize programmes and a knowledge of the conventions of different television genres.
  • A set of story grammars or models of narrative structures, and an awareness of the ways in which narrative time is manipulated through editing.
  • Infer character traits, and to construct psychologically coherent characters.
  • An awareness of the ways in which viewers are invited to identify with characters and the different kinds of identification.
  • Understand the production process, and of the circulation and distribution of programmes.
  • Infer the motivations and intentions of producers.
  • Be aware of the ways in which audiences are addressed and constructed.
  • Evaluate the ‘reality claims’ made by different types of programmes.

TV on History Education

For history education TV can be used as a background resource and an interactive multimedia that fosters critical literacy and citizenship. The way in which educators encourage children through the history curriculum by the integration of TV may allow the promotion of critical literacy and citizenship. What a teacher expects from children’s classroom TV and videos will or will not achieve these benefits for the learning of history.

Historical TV motivates learning by stimulating attention. Wartella (1987), suggests that TV may have an impact in both children’s knowledge and cognitive skills as children use their knowledge about the world and their cognitive skills to make sense of TV. Historical TV can foster attention, motivation, and stimulate recall of factual information. It may enhance listening, demonstrating, questioning and conceptual learning. It can improve children’s confidence and teacher’s credibility (Peters, 2000). Using TV in history class can communicate and enliven historical information, bring a subject to life within the classroom. It may provide accurate information and can promote reflection of a historical event by offering a variety of perspectives. Historical TV for education may have a visual impact and evidence of history. It can show things graphically, it can be informative, it is a reinforcement tool for a particular subject/topic (Peters, 2000).

According to Peters (2000) TV offers an easy intellectual access that helps teachers for delivering content and promoting learning, as it is accessible for children who have difficulties on reading. With TV teacher’s curricular expectations are multi-faceted.


The emergence of TV in human life has brought both benefits and drawbacks. Some researchers argue that TV may influence human’s behavior by promoting violent attitudes. Others suggest that TV can bring benefits, such as representation and portrayal of minorities, wealth affluence, and occupational roles. TV has brought an important impact on literacy and education. It promotes interactive thinking, stimulates attention, and foster cognitive skills. Particularly, for History education, the use of TV may allow students to recall and enliven historical information, and promote reflection and discussions about historical events. It has a visual impact that books do not provide, as it can graphically present content. Throughout history we can see that TV has been an important thread to reading and writing. However, it has not provoked the disappearance of books, magazines or various forms of written text. In the case of History, TV can be a technology to serve (along with books, articles, essays, etc.) learning about past events, as it can bring a subject to life within the classroom (a thing that historical books not always achieve).


Anderson, D. R., & And, O. (1981). The Effects of TV Program Comprehensibility on Preschool Children’s Visual Attention to Television. Child Development, 52(1), 151-57. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Bage, G (1997). How can we teach history through Television? Journal of Educational Media. 23 (2-3) 203-214. Retrieved October 10, 2011 from EBSCOhost.

Buckingham, D. (1993) Children talking television: the making of television literacy. London. Taylor & Francis.

Gerbner, G., & Gross, L. (1976). Living With Television: The Violence Profile. Journal of Communication. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Peters, J-J (2000). A History of Television. Brussels: European Broadcasting Union

Olson, David (1987). Television and Literacy. In: Manley-Casimir, M. Like, Carmen (eds). Children and Televsion A Challenge for Education. New York: Praeger. 145-152.

Shrum, L.J., Wyer, R, O’Guin, T (1998). The Effect of Television Consumption n Social Perceptions: The Use of Priming Procedures to Investigate Pruchological Processes. Journal of Consumer Research. 24. 447-458.

Wartella, Elen. Television, Cognition, and Learning In: Manley-Casimir, M. Like, Carmen (eds). Children and Televsion A Challenge for Education. New York: Praeger. 3-12.

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