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Commercialised History: Popular History Magazines in Europe

Approaches to a Historico-Cultural Phenomenon as the Basis for History Teaching

Edited By Susanne Popp, Jutta Schumann and Miriam Hannig

This volume of essays is the result of the EU project «EHISTO», which dealt with the mediation of history in popular history magazines and explored how history in the commercialised mass media can be used in history teaching in order to develop the media literacy and the transcultural competences of young people. The volume offers articles which for the first time address the phenomenon of popular history magazines in Europe and their mediating strategies in a foundational way. The articles are intended as introductory material for teachers and student teachers. The topic also offers an innovative approach in terms of making possible a European cross-country comparison, in which results based on qualitative and quantitative methods are presented, related to the content focus areas profiled in the national magazines.
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History magazines in the UK

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Terry Haydn

History magazines in the UK

1. Background: Media history culture in the UK

The proliferation of history magazines in the UK, and the increasing circulation of many of them over the past decade have occurred in a context where there has been widespread concern about the place and function of history in schools and in society as a whole. It has been suggested that whilst history in schools is moribund, with 70% of pupils choosing to drop the subject at the age of 13 or 141, outside the formal education system, there is unprecedented popular interest in the past, with history being described as ‘the new rock and roll’2. A survey by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority found that approximately half of pupils aged between 11–14 had an interest in history outside school3, and in addition to the burgeoning choice of history magazines in bookshops and history internet sites, history programmes on television started to attract massive audiences, with ‘celebrity’ historians such as David Starkey, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson attracting higher viewing figures than quiz shows and national football matches, and the celebrity genealogy programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ regularly attracting over seven million viewers.4

The high media profile of history has been accompanied by ‘knowledge panic’ headlines expressing concern about how little young people appear to learn about the national past in the history they encounter at school, ← 275 | 276 → and the very limited ‘breadth’ of history they encounter at school, with over-concentration on ‘Hitler and the Henrys’5. Concern has also been expressed about the ‘dumbing-down’ tendencies and characteristics of modern society, including accusations that the internet, magazines and changes to the ‘alphabet-icon ratio’ in many communication formats has led to a culture of ‘junk learning’6 and a reduction in the concentration span of young people.7 Janet Street-Porter goes as far as to suggest that concern over ‘the digital divide’ is misplaced and that the ‘privileged’ are ‘the unplugged’, reliant on the high-quality resource of books, rather than magazine articles, TV sound bites and internet browsing.8 (A quick perusal of the first images to arise from a Google images search on ‘The Tudors’ is one demonstration of this point).

The uneasy paradox of a society that at one level seems to engage in a wide variety of activities related to the past, and yet which does not necessarily demonstrate sophisticated levels of historical consciousness is described by historian John Tosh: ‘Has not history become a staple of the TV channels, and is not an increasing proportion of people’s leisure time taken up by family history, visits to historic sites, and more variants of collecting than have yet been documented? Should not historians be grateful that their subject has become “the new gardening”? The problem is that – with the exception of a few TV programmes – none of these activities brings historical perspectives to bear on issues of topical importance. Indeed, their very popularity diminishes the public space that is available for that kind of analysis. We are confronted by the paradox of a society which is immersed in the past and yet detached from it.’9

Tosh is particularly critical of the rise of ‘Heritage History’ in the UK – a strand of history that constitutes a significant section of the history magazine market in the UK: ‘It plays on a recoil from the less pleasant aspects ← 276 | 277 → of the present and encourages an escape into a more stable past, when society was governed by the “traditional” values whose hold is so tenuous today […] encouraging a view of the past which is superficial, nostalgic and conformist; they are not so much a means of education as an adjunct to tourism.’10

Does the rise of the history magazine therefore represent a backwards step in terms of the development of a healthy and critical historical consciousness amongst the population as a whole, and an escape from ‘serious’ and ‘proper’ history? Are history magazines a form of ‘history-lite’, for people who lack the commitment or sustained concentration to read books about history or is the fact that thousands of people pay money and devote their time to learning about aspects of the past through history magazines a healthy signifier of interest in the past?

