Show Less
Open access

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.
Show Summary Details
Open access

The use of powerful men, naked women and war to sell. Popular history magazines in Sweden

| 295 →

Monika Vinterek

The use of powerful men, naked women and war to sell. Popular history magazines in Sweden

1. Introduction

In the last decade, there seems to have been a boom in the marketing of popular history magazines in Sweden. At the turn of the millennium, there was only one such magazine; now more than ten can be found in newsstands and stores. This raises many interesting questions, for instance, how history is presented to lay-people under commercial conditions, and what particular didactic means and strategies are used to make the content of the magazines appealing to the reader. There is no doubt that strategies used in these magazines seem to be successful to some extent, judging from the growing number of history magazines on the market and the number of copies sold.

The purpose of this chapter is to give an overview of the history magazine market in Sweden, with a closer look at the two biggest magazines that were the first on the Swedish market to have a content devoted entirely to history. Popular and typical historical subjects on the front cover will be examined in order to find out the kind of content that seems to be central and important for each magazine. The interpreted meaning will be analysed further by means of a comparison with the image presented by the magazines themselves. Hopefully this will facilitate an understanding of the selection of topics and design of the front covers and help us raise new questions that can be analysed further in a future study.

2. Overview of the popular history magazine market in Sweden

POPULÄR HISTORIA (Popular History) appeared on the Swedish market in 1991. It was the first of a number of history magazines that aspire to present history to lay-people under commercial conditions. Twenty years later, there are twelve such magazines. But it is not only the number of magazines ← 295 | 296 → that has increased. The number of issues sold each year for each magazine has also risen tremendously even though there are signs that this development seems to be slowing down and maybe even dropping to a lower level for some of the magazines. Looking at the two oldest magazines to focus entirely on history, the circulation of each has increased rapidly during the whole period. POPULÄR HISTORIA sold 22.300 copies in 2000 and more than 33.000 copies ten years later.1 ALLT OM HISTORIA (All about History) was first released in 2005. The number of issues sold grew from 22.000 in 2007 to 34.100 in 2010, a 50% increase in three years.2 A closer look at POPULÄR HISTORIA shows a decline in the number of copies sold during the last three or four years but the number of readers reached has continued to grow.

VÄRLDENS HISTORIA (World History) is a magazine published in Norway but distributed on the Swedish market too. It also shows an increase in the number of copies sold from the start in 2005 up to 2008 but then the figures start to go down. The number of readers reached by VÄRLDENS HISTORIA is also still increasing.

These tendencies should be understood in the light of what is happening in the newspaper and magazine market as a whole. Reading this type of media seems to be becoming less popular.3 The 25 biggest newspapers in Sweden sold fewer copies in 2010 while among magazines, only one category in ten showed a positive result compared with earlier years, and the rise was only 1.9%.4 More than half of the other categories of ← 296 | 297 → magazines suffered a loss that ranged from minus 5% to about minus 10%.5

Considering this fact, it is highly interesting that the magazine ALLT OM HISTORIA is one of the top ten magazines to have succeeded in increasing the number of its subscribers in 2010.6 The number of new history magazines and the increase in the number of people who read this kind of magazine are an indication that there has been a change in people’s interest in history. It is perhaps too early to say whether the slight decline in the number of copies sold for some of the history magazines is a reversal of the trend, but it is still a fact that history seems to appeal to more people than before, at least among magazine readers. The known figures for copies of history magazines sold in 2010 amount to 149.100 copies and the same figures for reading rates amount to 541.000.7 If this is compared with the number of people living in Sweden, which was 9.415.570 inhabitants on 31 December 2010, it can be seen that rather a large proportion of the population buy and read history magazines.8 The figure is almost 6% if the calculation is done on the basis of reader rates, and about 1% if it is only the known sale figures for some magazines which are included in the calculation. However, these figures also include infants and young children who cannot read, and therefore the proportion of readers among those who can read a magazine is a lot higher than one to 6%. Since only five of the twelve magazines are included in this rough estimate, the figures can be considered to be low compared with the actual proportion of people who are interested in history in this way. But this indication that history is a subject that attracts many people also raises questions, such as what kind of history appeals to the group of people who choose to read about historical matters, and who are they? For some of the older magazines, the ‘Who?’ question can be answered when it comes to gender. It seems to be that about twice as many men as women read this type of magazine. ← 297 | 298 → Most of the readers are urbanites, comprising between 55% and 77% of the readers of the three magazines for which there are statistics. These are the biggest and oldest popular history magazines, POPULÄR HISTORIA, ALLT OM HISTORIA, and ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA. But those figures have to be related to the Swedish population as a whole, of whom 85% live in urban areas.9

