Television Histories (2001)

This book maps out the enormous repository that is “television as historian” into manageable and analytically useful categories, such as prime-time entertainment programming, the historical documentary, and TV news and public affairs; and seeks to establish quality criteria and levels of merit for television as “popular history,” rather than judging it by the very different yardstick of professional history, or just dismissing the entire phenomenon as hopelessly flawed and ahistorical.

Any constructive evaluation of “television as historian” needs to start with the assumption that it is an entirely new and different kind of history altogether.  Unlike written discourse, the language of TV is highly stylized, elliptical (rather than linear) in structure, and associational or metaphoric in the ways in which it portrays images and ideas.  A key goal of this collection of essays is to better understand television as a popular art form, an evolving technology, a business and industry, and a social force of international proportions, all from a wide assortment of well-tried and effective historical-critical perspectives.  Television Histories appeared on the University Press Bestsellers list in November 2001 (14th out of the top 25) and December 2001 (23rd out of the top 25).

Television Histories: Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2001; Paperback Edition, 2003. (with Peter C. Rollins). (*Winner of the 2001 Ray B. Browne National Book Award).
Review from: 

A sweeping look at history on television  .  .  .  timely and provocative.
Journal of American History: 
Television Histories is a significant contribution and should be eagerly adopted for course use by teachers of political, social, and media history.  The very best essays here  .  .  .  not only examine television in its specificity but provide thoughtful, even provocative reflections on new historiographic methods toward and embodied by television.
Southern Historian: 
An insightful and important addition to the literature that sheds light on an often controversial subject for professional historians.
Florida Historical Quarterly: 
Helps those of us who care about history think more clearly about how television can shape historical thinking among our friends, neighbors, and students.
Southern Communication Journal: 
The editors, both prominent American academics, have done an admirable job of pulling together very insightful and provocative essays about television and history, including some interpretive works about international television.  [They] are very well qualified for the task of offering a variety of perspectives on history as television has portrayed it  .  .  .  The introductory essay by Edgerton establishes the importance of television as the primary means by which people get their history today.  Edgerton’s essay on the importance of documentary guru Ken Burns, as popular historian and biographer of Thomas Jefferson, is among the most interesting, and an essay by Philip Taylor on the use of broadcasts as archival sources is also very illuminating.  The editors have also targeted many other excellent contributors for this project.  In fact, the book consists of writing by some of the leading scholars working in the field of television history today, including James Baughman, Michael Curtin, and Mimi White  .  .  .  Overall, this project is engaging and addresses important, overlooked territory.
Classic Images: 
As an example of well-researched, original research, Television Histories makes an important contribution to the study of the medium.
Television Quarterly: 
Television Histories is grounded in large part on the assumption-laid out by Edgerton in his introduction-that ‘television is the principal means by which most people learn about history today’  .  .  .  Its sixteen essays in four sections (Prime-Time Entertainment Programming as Historian, The Television Documentary as Historian, News and Public Affairs Programming as Historian, and Television Production, Reception, and History), present an ambitious agenda.  Some of the subjects examined seem almost obligatory in such a volume: the documentaries of Ken Burns (Edgerton’s essay focuses on Thomas Jefferson but provides an excellent introduction to Burns’ ‘emotional archaeology’) for example  .  .  .  many inclusions are surprising and original . . . a valuable new collection of essays on television's treatment of history.
Film & History:
Professors Edgerton and Rollins have compiled an engrossing collection that slides the thorny subject of television, history, and memory under a microscope scrutinizing such diverse topics as Israeli news, Hawaiian colonialism, Dutch reporting of World War II, and the Berlin Wall collapse.  Other subjects include the McCarthy Hearings, Ken Burns’ Thomas Jefferson extravaganza, plus a few essays pondering entertainment, production, and reception. As an academic study, Television Histories digs deep into a contemporary phenomenon and its many conclusions are right on target. Once again, these two experienced editors—well-known for their media research—have produced a book that will generate many lunch table arguments about a topic that  .  .  .  is here to stay.
Working from the thesis that people learn about history through television more than any other medium, Edgerton and Rollins look at what TV subliminally teaches us by what it shows and does not show.