2. Research approach

In addition to surveys of public libraries and railway/airport/city centre bookshops and newsagents, to see which history magazines were widely available to the public in hard copy form, without subscription, internet searches revealed a further tranche of history magazines which were not generally available for high street purchase. In addition to ascertaining the founding date of the magazines, frequency of publication, circulation and readership figures, interviews and e-mail correspondence with ten editors of UK based history magazines elicited further information about readership and factors influencing take-up. In addition, a small scale survey of history student teachers’ use of history magazines was undertaken, to explore which magazines they read, what influence they had on their teaching, and the comparative influence of internet sites and history magazines on their practice. Finally, a content analysis survey was done on a hundred front page covers of the biggest selling history magazine in the UK, BBC HISTORY, in order to ascertain what facets, types and periods of history dominated the magazine, and how the magazine attempted to ‘sell’ history to the UK public. ← 277 | 278 →

3. A survey of various types of history magazine in the UK

Some UK history magazines are long established: THE HISTORIAN dates back to 1938, HISTORY TODAY was first printed in 1951; and TEACHING HISTORY, a magazine/journal specifically for teachers of history was first published in 1969. However, the past decade has seen a proliferation of new titles, which address different facets of the past and which vary considerably in terms of circulation, focus and audience. This section of the paper, whilst not guaranteeing to have incorporated every single history magazine publicly available in the UK, attempts to provide a guide to the main types of history magazines available.

3.1 History magazines in the field of ‘hobby’ and ‘leisure’

These magazines cater for people who have an interest in a particular facet of the past which manifests itself as a leisure interest or hobby (such as, for example, VINTAGE TRACTOR MAGAZINE, and LOCAL HISTORY). With two other examples of this genre of history magazine, extracts from e-mail correspondence with the authors provide some insight into the rationale for the magazine, the audience, and some of the factors influencing sales.

SOCCER HISTORY is an example of the way that magazines can cater for ‘niche’ markets. The editor was keen to stress the role which the internet played in contributing to the survival of the magazine, in spite of its very small circulation. The internet also provides an active ‘blog’ for subscribers, as was the case with many other magazines.

‘We sell (over time) in the region of 500 copies of SOCCER HISTORY […]. We are still selling around 10–15 copies of each issue going back to issue 1 (which is now almost sold out). The majority of our readers are aged 50+ (the readers under 25 are almost all history students and I suspect many are pensioners on fixed incomes). Perhaps the main issue for small magazines like SOCCER HISTORY is the lack of outlets which will take copies. Until around 5 years ago there were specialist sports book shops in London and Manchester which sold around 50 copies of each issue, but these shops have now closed. WH Smiths is beyond us simply because of the high percentage of the sale price they demand and their insistence that unsold copies are thrown out rather than returned. ← 278 | 279 → However, we now pick up sales through the website and also through posting on one or two select internet forums which cover football history. Our readers are most likely to read broadsheet newspapers and somewhere in the region of 30% are either published authors or engaged in their own research projects on football history.’11

The second ‘specialist’ magazine was SKIRMISH, a magazine for people who participate in historical re-enactments (in England, the most famous of these groups is the ‘Sealed Knot’ Society, which re-enacts battles from the English Civil War). The magazine has been going for 10 years, is published monthly, and has a circulation of 39.449, with a claimed readership of 98.623. Although the magazine is published in the UK, it has a global readership and the following figures which were furnished by the editor provide an interesting insight into where historical re-enactments are most popular, and which battles and events are re-enacted (see tables 1 and 2).