Table 1: Size and structure of the readership of Swedish history magazines in the year 2009 (source: Medieregistret13; in brackets: percentage of the magazine’s readership)


2.1 Popular History Magazines in Sweden

There are twelve magazines that present popular history in Sweden. In the ‘Medieregistret’ all these magazines are classified in the media code segment ‘History/Science’ except for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SVERIGE, which is classified in the media code segment ‘Activity/Recreation’ and BIOGRAFI (Biography) which is classified in the media code segment ‘Society’. Below, these magazines are listed in the order they were first released on the Swedish market: ← 298 | 299 →

Table 2: Overview in tabular form – popular history magazines in Sweden (as of June 2011)


* Before 13 May 2010, the publisher was Historiska Media

** Updated 4–5 times a week

*** As of 2010, the magazine is in Swedish and has changed its name to BBC HISTORIA

**** The development of the magazine was started by Historiska Media. ← 299 | 300 →

Eleven of these twelve magazines can be found in newsstands and in stores. The web magazine SVENSK HISTORIA (Swedish History) is only published on the Internet but seems to be produced under commercial conditions.

The oldest of these twelve magazines is POPULÄR HISTORIA, produced in Sweden primarily for a Swedish market. It was the only one of its kind until 2005 when ALLT OM HISTORIA and VÄRLDENS HISTORIA started. The web magazine SVENSK HISTORIA started in 2000, the same year as BBC HISTORY and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC were launched in Sweden. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is available in many countries but the Swedish version has the additional word ‘SVERIGE’ (Sweden) in its title. This magazine is not devoted entirely to history but history is one of the fields covered. Two years ago, one more magazine joined ‘the history magazine family’, namely, MILITÄR HISTORIA (Military History) which started up in July 2009. Since the beginning of 2010, six new magazines have been released and five are still on the market: VETENSKAP & HISTORIA (Science and History) and MINNENAS JOURNAL (The Journal of Memories), LEVANDE HISTORIA (History Alive) and BIOGRAFI.

In Sweden the market is dominated by the publisher ‘LRF Media’ after it took over ‘Historiska Media’ on 13 May 2010. ‘Historiska Media’ had been the biggest publisher in the field until then.18 Today, ‘LRF’ publishes seven of the above-mentioned magazines. ‘Bonnier Publication’ publishes two and ‘First Publishing’ one. LEVANDE HISTORIA, which started at the end of August 2010, is published by ‘Schibsted Förlagen AB’ but the magazine is produced by AFTONBLADET, which is one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers. This is something new on the Swedish market. The magazine comes out once a month. Since May 2011 it has also been available through an app for iPad, which made it the first interactive history magazine for iPad in Sweden and probably one of the first in the world. Many of the popular history magazines began within the framework of a larger established magazine or paper such as ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP, ALLT OM VETENSKAP, HEMMETS JOURNAL and AFTONBLADET. ← 300 | 301 →

All of the magazines are written in Swedish and most of them cost about the same as two or three loaves of bread. The magazines cost between 50 and 99 SEK to be compared with the prices of two kilos of wheat flour (10.40 SEK), 400 g of crisp bread (9.5 SEK) and a 350 g of long-shaped bun (23.3 SEK) in 2010.19

2.2 The magazines’ presentations of themselves

The magazines will be presented below, in the order they appeared on the Swedish market. The presentation here is based on how the magazines advertise themselves on the Internet in picture and text.

