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February 5, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Can you suggest great, chronological, world history documentary series?

I'm looking to watch some interesting, fairly linear documentaries about world history. Assume I have only passing knowledge of the scope of world history and how it fits together over time and want to learn more. Older documentaries are welcome as long as they're not too "old-school" ('how could anyone criticize colonialism, say what, old chap?').

I'm familiar with Connections, and while good, the series isn't very linear with respect to historical progression; It's more based on exploring a concept over time. I'd prefer ones that cover the entirety of history, but great ones that deal with a particular era are fine too.
posted by Sustainable Chiles to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You might find luck with series that do a specific place over a long time and then stitching them together in your mind. Ric Burns' New York is a good start.
posted by The Whelk at 5:02 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The World at War is the definitive documentary history of WW2.
posted by essexjan at 5:50 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the vein of Ric Burns' New York (which I also recommend, btw), I like My Boyfriend Simon Schama's A History Of Britain.
posted by Sara C. at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2011

Victory at Sea.

The Civil War, Lewis and Clark, and The War, by Ken Burns, et al, are intended as documentary history, but some of his group's narrower subjects, like Baseball and Jazz, are still historically interesting to general viewers, as well, and fill in the cultural background of America's development in the periods in which they are set.

The Great War covers WWI in typical PBS style.

The Greeks is a good PBS produced introduction to ancient Greek culture and history.

The History Channel did a credible job of illuminating life in the Dark Ages in documentary "style".

As The Whelk suggested upthread, another style of documentary ignores the approach of taking a particular period as its bounds, and instead adopts a geographical focus, covering the broader history of a particular region. In this genre, I liked Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, another PBS project.
posted by paulsc at 6:30 PM on February 5, 2011

very particular period of time, but i always loved eyes on the prize ("America's Civil Right Movement, 1954-1985").
posted by anya32 at 6:34 PM on February 5, 2011

Mod note: few comments removed - be helpful and don't be vague, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:57 PM on February 5, 2011

Again, I haven't seen it, but the idea that "man" "ascended" is not really current anymore. A documentary with that title that came out in 1973 (which was a time when that framework was used) has a strong likelihood to be "too old school" for OP's tastes.
posted by Sara C. at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2011

I really enjoyed the BBC's A History of Christianity. Start here.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:12 PM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: Big History
posted by jchaw at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2011

Time Was, Dick Cavett host; I remember it as good but a little US-centric.
posted by buzzman at 8:42 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not necessarily chronological, and as the name suggests a bit occidentocentric, but I would eagerly recommend The Western Tradition. You know how people say "I'd turn gay/straight for X"? Well, I'd get a degree in history for Eugen Weber.
posted by bjrubble at 2:35 AM on February 6, 2011

PBS made a documentary based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, which might be a nice pre-historical starting point.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:23 AM on February 6, 2011

The BBC and the British Museum worked together to make a series of podcasts, A History of the World in 100 Objects. Not a film documentary, but an interesting, linear historical series.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:30 AM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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