Table 1: Breakdown of subscriptions to SKIRMISH by location

United Kingdom36%
Rest of World1%

Table 2: What events do they re-enact? Percentage of coverage as of March 2010

American Revolution1%
Napoleonic Wars5%
English Civil War16%
American Civil War18%
World War One23%
World War Two24% ← 279 | 280 →

3.2 Particular ‘strands’ of history

The magazine BLACK HERITAGE TODAY was started as a ‘free’ magazine, arising out of the recently introduced custom of a ‘Black History’ month, where many schools and institutions would (for one month of the year) place particular emphasis on ‘Black History’. In 2003 it became a hard copy subscription magazine with associated website12 consisting of one issue annually, with the last version published in 2009.

HERSTORIA was founded in 2009 and is a quarterly magazine, which can be subscribed to via its website.13 Like many other comparatively small circulation magazines, it is not available for purchase on the high street and is reliant on its internet presence to reach its audience. Its mission as explained in its associated website is: ‘To discover how the other half lived, telling the story of ordinary – and extraordinary – women. We bring you opinions about the female sex” from across the centuries, and investigate the ways in which women responded and lived their lives. Debate the issues that influence the way history is made: Are women making themselves heard on the radio and TV? Are young historians in school learning about women’s history? Are women given an equal voice in popular and highbrow history? Do museums and heritage centres provide a balanced view of history? Are our public memorials fair to women? Do we forget our heroines too easily?’14

E-mail correspondence with the editor makes the point that the magazine ‘market’ on the high street militates against smaller circulation magazines: ‘I’m not sure if our situation would endorse any idea that “history sells”! We are a tiny (but glossy and professionally produced) independent magazine, set up in Spring 2009, to bring the fascinating research in women’s history going on in the universities to a wider, popular audience. We have a print run, for the last issue, of 2500 and with that had a limited launch in the shops. We are, perhaps, not a good example as we have no money for advertising and cannot afford the costs of being stocked by the ← 280 | 281 → likes of WH Smiths; instead we rely on web subs and independents. We have grown by word of mouth and our circulation has gone from nothing to 2500 since our first issue in Spring 2009.’15

3.3 ‘Heritage’ magazines

These magazines focus explicitly on aspects of British heritage, with articles featuring famous homes and gardens, British institutions (such as ‘The Royal Society’), areas of outstanding beauty, museums and excavations. The largest selling such magazine, HERITAGE, published bi-monthly, has been established for 26 years and has a circulation of 48.167, with a claimed readership of 165.000.

An interesting addition to the genre is BEST OF BRITISH: NOSTALGIA MAGAZINE, founded in 1994, published monthly and with a claimed readership of 100.000. The mission of the magazine as articulated on the associated website and blog explicitly highlights the ‘nostalgia’ element of the magazine: ‘The only publication combining affectionate glimpses of yesteryear with all that is special about this country today. BEST OF BRITISH magazine is packed with stories and pictures guaranteed to bring so many memories flooding back […] covers every aspect of life from the 1930s through to today, recording the way it once was and demonstrating what makes Britain so special […] a monthly celebration of everything British – from the past through to the present. Packed with nostalgic stories and pictures every month, many from our own readers. Remembering all our yesterdays – the music, the schooldays, the holidays, the transport and the shops of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties. Readers’ tales guaranteed to stir so many memories – what we wore, where we worked, how we were entertained. Enjoy the traditions of Britain that have stood the test of time – the foods, the trades, the customs and the crafts. Featuring the best events and places to visit each month.’16 ← 281 | 282 →

3.4 Magazines on family history and genealogy

This has been an area of particular growth in the light of recent television programmes about family history, most spectacularly ‘Who do you think you are?’, featuring celebrities tracing their family roots, and achieving multi-million figure audiences. This has become contested territory as the following e-mail response from the editor of one UK genealogy magazine demonstrates. It again demonstrates the advantages of ‘the big battalions’ such as the BBC, with its advertising power, brand presence and web services: ‘FAMILY HISTORY MONTHLY is celebrating its 15th anniversary next month, and in that time circulation has dropped significantly. When we started out we were only the second genealogy magazine on the market and we would sell upwards of 20.000 issues off the shelves alone, but now there are 6 titles and the market is hugely over-saturated. Sadly, the BBC’s magazine particularly has wiped the floor with a lot of the smaller ones, and one has already gone under (ANCESTORS, which was produced by “The National Archives”), with another one on the brink. However, our circulation is still at about 23.000 and we are now sold in shops in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. We have seen a slight rise in subscriber numbers recently and we are really pushing for more business overseas (although we already have quite a large overseas readership), focusing especially on Australia.’17