POPULÄR HISTORIA20 was first released in 1991 by ‘LRF media’.21 POPULÄR HISTORIA is advertised on its homepage as being Sweden’s leading magazine on history.22 In the magazine, there are a dozen extended articles in addition to reviews, expert answers to reader questions, crosswords, etc. It is stressed that each issue contains ‘several great articles on everything from ancient times to the 1900s’23. It also points out its editorial ambition to contribute to popular education. Experts are hired in by the magazine and in 2004 it was voted ‘The Magazine of the Year’.24

SVENSK HISTORIA is an online magazine with news about Swedish history. The magazine has been on the web since 2000 and it is updated 4–5 times a week. On the Internet page, you can read about new literature and current research in history. The magazine also writes about museum exhibitions and it publishes op-eds. The magazine has a newsletter, sent to 2300 subscribers, which may give some indication of how many people view the online magazine on a regular basis. In 2004, SVENSK HISTORIA ← 301 | 302 → received the ‘Knowledge Prize’, which is awarded by the Swedish encyclopedia NATIONALENCYKLOPEDIN.25

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SVERIGE26 is an international popular magazine and it presents itself as the world-leading scientific magazine written in Swedish.27 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SVERIGE was first released in Sweden in 2000. It claims to bring people from the whole world to the reader. The reader also has the opportunity to learn the latest scientific news. The historical aspects are said to be about events that have affected us all. It also states that the magazine covers major global issues.

BBC HISTORIA28 is produced for an international market but there has been a Swedish version since 2000. The producers of the magazine say they write about important and interesting events and people ‘so we can better understand the world of today’29. BBC HISTORIA also points out that its employees are world-leading historians and journalists. The magazine can be read on iPad.

ALLT OM HISTORIA30 has been on the market since 2005. Excitement and dramatic events are highlighted in both text and pictures in the magazine’s presentation of itself. It is described as containing good stories and up to date research. It is also pointed out that the magazine’s layout includes many pictures, maps and other illustrations.31 The magazine consists of articles, book recommendations, a historical quiz, historical news and communication between the magazine and its readers via questions and answers. The writers are said to be among the best journalists and researchers in Sweden.32 ← 302 | 303 →

ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA33 is a Nordic magazine produced in Copenhagen but modified by local editors where it is also translated into each country’s language.34 It has been on the Swedish market since 2005. The magazine’s editors try to point out what they think makes VÄRLDENS HISTORIA special. They emphasize that they have a new way of conveying history which includes topics that go beyond ‘lists of kings and the Punic Wars’35. This magazine also mentions its illustrations and describes itself as being ‘visually innovative’36 and that its pictures come from all over the world. The magazine claims it is about ‘great wars, great discoveries, great technological achievements - and also major works of art or construction.’37. ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA considers itself to be the biggest history magazine.38

MILITÄR HISTORIA39 is a magazine that specialises in military history and it declares it is for people who are interested in the history of wars.40 It was the first magazine in Sweden to specialize in a certain kind of history. The articles consist of reports from battlefields and give both overviews and personal perspectives. It deals with both dramatic events and complex situations. The magazine promises stories that the reader will never find anywhere else and also unique images and richly illustrated explanations. The writers are said to be leading experts on war and conflicts.41 The editor himself has a military background and is an author of books on military history. The magazine has contact with other experts in and outside Sweden. ← 303 | 304 →

VETENSKAP & HISTORIA42 presents itself as being an interdisciplinary magazine, published for the first time in 2010. It claims to contain both popular science and history. It describes itself as being up to date, entertaining and informative. It also promises its readers an exciting read.43

MINNENAS JOURNAL44 is the first magazine on the Swedish market which is about the history of everyday life in Sweden.45 It was released in 2010. The readers are asked to ‘read, enjoy and remember’. It focuses on ‘family, love, ancestors, people, work, food, leisure, entertainment and traditions of the past’46. The magazine writes about famous people such as artists and royals as well as old appliances, cars and tractors. There are also recipes from the past and crafts and landscape traditions included in the magazine. The experts that are mentioned are experts in genealogy who can give the readers advice.

LEVANDE HISTORIA is a magazine produced by AFTONBLADET, which is one of Sweden’s largest daily newspapers. It came on the market in 2010 and offers articles ‘on everything from dramatic events to famous people’47. LEVANDE HISTORIA also deals with the history of science. Some of the writers are among ‘Sweden’s best known and most knowledgeable historian profiles’48. The magazine emphasizes that it works with innovative graphics and that readers will benefit from rarely viewed photographs.

