Idea for a reality show.


With the proliferation of reality shows, and more specifically of reality competition shows on television I have been pondering a way for historians to somehow be a part of this entertainment movement. And then it came to me – History:Chopped!

Instead of the logo of a cleaver I envision one of a guillotine – much more historically relevant.


There would be three rounds: The bibliography round (create a bibliography for a historical research project including the elements of a diverse literature with articles and books ); the Article Round (create a peer reviewed article using the elements from the bibliography round) and finally the monograph (create a full length book/monograph on the same subject).

In the Food Network’s Chopped there is a mystery basket, and the cooks are required to use these ingredients in their final product.  With historians I suggest we include budgets, research assistants, specific archives or library collections, sources in obscure languages, controversial articles or books as sources, and the like.

Contrary to most people’s perceptions of historians, there is a lot of controversy and conflict within the group.  Sure a lot of it deals with specific interpretations of sources, and the usual territorialism associated with topics, but since I have to mention this, I doubt that the viewing public knows this.  But what fun they could have on History:Chopped! with the side interviews and the talking smack about the competitors……  “Historian X has it all wrong, that source is biased, and they haven’t searched in this archive at all …”  And then there is the conflict between types of historians:  social historians, economic historians, etc.  What kind of history will reign supreme.  And the conflict between the professional paths of historians…. Public historians and academic historians (and the different levels – adjunct, professor, emeritus) just to name a few.

The tricky thing to film would be the actual research and writing of the material for each round.  In the food version of the show they have maybe 20-30 minutes per round, which clearly is not sufficient for the work of a historian.  I would suggest a week for the bibliography, four months for an article and two years for the book.  It would take a patient editor to go through the hours of footage of a person sitting at a desk reading, or writing on a computer, interspersed with a few phone calls or conversations with librarians and archivists, and some powerful eureka moments.

The contestants would be judged on their ability to create proper historical products, which meet the usual high standards of citation, research, and readability. Who would judge?  Well there are some historian superstars out there (Okay stop laughing – known historians) such as Dan Snow, or Jack Granatstein, Lucy Worsley or the like.

And the winner would get a prize.  On the food version they get $10,000, which would be awesome, but this is history, and we all know writing history does not pay.  Perhaps they get a publishing deal – have their work turned into a book which would be heavily publicised, and likely read by a larger audience. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?