3.5 History education magazines

This section of the market is dominated by the Historical Association’s magazine, TEACHING HISTORY, founded in 1969 and now published quarterly, although in many respects it might be considered as a professional journal rather than a magazine. Its circulation has increased substantially from the 1998 figure of 1.700 and now stands at 3.250.18 Although its circulation figures are quite modest, its influence transcends these figures and it is the magazine which has the most significant influence on the teaching of history in UK schools, by both student teachers and ← 282 | 283 → experienced teachers (see concluding section). A senior Historical Association executive attributed the increase in the magazine’s circulation and influence to a change of editor, a clear vision for the journal and the high quality of the editorial team. The magazine attempts to combine practical guidance and advice on the teaching of particular aspects of history with a highly rigorous and research-informed approach. As well as articles on particular aspects of teaching history, with focus, for instance, on the teaching of second order concepts19, or the teaching of controversial issues, the magazine contains a range of well established ‘features’ (‘Mummy, Mummy’, ‘Move me on’, ‘Nutshell’, ‘Polychronicon’, ‘Cunning plan’, ‘Triumphs’), which have given the magazine iconic status amongst the history education community in the UK. Another interesting aspect of the magazine is the cover illustration, which almost invariably eschews focusing on a particular historical event or personality (one exception to this was a themed issue on ‘The Holocaust’).

A ‘companion’ magazine to TEACHING HISTORY, PRIMARY HISTORY, has suffered contrasting fortunes, with the circulation plummeting from over 2000 to 649, as a result of the marginalisation of history in the primary curriculum and the very heavy emphasis placed on literacy and numeracy in primary schools.20

There is also a magazine aimed at pupils studying history at examination level in schools, now titled HISTORY REVIEW, published three times a year and with a circulation of approximately 20.000. As well as articles on particular historical events and personalities, the magazine includes advice on how to tackle examination questions and coursework. Correspondence with publishers suggested that take-up of the magazine was dominated by schools in the independent sector, with some schools ordering multiple copies of the magazines so as to give it to all pupils studying for the Advanced level examination in history. ← 283 | 284 →

3.6 General interest history magazines

The oldest of these, THE HISTORIAN, published under the aegis of the Historical Association, dates back to 1938, but has declined in terms of circulation in recent years. Whether this is due to the comparatively serious and ‘heavy’ text based nature of the magazine, in comparison to the ‘lighter’ and more image/colour oriented alternatives which have emerged more recently, or the age profile of its audience is difficult to say but a Historical Association spokesperson offered the following suggestions to explain this decline in circulation: ‘A large number of subscribers (over 1000) are retired. The Historian was affected when the Historical Association allowed members to chose a different journal for membership. Initially, it held up reasonably, but since 2000 it has had a steeply declining subscriber base. Partly because if you are retired, or not professionally involved with history we offer very little for membership and its cheaper to buy BBC HISTORY or HISTORY TODAY on an ad hoc basis from Smiths’21 (UK High Street chain of Newsagents).

HISTORY TODAY is a monthly publication which dates back to 1951 and has a circulation of 23.500.22 It positions itself as ‘more serious and authoritative’ in relation to its more recently established competitor BBC HISTORY: ‘We’re not really in the same market […] they are more popular in approach, with shorter, pithier articles […] we present serious history to the general market […] nearly all our articles are written by serious academic historians, with very few written by journalists and most of our articles are around 3000 words in length.’23

As the overwhelming proportion of readers had subscriptions to the magazine, rather than purchasing individual copies, it was not felt necessary to agonise over what features and illustrations to put on the front cover of the magazine in order to boost sales.