As its name suggests, BIOGRAFI specializes in biographies and it has been on the market since 2010. It writes about famous and less well-known people who all have one thing in common: they are people who have ‘shaped our history’49 in one way or another. These persons are said ← 304 | 305 → to be exciting well-known people. They may be ‘performers, adventurers, writers, politicians, artists, scientists, fashion designers, explorers and generals’50. The stories are described as being incredible life stories about the most influential Swedish and international people in the 1900s.51 BIOGRAFI collaborates with what they refer to as Sweden’s leading historical magazine, POPULÄR HISTORIA. The rich images with unique photographs are said to be an important part of the magazine.

ALLT OM VETENSKAP HISTORIA started out as a few thematic editions of the well-established magazine ALLT OM VETENSKAP. This was a success and in 2011 it was decided to start a magazine with its own title, ALLT OM VETENSKAP HISTORIA. In this new magazine, the readers will be given a good read but there is also an ambition to provide the readers with knowledge and a perspective on what is happening today. The editor claims to achieve this by offering articles about ‘war and dramatic battles, forgotten events, developments in technology and much more’ in their magazine.52

In 2010, there was one more popular history magazine, VI BIOGRAFI53 (We Biography). It was launched by the publisher of AB MAGAZINE in September 2010 but was short-lived. Only four issues were published before it was announced that the magazine would cease in March 2011.54 The ambition had been to write about people who affect people’s lives. The title of the press release read as follows ‘They wrote our history – now we write theirs’55. The editor-in-chief said that ‘behind every great event and dates there are human driving forces such as hate, love, revenge and shame’56. This statement may also have been intended to give an indication of the kind of history that the magazine wanted to present. ← 305 | 306 →

2.3 Summary and interpretation of the magazines’ presentations of themselves

An examination of the popular history magazines’ own presentations reveals many similarities. For example, there are a few specific areas and expressions that occur in many of these short descriptions. Four of the magazines examined claim that they are the leading magazine in some way and one magazine refers to its links to the leading magazine in history. Actuality is emphasized by several of the magazines; being up to date on news and historical research seems to be important. In the same way, it seems essential to mention the use of experts. This occurs in several of the magazines. Layout and the way the magazine is illustrated are two more aspects that are frequently stressed. Dramatic events, excitement, fun and entertainment are the sort of words used to express what some of the magazines want to give the reader. This can also be interpreted as being a ground for selection as regards what the magazines write about. This is expressed more explicitly when magazines say, as a couple of those examined here do, that they write about events and persons that have affected us all in some way or another. But it is rare to find more specific descriptions of what kind of history the magazines are going to write about. MINNENAS JOURNAL and BIOGRAFI stand out a bit when it comes to this. BIOGRAFI describes in more detail what kind of person will be portrayed and MINNENAS JOURNAL also explains in more detail what they mean by the everyday life they write about.

3. Title page analysis

3.1 Aims and method: selection of the studied magazines – criteria and categories

One of the aims of the international project ‘History sells’57, of which this paper is a part, is to be able to make comparisons and reflections ← 306 | 307 → on a global level. To make this possible it was decided that the researchers would follow certain standards. We had to study all published issues for two magazines58 across five years for each prospective country, and describe and analyse the cover page on the basis of three criteria: those of time, place and main topics. We all used the same criteria.59 It was decided that for ‘time’, the main headlines would be categorized into different time periods. For ‘place’, the headings would be categorized in accordance with the continent referred to. The main headlines were categorized into a long list of different topics. For each cover page/main headline, three classification marks were made. They could be three of the same or three different ones. For instance: the headline ‘Napoleon and the politics behind the battle of Waterloo’ would be given one mark for personalities, one for politics and one for war. Another cover with a picture from a battle and a headline that only says something about war would perhaps be given three marks in the war category.

In the analysis, we attempted to find out what kind of content appears to be central and important for each magazine by analysing different aspects of time, place and main topics and then comparing them further with the magazine’s own statements about targeting.

As we have seen, there were twelve popular history magazines in Sweden in June 2011. I had to select two of those for the cover page analysis. As these had to be magazines on the market for at least five years, possibilities were narrowed down. I wanted to concentrate on magazines that were solely about history, that could be found in newsstands and in stores, and that were mainly produced in Sweden in Swedish during the whole period and primarily for Swedish readers. These criteria left me with the two magazines POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA. The main headline and the main picture on the cover page have been the basis for all analyses since these headings are the first to ← 307 | 308 → catch the reader’s eye. In both magazines, one dominating picture filled most of the space on the front cover and also one big headline text across the centre part of that page. But since the two magazines also used other headlines in addition to the main one, those have also been checked and used as a control when it comes to the categories of time and place. This was done by analysing whether they gave support to, or contradicted, the impression based on the analysis of the main headline. The criterion for selecting other headlines was that they had an accompanying illustration/picture. Where a headline has been illustrated, it has been interpreted as being of more importance to the magazine than headlines without any pictures.

