Thanks to the popularity of historical fiction novels, HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is based on the book series by George R.R. Martin; and countless video games, there has been growing interest in ancient and medieval history. However, separating the fact from the fiction has remained a challenge.
For those who want the real dirt on what happened way back when, there is the YouTube Channel “The Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” which first began as a hobby of Oklahoma-based Nick Barksdale just over three years ago. The channel actually grew out of his Facebook history page.
The channel, like other history-based ones on the video sharing platform, began as a small, part-time venture. In Barksdale’s case it was the occasional upload of narrations of history books that were in the public domain.
“I’d never imagined that my project would in a few years have over 20,000 followers on Facebook, over 129,000 followers on YouTube and an awesome team that included talents narrators, editors and moderators.”
There are currently dozens of history-related channels on YouTube, but most focus on the modern era, which also sets Barksdale apart in the crowded “armchair historian” genre.
“As the channel and social media page grew I decided to focus on Antiquity and the Middle Ages with an even more specific focus on the Bronze Age, which is typically dated from 3300 BCE to 1100 BCE, and the reason for that is because it’s one of the most important periods in human history,” he explained. “It’s a period of great transformation, revolution and transition, as we see the origin of urban centers, the organization of societies and the creation of various civilizations ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt, the Indus River Valley and beyond.”
Barksdale said his love of ancient and medieval history really began in his childhood when he played with medieval miniatures and read illustrated classics like King Arthur, Ivanhoe and Robin Hood.
“As a teenager my historical pursuits became even more of a passion as my mother, brothers and I travelled to Ireland, Scotland and England, which to this day remains one of the most important moments in my life as I got to experience the ancient and medieval Irish, Pictish, Viking, and English worlds,” Barksdale explained. “It’s funny looking back because everything seems so simple when you’re studying history as a child and even as a teenager, but as you grow older you begin to realize that history is so much more complicated and that complexity caused me to love ancient and medieval history even more.”
YouTube’s The Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages channel has attempted to make history matter, especially the more obscure history, while Nick Barksdale also falls into the category of a truly self-taught amateur historians.
“It tends to surprise people that I never pursued a higher education and attended college,” he added. “I had moments of opportunity where I could have but I chose to continue working and doing what I could to earn a living for myself and now that I’m a happily married husband and a proud father that opportunity is even farther away.”
Calling In The Experts
Because of Barksdale’s background he opted to do something other channel hosts have largely avoided, and that is calling in experts for the videos he produces. Where many online hosts serve as narrator and expert, Barksdale has taken a host/narrator approach, utilizing the talking heads that are often common with many TV documentaries.
“I wanted to bring in the professor and the scholar for not just my audience but also for myself and so that’s the beauty of it; I get to learn and grow with my audience,” said Barksdale. “From Bronze Age archaeologists to ‘medievalists’ and beyond, we strive to provide something for everyone from popular fields of study to more obscure areas of focus.”
He added that having these experts is vital to the creditability of the channel, but also in our current era of communication where social media platforms can so easily spread misinformation.
“I see history being abused, manipulated and distorted on a regular basis by individuals and organizations for a variety of reasons,” he warned. “And that’s another reason why hosting actual experts matters and that’s because you get the facts. You get actual history and they are trained to read from ancient and medieval sources and they know how to properly interpret them and in proper context.”
He said that these expert voices can cast aside the misinformation and sometimes even sinister agendas that are all too often pushed online.
More Than YouTube
Currently for Barksdale the channel has grown enough that it is beginning to become his “full time job” while he remains employed part time, but he admits that the genre is crowded, and often times difficult for newer channels to stand out.
His efforts have included relying on Facebook Groups and social media to help grow not only an audience, but an actual community of those who appreciate the subject matter. Currently this includes his moderating a few history groups, while he has founded two of his own – one which relates to the channel, while another is for history book collectors.
Because his subject matter is related largely to the ancient/classical era and the medieval world, he hasn’t run afoul of some of the issues that modern history – notably the American Civil War and the Third Reich – have presented. Barksdale said that much of what he has seen in how Facebook reacts to content related to those subjects can all too easily be taken out of context.
Even sharing a vintage photo of Confederate or Nazi soldiers can run afoul of Facebook’s automated systems that ban the display of certain symbols and topics. So far, cancel culture hasn’t come for the Middle Ages. Moreover, Barksdale said he and his team are quite proactive rather than reactive to the way history is treated on Facebook and other platforms.
“When it comes to my groups and even the page on Facebook, I don’t really run into issues with the rules due to having an awesome team of volunteer admins and moderators who help ensure that our simple rules are met and that Facebook community standards aren’t violated,” he explained. “We ensure that we have a safe environment for everyone.”
At the same time he admits that there are those online who have tried to use history in a misleading way for their own gain, while misunderstandings of what is an historic presentation vs. a glamorization remains a far bigger issue.
“Unfortunately a few people and groups have ruined certain platforms for everyone due to their abuse and misuse of history. Many great historians had their channels shut down for simply showing footage of the Third Reich to better educate their audience and it was in no way sinister in motive but nonetheless with new rules and restrictions everyone who deals with the Third Reich on YouTube was affected.”
Given the core study will remain devoted to the antiquity and the Middle Ages; Barksdale doesn’t expect there will be problems. Instead, he is focused on growing the channel and in the process educating his audience.
“We have big plans for the future and we will keep doing what we can to make history matter.”