The biggest selling ‘general’ history magazine in the UK is BBC HISTORY, with a circulation of 70.000 (with 40.000 subscribers) and an estimated readership of 265.000. In terms of the demography of its ← 284 | 285 → readership it is perhaps interesting to note that it is estimated that 61% of readers are males (and 76% fall into social class A, B or C24, leading to an advertising charge of £3755 for a full page advertisement, as opposed to £495 for a page in TEACHING HISTORY or THE HISTORIAN) (BBC Magazines, 2011).25

Although all the magazines have now developed sophisticated websites to accompany the magazine, the BBC History magazine perhaps had the most advanced and extensive site, with, for instance, podcast downloads estimated at over 250.000 per podcast, and easy access to the full range of the BBC’s online resources for history.

4. How do British history magazines sell ‘history’?

4.1 Estimates on the part of the editors

One of the most striking developments is the upsurge of interest in family and genealogy history over the past decade, with a range of titles in this area, often in the wake of television series about aspects of family history. ‘Heritage’ style magazines, often based on nostalgic and celebratory interpretations of British history and features profiling famous buildings, gardens, museums and ‘historical days out’ have also increased in popularity.

In terms of what ‘sort’ of history was of most interest to the UK public, several of the editors acknowledged that modern British history and traditionally famous British personalities (Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I) and iconic events (1066, the Battle of Waterloo, D-Day) were popular with readers. One editor acknowledged that although he had reservations about the amount of attention which focused on Hitler and the Nazis, a cover with Hitler on the front cover would generally sell particularly well. Another described modern British history, and in particular, something about World War One or Two as ‘the safest bet’, adding that it often helped to have a picture of a particular person on the front page, often ‘a king or queen, or one of the Tutors or Stuarts, or Oliver Cromwell’. Another editor echoed these sentiments, stating that ‘the majority like modernish British history’. ← 285 | 286 →

4.2 The results of the front cover analysis

Content analysis of 100 issues of BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE (the biggest circulation general history magazine in the UK) revealed that the front page often featured anniversaries of famous events in British history, ‘revisionist’ views raised by new research or publications on controversial issues (for instance, an unflattering biography of Henry V). It was also interesting to note that front covers often presented topics as a form of ‘enquiry question’ mirroring the approach to historical topics now widely used in history teaching in UK schools26, such as ‘Were the Suffragettes terrorists or freedom fighters?’, ‘Was Cromwell a hero or a war criminal?’ It was interesting to note the influence of recent television polls about history (one of the most high profile being a BBC series about the ‘top 100’ Britons), with features on ‘Which was the worst year in British History?’, and ‘Who were the 10 worst Britons?’

Table 3: Chronological classification of the front cover topics of BBC HISTORY (value in percent, n=100 front covers of BBC HISTORY from 2002 to 2010)


← 286 | 287 →

Table 4: Geographical classification of the front cover topics of BBC HISTORY – rough overview (value in percent; n=100 front covers of BBC HISTORY from 2002 to 2010)


Table 5: Geographical classification of the front cover topics of BBC HISTORY – precise classification Europe (value in percent; n=100 front covers of BBC HISTORY from 2002 to 2010) (2% others)


← 287 | 288 →

Table 6: Thematic classification of the front cover topics of BBC HISTORY (value in percent; n=100 front covers of BBC HISTORY between 2002 to 2010; multiple mentioning possible)


Content analysis of the front page cover of the largest selling history magazine reveals the dominance of European themes and topics, and overwhelmingly, the story of the national past, considered primarily in political, military and imperial terms. From the 100 cover pages analysed, 65 issues focused on elements of the UK’s national story. Where Asia and Africa featured, it was most commonly as a result of being part of Britain’s imperial past. South America and Australia did not feature on any of the covers analysed, although the recent global dominance of the United States was reflected in the content of the magazine, with eight out of a hundred covers featuring coverage of U.S. history.