3.2 The design of the front cover (text and pictures)

Looking at the design of the front cover, both magazines have a similar design with a main picture taking up most of the space and dominating the page. When compared with the pictures of the front cover for all the magazines it can be noticed that they also have a similar design. With the exception of this main picture, the magazines vary in the number of other pictures displayed on the front cover. POPULÄR HISTORIA has only one other picture on the front in just over a third of the numbers studied. These are always very small pictures inset somewhere on the bottom part or along the side of the page. ALLT OM HISTORIA uses more pictures. They always place three headlines illustrated by smaller pictures on a background contrasting to the background of the main picture. The two magazines selected for this study use a main headline which is placed some way down from the middle of the page, usually with a few words that are conspicuous because of the size of the text. The text is often of a different colour and sometimes is capitalized. Related to these words there is always some other text which gives more specific information about what the article presented by these words is about. For example ‘The Cold War. Power struggle between East and West’60. ← 308 | 309 →

3.3 The category ‘time’

The 20th century is by far and away the most popular period of interest for the magazines. The first half of the 1900s seems to be of most interest and a closer examination shows that the Second World War period is the predominant topic. No other period in the 1900s comes anywhere near this level of interest, other periods mostly not exceeding levels of around 10%. The levels of the numbers of headings categorised for each time period are almost the same for both of the magazines with a few exceptions. The most striking difference is the high level (17%) of main headlines for the period of 750 B.C.-500 in ALLT OM HISTORIA compared to POPULÄR HISTORIA where it is less than 2%. The interest in the 1500s and the 1700s also seems to differ with a greater interest in the 1500s and the 1700s for POPULÄR HISTORIA.

Chart 1: Chronological categorisation of the main illustrated cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)61


← 309 | 310 →

None of the magazines have a main headline with a topic from the period before 3500 B.C. and ALLT OM HISTORIA does not have any main headline linked to the period 500 A.D.–800 A.D.

When all headlines with an accompanying picture were taken into consideration, the impression was still that the 1900s is the most popular period to write about. This impression was reinforced, as was the whole pattern derived from the examination of the main headlines, when more headlines were included in the analysis.

Chart 2: Chronological categorisation of the cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA taking into account all illustrated topic announcements (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)62


← 310 | 311 →

3.4 The category ‘place’

Chart 3: Geographic categorisation of the main illustrated cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA – rough categorisation according to continents (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)63


Europe completely dominates as regards which continents are represented in the main headlines. In POPULÄR HISTORIA 90% of the main headlines are related to Europe. The figure is not as high for ALLT OM HISTORIA but it is still a very high proportion, almost 64%. The other 10% of the main headlines in POPULÄR HISTORIA are related to Asia, North America and the Polar areas, the latter comprising only slightly more than 1% of these ten. The way the continents are represented is similar in POPULÄR HISTORIA but Asia and North America are represented in some more headlines: just over 10% each. In this magazine there are also headlines which refer to Africa, even if the percentage of the total number is not more than a few percent. ← 311 | 312 →

The overall picture for these magazines stays almost the same when all headlines with an accompanying picture are included in the statistics. Europe dominates, and Australia is not represented at all. If one takes a closer look at Europe in order to understand what parts or countries are mostly represented, the picture is a bit more differentiated.

Chart 4: Geographic categorisation of the cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA taking into account all illustrated topic announcements – rough categorisation according to continents (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)64


POPULÄR HISTORIA is characterised by its strong focus on Scandinavia, with more than 55% of the main headlines associated with this part of Europe, and it is striking that most of these headings, more than 42%, were connected to something relating to Sweden. Germany is the other individual country that sticks out from the rest when it comes to the level ← 312 | 313 → of representation, about 17%, which is partially due to the strength of the topic ‘Second World War’. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and France do not occur so often in the main headlines. Benelux was not mentioned at all. Eastern European countries were represented in just over 10% of the main headings of the total number of issues.

