The events of history should never be forgotten. They promote the growth of society and are a reminder of the progress we have made. There is so much we can learn from the past and I have put together a small list of documentaries where such information can be found.

In terms of subject matter, I’ve tried to be as broad as possible and have provided my own descriptions as well as my personal thoughts about each of the documentaries. They are in no particular order.

“Clare Balding’s Secrets of a Suffragette” (2013)

Duration: 45 mins

Where to source: YouTube


At the Epsom Derby of 1913, a suffragette named Emily Wilding-Davison was fatally injured after stepping in front of the King’s horse. Despite becoming a martyr for the women’s rights movement, mystery had surrounded this event and “Secrets of a Suffragette” provides new evidence surrounding her motives.

It also provides a clear insight into the methods used by the suffragettes in their protest for the right to vote in Britain. It covers some of the manipulation and brutality used against these women and how this affected their own responses.

My Thoughts

I think this an important piece in demonstrating how protests can escalate when the government consistently refuses to listen. It gave me a better understanding of the reasons why the protests became so radical and violent. Women were treated as second-class citizens and as a woman myself, I find it truly unbelievable that they had to fight for the right to vote in the first place! I feel gratitude for the work of the women like Emily who were brave enough to take matters into their own hands; time and time again refusing to be shut down and ignored. It’s important to recognise these milestones and this documentary provides an insight into the horrific, hostile environment of the time. It makes me have a greater appreciation for my rights and has provided information for further investigation into the lives of other significant women alike.

“Victorian Pharmacy” (2010)

Duration: Four 1 hour episodes (4 hours total)

Where to source: YouTube


The Victorian period was a time of social transformation; for the first time in history, health remedies were becoming accessible for the ordinary citizen. This series explores these developments by recreating a Victorian pharmacy and demonstrating how it would have operated.

It details the progress in scientific knowledge and its effects. It covers not only the methods and substances that were used, but also how these treatments were marketed at a time of consumer revolution. All of which is demonstrated through hands-on operations and explanations of these experiments.

My Thoughts

This series gave me a much greater knowledge of our advancements in medicine at such an important time in history. I think we take for granted the ability to have so many effective health products and I now feel grateful for the progress made. This documentary has given me a better understanding of how the body works and the medicinal properties of herbs and plants used in natural remedies. It also touches upon the placebo effect which was really interesting, especially in terms of how this could affect marketing strategies. During this time period, laws in the pharmaceutical industry were only being introduced slowly, and I believe it’s important to recognise and appreciate the laws that are now in place to keep us safe. I truly value the work of those pharmacist entrepreneurs who paved the way to our medicine of today.

“The Peasants Revolt” (2004)

Duration: 1 hour 40 mins

Where to source: YouTube


Soon after the mass devastation caused by the black death, a poll tax had been put in place for the people of Britain along with restrictive legislation. Those who had the laws imposed on them were angry about their unfair treatment and decided to make a stance.

This documentary gives details of a once partially concealed event that had great global significance: the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. It describes how the riots and protests were orchestrated, including the important people who lead this revolution.

My Thoughts

What I find to be almost unbelievable is how well organised these protesters were. They were clever in their approach, using coded messages to spread their beliefs and plans. The determination shown is admirable and I think it demonstrates the possibility of strength in community. They were fighting for justice and that passion can be seen to emulate in protests of today. Something else that I found to be interesting was their political knowledge and ability to use this to come up with clear and detailed demands. They weren’t against law itself but wanted to create their own. They had far more of a greater understanding than the monarchy gave them credit for. Regardless of their ultimate unsuccessful result, I believe it’s still a very important event to be recognised. People of different classes came together to fight for a fairer world and there is great power in that.

“Hitler: A Career” (1977)

Duration: 2 hours 30 mins

Where to source: Netflix


This documentary gives a clear understanding of Hitler’s rise to power. It covers the years between his first involvement in politics to his death at the end of the Second World War.

Archive footage is used throughout accompanied by explanations of the manipulative methods of the Nazi Party. It also provides background information to give context to the environment at the time, suggesting there were also some significant external factors that aided the party’s growth. Hitler is looked upon as an individual, someone who had become obsessed with the idea of control and used his past experiences to blind German citizens of his true ambitions.

My Thoughts

I had studied about Hitler’s rise to power as part of my History GCSE course many years ago and remember finding it fascinating, if also quite terrifying. Regardless of personal involvement, politics are important and this is an extreme example that demonstrates its power. After watching this documentary it gave me a better understanding of how the people of Germany were manipulated into believing that Hitler was their saviour. The First World War left the country in a difficult state. The people felt their country was weak and were humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, so it made sense that in their desperation, they would look towards a leader who claimed to rid them of these restrictions. Hitler was clever in his approach and new exactly how to get support. The more he involved himself with politics, the more he learnt and adapted his tactics accordingly. Nearing Hitler’s death, I do believe he had now not only deluded his people but had deluded himself. He had taken full advantage of the power he possessed and this, albeit an extreme example, demonstrates the potential for absolute destruction in such a role.

“13th” (2016)

Duration: 1 hour 40 mins

Where to source: Netflix


An in-depth look into the increasing number of incarcerations in the U.S which reveals connections to the poor representation of black people in the media, unprincipled corporations and a lack of fairness concerning law and order. “13th” describes the continual poor treatment of people of colour in America despite the abolition of slavery in 1865.

It specifically targets the negative effects of political policies carried out during the 1900’s and how the media played a significant role in using fear to manipulate people’s views. Examples of events where unfair acts were carried out are used to demonstrate the severity of the resulting situation.

My Thoughts

As someone living in the U.K, I didn’t have a great understanding of American politics and so was shocked at some of the harsh policies put in place to supposedly protect citizens. What was then even worse to hear was how corporations were benefiting on these mass incarcerations. By manipulating the system they could exploit these people and earn an enormous sum of money. In terms of the media’s contribution, I think this is where another part of the problem lies, perhaps even to this day. The way in which black people were represented in so many cases is disgusting. The media used fear as a way of control, to feed consumers a false image of people from these communities. The level of power these outlets have is pretty terrifying and I think something to keep in mind is we should always do our own research before believing the first thing we read or hear. In watching this documentary, I have also learnt how the justice system of America is in a desperate need of change in order for the country to begin to move forward from the unjust treatment its people have endured.

Final thoughts…

There is a great deal to be learnt from the events of the past. As a documentary creator myself, I personally love to educate myself through this genre. In watching these five in particular, it has helped strengthen my understanding of politics and given me an appreciation for the progress we have made as a society. This therefore gives me hope for our future.

What do you think?

Don’t be shy – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

As a Brit, I have mostly kept to British history but would be so curious to learn more about different areas of the world. If you have any historical documentary recommendations (of any kind!) please do share them. Additionally, I would be interested to know your comments about any of the docs on the list if you have watched them!

2 replies on “5 Important Historical Documentaries to Watch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s