In terms of the ‘type’ of history featured on the front covers which were presumably designed to ‘sell’ history to the public, there was a preoccupation with the grand political narrative of the UK. Out of the 100 front covers that were considered, 46 contained images that were about wars in which the UK had participated, with 19 focused on the World Wars of the twentieth century, and 14 focused on some aspect of the British Empire. There was also a tendency for history to be told or portrayed through the foregrounding of iconic or ‘heroic’ individuals, with just under half (47%) ← 288 | 289 → of the covers featuring ‘Great Britons’, or personalities such as Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. Out of eight BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE front covers featuring sixteenth century England, five contained a portrait of Henry VIII. History as mediated by this magazine (which was not untypical in terms of the front cover) also remained a predominantly male concern. Only three covers featured women (Cleopatra, the Suffragettes, and the role of women in twentieth century warfare), and there was also limited consideration afforded to cultural, social and economic history. Only five covers featured religious issues, four issues highlighted voyages of exploration, and art, literature and architecture also received very little attention (featured in under 5% of the issues surveyed).

In terms of periods of history, 30 of the 100 front pages considered focused on twentieth century history, with 22 out of the 30 ‘headline’ stories relating to history between 1900 and 1945, and a heavy emphasis on the two World Wars and the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin. The nineteenth century accounted for a further 15 front covers, with the Napoleonic Wars and Empire dominating in terms of topics. The 18th century constituted something of a ‘black hole’, with only 3 issues featuring this century on the front cover, and the 16th and 17th centuries received roughly equal coverage, with several articles on the reigns of Henry VIII and Charles I respectively. A further 15 covers focused on medieval history, mainly dealing with the reigns of monarchs in the post 1066 era. It was perhaps surprising to see only two covers featuring the history of Rome (given the heavy emphasis that this has traditionally had in school history and on television), and the handful of issues which dealt with pre-Roman times dwelt mainly on Ancient Egypt. Ten issues covered broad swathes of time, covering themes as disparate as ‘Ten worst Britons?’, ‘The worst year in British history?’, ‘How trains win wars’, ‘The British Empire (good or bad)?’, ‘The British Monarchy’, and ‘Newspapers in history’. Most covers (9%) featured a single main image, generally an image of a famous individual from history (in 47 cases), with the next most common type of image being a scene from a battle.

5. The influence and impact of history magazines in the UK

The past decade has seen a significant increase in the market for history magazines, both in terms of the number of titles available, and the ← 289 | 290 → circulation figures for the major titles, with the circulation figures for the biggest selling magazine (BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE) reaching 70.000 per month27 at the time of writing this article. One facet of the changing landscape of history magazines in the UK is the massive rise in the popularity of history magazines focusing on the tracing of family histories, as a direct result of the popularity of the television series ‘Who do you think you are?’.

But what impact have history magazines had on the historical consciousness of the UK population, or at least, the section of the population that buys these magazines; and what influence has the upsurge of history magazine sales had on people’s ideas about ‘what history is for’?

The famous British literary critic Frank Raymond Leavis saw the rise of magazine culture as a form of ‘dumbing down’, with people reduced to reading snippets and bits and pieces instead of attacking the great works of literature and history available in book form.28 More recently the British historian, John Tosh has questioned whether the rise of ‘heritage’ history has deflected attention from more serious, critical and worthwhile engagement with the past.29 Does the growing popularity of history magazines represent a move away from ‘serious’ history, as represented in books, monographs and journal articles, or is it a complement to those activities?

Analysis of the ‘alphabet-icon’ ratio30 in UK history magazines reveals substantial differences in the proportion of text to pictures, cartoons and diagrams. Some history magazines contain quite long articles written by academic historians, others have a larger number of short features, quizzes, ‘what’s on?’ guides and might reasonably be regarded as ‘lighter’ (or more superficial) in approach. Table 7 gives an analysis of the outcomes of an ‘alphabet-icon’ content analysis31 of ten copies of several of the leading history magazines in the UK. ← 290 | 291 →

Table 7: The image/text ratio of British history magazines (n=10 issues each)

THE HISTORIAN80–90% text; some pages just text.
HISTORY REVIEW70–75% text (but wide use of text box highlights. No pages of just plain text).
TEACHING HISTORY85–90% text but substantial use of diagrams and tables, about 33% ‘just text’.
HISTORY TODAY60–70% text, under 10% ‘just text’ (use of text box highlights on many pages)
BBC HISTORYRoughly 50/50 text/pictures, mainly pictures rather than diagrams, no pages without pictures.