In ALLT OM HISTORIA there is a more even spread between the above-mentioned countries, although Scandinavia is top of the list here too with a figure of 22%, most of those headlines being linked to Sweden. The overall representation pattern does not differ when all other headlines are included in the statistics even if some of the missing countries are now also mentioned or referred to in these headlines.

Chart 5: Geographic categorisation of the main illustrated cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA – refined classification Europe (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)65


← 313 | 314 →

Chart 6: Geographic categorisation of the cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA taking into account all illustrated topic announcements – refined classification Europe (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)66


3.5 The category ‘topic’

Chart 7: Thematic categorisation of all illustrated cover topics of POPULÄR HISTORIA and ALLT OM HISTORIA (specification in percent; n=59 cover pages each from the years 2006–2010)67


← 314 | 315 →

The two categories of topics that heavily dominate the main headlines are personalities and war.

Politics and national history were also relatively large categories in POPULÄR HISTORIA. The emphasis on national history in POPULÄR HISTORIA was also shown earlier when the selection of European countries was examined.

3.6 Personalities and men and women on the front cover

It is possible to look more closely into the biggest of these categories, personalities, to see who these persons are and if they make up any definite category. A gender perspective can also be used in the analysis.

Looking at the 118 front covers examined, 56 showed a person in the main picture who could be classified as a personality. These pictures mostly showed a king, emperor or ruler of some kind. It is obvious that powerful men are very popular, with Adolf Hitler being the number one favourite. Other big names are Napoleon Bonaparte, Josef Stalin and Benito Mussolini. Adolf Hitler is shown in four pictures and mentioned in two more headlines. Most of the other personalities only occur once but the majority of them can be put in a category that could be named powerful people. Five of the main pictures in the personalities category were of women: the Swedish queen Kristina, Elisabeth I, Victoria I, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc, which makes up about 9% of all the pictures in the personalities category. Of all the 59 front covers examined in POPULÄR HISTORIA, 41 show only men compared with four depicting only women. Of the 79 pictures portraying people, women can be found in 18 of them. In ALLT OM HISTORIA 16 of the 59 title pages examined showed only men and none of the front covers showed only women. 198 pictures with people are shown on the front covers of ALLT OM HISTORIA and 44 of those included women. It can also be seen that of these 62 pictures of women, seven show naked or partially naked women. That is more than 10% of the pictures with women. Some of these images are also used in such a way that pictures of naked female breasts come in direct focus. This use of pictures with naked women has to be compared with the 277 pictures of men where no such images are found. ← 315 | 316 →

4. Evaluation and interpretation of the front cover page analysis

The analysis of the front cover pages reveals some clear trends. It is the history of Europe, the 1900s, the history of war and powerful men that dominate the overall impression in Swedish history magazines. This is true for both of the examined magazines; they do not differ from each other very much. ALLT OM HISTORIA might be described as being somewhat less Eurocentric but its focus is still on this part of the world. POPULÄR HISTORIA pays more attention to Scandinavia than ALT OM HISTORIA does, even if both magazines devote more than 30% of their main headlines concerning Europe to their own country and its neighbours. For POPULÄR HISTORIA this proportion is as high as 50%. A closer examination of the headlines concerning Scandinavia reveals that only a few of the headlines do not refer to Sweden. In the light of this fact, these two Swedish magazines seem to be very nationalistic in their choice of what events and people to write about, at least when it comes to choice of front cover picture.

A quantitative analysis of the selection of topics cannot be discussed without considering the magazines’ own intentions. It would be no surprise were a history magazine that says it is dedicated to military history to contain many articles and pictures related to war and conflicts. But the magazines examined here did not have such an explicit specialization; and yet, war was still one of the major topics in both magazines.

Looking back at the magazines’ presentation of themselves, some other interesting things can be noticed. For example, POPULÄR HISTORIA stressed that each issue would contain articles on everything from ancient times to the 1900s which gives the impression of a magazine with an ambition to be very broad when it comes to the time periods to be covered. But as has already been pointed out, that is not the impression one gets when looking at their front cover where the 1900s and the period after 1945 dominate strongly. If one considers that POPULÄR HISTORIA aspires to contribute to popular education, it is interesting to find out what kind of education one will get by reading their magazine. Clearly the material presented is very restricted both concerning period of time and geographical area. The topics and kinds of perspective chosen were also shown to be ← 316 | 317 → very narrow. It was dominated by war and powerful men. This was also the case for ALLT OM HISTORIA.

