Illustration by Alicia Paauwe for an article on HistoryTube

The Wacky World of History Tube Has Something For Everyone

Whether you're interested in learning about Ancient China or what America would be like if it was never colonized, this entertaining, educational side of YouTube has you covered.

For some, history is a subject best left, pun intended, in the past. To many, the sagas and stories of ancient and premodern peoples are seen as boring and monotonous — made up of dusty tomes and high school slideshows.

In recent years, a group of YouTubers has attempted to change this perspective. “HistoryTube,” as it’s come to be called, is a collection of eccentric and deeply dedicated amateur and professional historians, all following their passion and love for the events of the past and what we can learn from them.

This new niche side of YouTube is also diverse. Some, in typical armchair historian fashion, love to dive into the minute details of conflicts — from the Roman battles against the Goths to World War II. Others aim to give broad overviews of certain events, time periods or people, with the general aim to educate the public.

One thing is for certain, though: HistoryTube is a sect of YouTube that deserves more attention. Even if you couldn’t care less about Civil War-era uniforms or the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the style and extreme passion these creators put forth in their content leaves something for everyone to enjoy. You’ve most likely fallen down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories or bombastic recipes already, so maybe it’s time to give history a shot during your next late-night YouTube binge.

War! Among Other Things!

When one thinks of your average history buff, the stereotype usually consists of a middle-aged man rambling on about Civil War battle tactics or the great generals of World War I. There is some truth to that image, and HistoryTube has its fair share of such creators.

Kings and Generals is one of the most popular of this category, sporting 1.81 million subscribers. The channel originally focused primarily on the Roman Empire but has expanded to include topics such as Ancient China, the Muslim empires and even the histories of famous crime syndicates.

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As the exclamatory subheading of this section suggests, Kings and Generals focuses a lot on conflict. In a video surrounding the Battle of Ruspina in 46 B.C., for example, you will find an easy-to-digest overview of troop movements and geographical factors before diving into an anecdote from the battle — usually featuring Julius Caesar and his library of reportedly legendary quotes.

Many groan at the idea of looking at classes of legionaries or Roman hierarchy, but Kings and Generals goes out of its way to cater to those generally uninterested in said history. Animations and dynamic, visual storytelling help keep even fledgling history buffs engaged, and such tactics aim to breathe some life into war-related topics that probably bored a vast majority of people in school.

Kings and Generals is far from alone in the war history sphere. The Great War is another competing channel in this market, albeit one with a very different approach.

Since the channel originally began in 2014, much of its content focused on World War I, which officially began in 1914. However, since the anniversary of the end of the war in 2018, the channel has pivoted to documentary-style videos that focus on events in the years after the conflict.

Instead of employing an animated style like Kings and Generals, The Great War instead opts for a talk show setup, with a designated host for each episode alongside featured images and film. In many ways, it’s a history buff’s “Patriot Act” or “Real Time” — a talk show that dissects a designated topic in each episode.

While Kings and Generals or The Great War may appeal to those already looking to jump into HistoryTube, it may not entice complete outsiders. Luckily, pre-war economic conditions and George Patton profiles are only a small sliver of what this corner of YouTube has to offer.

For Students and Bored Adults Alike

High school history teachers may do their best to help students understand topics like The Market Revolution or Prohibition, but it’s easy for many to get bogged down after weeks of the same lectures and slideshows. This is why many adults claim they have no interest in history and that they couldn’t stand the relentless material dump in the classroom.

A number of HistoryTubers have stepped in to fill this hole dug by schoolhouse tediousness. Some, like YouTube veterans Crash Course, structure their videos around the AP curriculum, covering topics in world history, United States history and European history. Each episode is hosted by author John Green, and uses a combination of both The Great War’s talk show format and Kings and Generals’ animated clips.

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If you’re not a high school student studying for their upcoming exam, Crash Course may seem a bit childish, a show not suitable for adults. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Green presents each topic and doesn’t stray from talking about the hard truths of history. The questions raised and the answers offered about various historical events, people and places are for everybody to digest, not just 16-year-olds. Green’s delivery and editing are top-notch and are sure to keep even those outside the target demographic invested.

Oversimplified shares a similar educational goal, but with a fast-and-loose approach. The videos featured here are made of 2D animation akin to something out of “South Park” and aim to have fun with the material covered. You can learn about the wacky life of King Henry VIII while laughing at the short, comedic bits the narrator puts in to lighten the mood. In general, nothing is taken too seriously here, and it is perfect for those looking for a broad overview of numerous historical topics.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Simple History opts for a briefer, more straightforward approach. These brief, animated clips dive into very specific subjects — such as Prince Phillip’s military service or Roman sewage systems. You aren’t going to be rolling over with laughter, but you may find yourself entranced by these binge-worthy videos.

The Wacky Side of History

The educational side of HistoryTube may serve an honorable purpose, but it doesn’t scratch that itch for “weird” history that so many have. Bizarre figures, conspiracy theorists and the taboo are what the average person wants to hear about.

Creators like Sam O’Nella Academy, Atun-Shei Films and Alternate History Hub have stepped in to fill this craving. Cannibalism, pre-industrial surgeries and a plethora of “what ifs?” are all on display in this wing of HistoryTube.

Sam O’Nella Academy is the undisputed king of this category, with over 3 million subscribers. O’Nella’s videos feature stick figures and crudely drawn slideshow animations exploring topics such as a flood of molasses that engulfed 19th century Boston or a laughing sickness that spread through 1960s Tanzania. The narration is delivered in a deadpan and highly sarcastic tone of voice that is bound to make even the most stoic of newcomers chuckle.

The younger, less-known Atun-Shei Films makes use of costumes, sets and cinematic editing to tell strange and outlandish tales of everything from cannibalism to alleged hauntings. Host Andrew Rakich is a former historical tour guide in both Gettysburg and New Orleans, and uses his experience and knowledge from these roles in his videos. The Civil War and the city of New Orleans itself make up much of his content, including series like “Checkmate Lincolnites!” and “A New Orleans Folktale.” Many Atun-Shei videos also aim to educate and correct misunderstood topics such as Confederate-supporting viewpoints or the importance of King Phillip’s war.

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Alternate History Hub is not a HistoryTube channel in the traditional sense, but instead, a spin on it. Host Cody Franklin supposes numerous “what if?” scenarios, ranging from “What if Napoleon Never Rose to Power?” and “What if America Was Never Colonized?” These animated videos show how much history plays a role in the landscape of modern times, and shows the audience why we should understand how we got here.

History for Everyone

While you may have given up on history after you got your diploma, HistoryTube proves that it may be a subject worth revisiting.

The events, people and cultures showcased in an Atun-Shei or Kings and Generals video are not just part of a bland recounting of the past, but instead a lesson in how we got to the modern day. High school may have convinced you that understanding the life of Empress Wu or King Tut is a fruitless venture, but these creators are here to convince you otherwise.

Looking for a breath of fresh air on YouTube? HistoryTube may be the answer you’re looking for.

Drew Goretzka, Michigan State University

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Drew Goretzka

Michigan State University
Journalism, focus on International Reporting

Telling a good story is the key to changing the world, and I hope to do just that. Currently studying at Michigan State University and currently deployed to Kosovo with the Michigan Army National Guard.

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