Although some magazines have a more austere lay-out, with longer sections of text, and fewer illustrations, even the BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE, which contains the highest proportion of illustration to text of the magazines detailed in table 7, regularly contains articles by leading historians, often providing two to five page summaries of their most recent book or area of research. Each issue also provides a review of a range of recently published books, a guide to forthcoming history programmes on television and radio, a podcast by a leading historian, links to major internet history sites and in some recent issues, a section on ‘History and policy’, outlining the ways in which historical perspectives shed light on current issues and controversies in the field of politics and social policy. There are quizzes, crosswords and ‘my historical hero’ features, but it cannot reasonably be claimed that the magazine is devoid of serious and scholarly history. More­over, a recent market research survey conducted by the magazine revealed that subscribers to the magazine purchased on average nine books a year. Although there is clearly room for further research in this area, it is possible that people who buy history magazines also pursue their interest in the past via other avenues, including books, television history and history on the internet. It could be argued that it is better that people exhibit some interest in the past, even if it is ‘history-lite’, than that they are indifferent to the past, or regard the past as an irrelevance. It might be added that the cost of history magazines is not inconsequential: BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE, the market ← 291 | 292 → leader sells for £3.8032 (the cost of approximately four loaves of bread in UK terms). There are large numbers of people in the UK who care sufficiently about history to spend money on it.

A survey of history magazines in the UK reveals that there are a range of histories available to people who have an interest in some aspect of the past. Although major titles which have access to high street stores, airports and railway stations have major advantages in terms of public profile, the internet has made possible ‘niche’ markets which make it possible for magazines with quite small circulations to survive, so people whose interest is in battle re-enactment, the history of football clubs, women’s history or ‘Black History’ can have access to a magazine which caters for their particular interest.

The survey also shows that public interest in the past is not limited to the national past, in spite of the high profile of national political and military events in general history magazines. As well as the increasing popularity of ‘heritage’ history magazines which are in part based on engagement with historical sites and museums as a leisure interest, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people interested in tracing their family history.

In terms of their contribution to historical consciousness, history magazines may play a less significant role than television history. ‘Celebrity historian’ (that is to say, a historian who presents television series) Starkey makes the point that whereas best selling history books might sell up to 100.000 copies, history programmes on television regularly attract an audience of several million viewers.33 A small survey of 29 of my history student teachers revealed that 28 out of 29 spent more time on history internet sites than on reading the history magazines which they subscribed to. There is also the question of what proportion of magazines that are purchased are read; several of the students admitted that they often did not find time to read the magazines that they had purchased as the following testimony indicates: ← 292 | 293 →

 ‘But there was no time to read them.’

 ‘But haven’t read it.’

 ‘I have a subscription but I cannot lie. Haven’t had time to read any of them.’

 ‘Subscribed but haven’t read them yet. Simply not enough time. Maybe next year.’

 ‘Would love to read BBC HISTORY but finding the time is the main issue.’

A final point which might be made is that there is no necessary correlation between the circulation or readership of a magazine and its influence on history education. The survey of student teachers revealed that without exception, TEACHING HISTORY had a major influence on their planning and teaching. TEACHING HISTORY and BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE were by some way the most widely purchased magazines (all but one of the 29 students subscribed to TEACHING HISTORY), but whereas BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE was used mainly as ‘background reading’ or ‘to consolidate my subject knowledge a bit’, TEACHING HISTORY appeared to have a profound influence on the way that student teachers conceptualised the business of teaching history, with an emphasis on the development of pupils’ understanding of history as a form of knowledge as well as a body of knowledge, development of their own subject pedagogy, and use of many of the ideas and activities contained in the magazine (one student reported that ‘I think it makes me a better teacher.’)