In ALLT OM HISTORIA’s self-characterization, excitement and dramatic events were stressed in both text and pictures. We can also ask what kind of excitement the reader will meet in their articles. This collection of magazines and sample articles which aims to give presumptive subscribers an idea of the magazine’s content is one example of this, found on the magazine’s homepage.

The open magazines depict war and powerful men and – naturally – Hitler. The excitement of cutting the heads off men and woman – something that brought together hundreds of people in the past – is also used here to exemplify what readers might find exciting in ALLT OM HISTORIA.68

5. Conclusion and discussion

Some of the magazines stress how important they feel it is to explain events of the past and to put things in perspective, in order to make us understand both the past and the present. This raises a number of questions: what is seen as being important to explain, what kind of explanation should one be looking for, and what is meant by perspective? Whose perspective? Some of the answers signalled by the front covers of the examined magazines are battles and powerful European men. Whether this is true of the written text inside the magazines is something that still has to be investigated.

It is interesting to note that more specialized history magazines have been introduced to the Swedish market lately, one on military history and two on biographies. It may probably become apparent here just which specific ‘news factors’69 (here: conflict, prominence) have proven interesting to the masses.

Judging from the result of the cover pages analysis, it is not surprising to find that these two topics (military history and biographies) are now the subject of magazines of their own. Hitler and war, and very often the ← 317 | 318 → Second World War, seem to be topics that magazines choose in order to sell. Such topics and images of the same also seemed to be frequently used by other popular history magazines. This view could perhaps be confirmed by Sebastian Relster, editor of the Nordic editions of ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA, when he said in an interview: ‘In particular, World War II is always interesting […]’70.

Assuming that the magazines conform to what is going to sell and that this controls the content and choice of headlines, the question of why these topics sell remains. It would be interesting to try to understand this in the light of the proportion of male and female readers, the number of men being twice as large as the number of women although the number of women who read these magazines is still high. This could be analysed in a deeper way with the help of gender theories and perhaps theories of culture and identity. Such theories could also be applied to the use of nude pictures of women but not men, something that should also be illuminated from an ethical perspective.

We know that a large number of Swedes read popular history magazines. It may be supposed that many of the popular history magazines choose the same kind of topics and images as do those examined, an impression which is also supported by the pictures of front pages used to advertise other popular history magazines.71 This raises important questions from an educational perspective. One of the early questions asked by the ‘History Sells’72 project was if there was anything we could learn from these magazines in a school context. But after seeing the results of this initial study, we should perhaps ask ourselves instead: What do we learn and what can we learn from these magazines and how does this learning correspond with the goals expressed in national policy documents for school? We must assume that the use of powerful men, naked women and war to sell popular history magazines also teaches the reader something.

1 TS. Upplage- och räckviddsutveckling 2001–2010, p. 197, URL: (13.6.2011). TS is an abbreviation for ‘Tidningsstatistik’ which means ‘statistics on newspapers and magazines’.

2 TS. TS-reviderade siffror 2008 sammandrag, URL: (13.06.2011). TS, TS-reviderade siffror 2010 sammandrag, URL: (13.6.2011). TS. Upplage- och räckviddsutveckling 2001–2010 (note 1), p. 197.

3 TS. TS-reviderade siffror 2010 sammandrag, p. 39, URL: (13.6.2011).

4 The category that is growing is ‘Caravan and camping’. The other magazine categories are ‘Family’, ‘Male’, ‘Female’, ‘Youth’, ‘Children and parents’, ‘Economy, Technology and Hobby’, ‘Film, Photo and TV’, ‘Home, House and Garden’, ‘Health Sport and Outdoor Pursuit’.

5 TS. TS-reviderade siffror 2010 sammandrag (note 3), p. 38 f.

6 TS. Mediefakta, URL: (13.6.2011).

7 Sales figures and readers rates: POPULÄR HISTORIA 33.100/191.000; ALLT OM HISTORIA 34.100/186.000; VÄRLDENS HISTORIA 53.700/164.000; MINNENAS JOURNAL 28.200/- = 149.100/541.000.