Much of the recent media and policy interest in history in the UK has focused on what history students learn in schools and how much of that history they remember.34 Far less is known about what use people make of the history that they encounter, and why they choose to engage with history outside formal education. Further research into people’s use of history magazines would be one way of developing insight into historical consciousness in modern societies and the question of ‘why history matters’.

1 Office for Standard in Education: History in the balance. London 2007.

2 John Willis: Past is perfect. In: Media Guardian of 29.10.2001, p. 2, URL: (1.8.2014).

3 Qualifications and Curriculum Authority: Pupil perceptions of history at key stage 3. London 2005.

4 David Starkey: History on television. Keynote lecture. Televising history conference. University of Lincoln 22.7.2009.

5 Derek Matthews: The strange death of history teaching. University of Cardiff 2009; Richard Garner: Is it time for Hitler and Henry to make way for Cromwell? In: The Independent of 30.7.2010, URL: (1.8.2014).

6 Alan C. Kay: Computers, networks and education. In: Scientific American 265 (1991), issue 3, p. 148–155.

7 Susan Greenfield: Is the web changing our brains? In: The Virtual Revolution Blog 2010, URL: (1.8.2014).

8 Janet Street-Porter: Technonerds. Channel 4 of 19.3.1996.

9 John Tosh: Why history matters. Basingstoke 2008, p. 5 f.

10 Ibid. p. 11.

11 E-mail correspondence with the editor.

12 URL: (1.8.2014).

13 URL: (1.8.2014).

14 The address of the HERSTORIA homepage is: URL: (1.8.2014).

15 E-mail correspondence with the editor of HERSTORIA.

16 Taken from the homepage of the magazine: BEST OF BRITISH: NOSTALGIA MAGAZINE, URL: (1.8.2014).

17 E-mail correspondence with the editor of FAMILY HISTORY MONTHLY.

18 E-mail from the Chief Executive Officer of the Historical Association dated 3.7.2013.

19 ‘Second order concepts’ are concepts which are acquired by the students and which allow them to process first order data (e.g. names, dates, facts) [editor’s note].

20 E-mail from the Chief Executive Officer of the Historical Association dated 3.7.2013.

21 Interview with the Chief Executive Officer of the Historical Association in May 2010.

22 URL: (1.8.2011).

23 Interview with the editor of HISTORY TODAY.

24 An explanation of the demographic categories can be found at URL: (1.8.2014).

25 BBC Magazines, as of 2011, URL: (1.8.2011).

26 Michael Riley: Into the key stage 3 history garden: choosing and planting your enquiry questions. In: Teaching History 99 (2000), p. 8–13.

In order to ensure the comparability of the front cover analyses, an evaluation catalogue was compiled at Augsburg University in advance, which explains the obligatory (time, space, topic) and the optional (images and titles) points of analysis [editor’s note].

27 As of July 2013, cf. URL: (1.8.2014).

28 Frank Raymond Leavis: The relationship between literature and journalism. University of Cambridge 1924, Unpublished PhD thesis.

29 Cf. Tosh (note 10).

30 Sue Barnes: The educational implications of the computer. A media ecology critique. In: Atlantic Journal of Communication 4 (1996), issue 2, p. 180–208.

31 Ten issues of each magazine were chosen. The free page margins were not taken into account for the rough estimate of the image/text ratio.

32 So as to allow the comparison of the international magazine prices, the price of bread was provided as the country-specific comparative value for the national price. The selling price of £3.80 approximately corresponds – as of 2010 – to four loafs of bread (cf. URL: (1.8.2014)) [editor’s note].

33 Cf. Starkey (note 4).

34 For example: Nick Gibb: Speech to the reform conference. London 1.7.2012, URL: (1.8.2014); or cf. Matthews (note 5).