8 SCB. Sveriges folkmängd (The population of Sweden), 31.12.2010, URL: (1.8.2014).

9 SCB: Startsida›Hitta statistik›Statistik efter ämne›Miljö›Tätorter; arealer, befolkning›Tätorter 2010, arealer, befolkning (korrigerat 20.6.2011), URL: (27.6.2011).

10 Medieregistret, POPULÄR HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

11 Medieregistret, ALLT OM HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

12 Medieregistret, VÄRLDENS HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

13 Cf. URL: (1.8.2014); ‘Medieregistret’ is a register that covers all newspapers, magazines and journals published in Sweden.

14 Medieregistret, BBC HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

15 TS. Mediefakta TS upplaga/helår, URL: (13.6.2011). The total TS-edition for 2010 is 21.817.700 copies.

16 TS. Mediefakta, URL: (13.6.2011).

17 Rounded values, exchange rate from 1.8.2014: 1 Swedish Krona (SEK) = 0.108 Euro (EUR); Source: European Central Bank, quoted from: URL: [editor’s note].

18 Ove Gustafsson: En historisk affär, URL: (1.8.2014).

19 Cf. Statistiska centralbyrån. Jordbruksstatistisk årsbok. Tabell 19.1 ‘Average yearly retail prices for selected foods 2011’, p. 317.

20 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

21 POPULÄR HISTORIA, URL: (15.6.2011).

22 All quotations in this chapter have been translated by me from Swedish into English. POPULÄR HISTORIA, Om populär Historia, URL: (13.6.2011/1.8.2014).

23 Cf. ibid.

24 ‘The Magazine of the Year’ is a prize awarded by the trade association ‘Sveriges Tidskrifter’.

25 SVENSK HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

26 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

27 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SVERIGE, URL: (1.8.2014). Tidningsbutiken, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SVERIGE, URL: (1.8.2014).

28 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

29 Cf. Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, BBC HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

30 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

31 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, ALLT OM HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

32 ALLT OM HISTORIA, URL: (1.8.2014).

33 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

34 Niklas Sessler: En rolig historia, Bonnier publications, 1.7.2009, URL: (17.6.2011).

35 URL: (1.8.2014).

36 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA, URL: (17.6.2011).

37 Cf. Sessler (note 34).

38 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, ILLUSTRERAD VETENSKAP VÄRLDENS HISTORIA (note 36).

39 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

40 MILITÄR HISTORIA, URL: (13.6.2011).

41 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, MILITÄR HISTORIA, URL: (13.6.2011).

42 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

43 LRF Media, VETENSKAP HISTORIA, URL: (29.6.2011).

44 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

45 LRF Media, MINNENAS JOURNAL, URL: (1.8.2014).

46 Ibid.

47 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, Levande Historia, URL: (1.8.2014).

48 Ibid.

49 Cf. BIOGRAFI, URL: (1.8.2014).

50 Ibid.

51 Mediahyllan, URL: (17.6.2011).

52 Tidningskungen, Prenumerera, ALLT OM VETENSKAP HISTORIA, URL: (10.6.2011).

53 For a cover example see URL: (1.8.2014).

54 My New Desk, URL: (1.8.2014).

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 ‘“History Sells” – The popular presentation of history in national and international history magazines’ was the name of the EHISTO project conference organised in Amsterdam from 19 to 21 August 2010, which was funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation (cf. the conference report at URL: On the EHISTO project cf. URL: (1.8.2014) as well as the introduction in this volume [editor’s note].

58 For the national cover page analysis history magazines were chosen that as special-interest magazines do not specialise in a specific area of history, in contrast to the very-special-interest magazines, and which, if possible, have been on the market for at least five years at the time of analysis. The issues analysed here are from the years 2005–2010 [editor’s note].

59 Cf. the contribution by Claudius Springkart in this volume [editor’s note].

60 ALLT OM HISTORIA 11 (2006).

61 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

62 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

63 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

64 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

65 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

66 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

67 The figures are rounded which can cause a sum more or less than one hundred percent when all the figures are summed up.

68 URL: (1.8.2014).

69 For the news factors cf. the article by Fabio Crivellari in this volume [editor’s note].

70 Sessler (note 34).

71 Cf. the web links in section 2.2 ‘The self-presentation of the Swedish history magazines’.

72 Name of the conference of the EHISTO project organised in Amsterdam (cf. note 57).