Media Conscious Understanding of Historical Popular Culture


  • Ilkka Lähteenmäki


This article focuses on popular historical culture, particularly on how the use of digital media
has changed our engagements with historical culture. Popular historical culture is discussed as
a cultural phenomenon that is present across all media. Because of the digitalization of media,
cultural practices related to history have fragmented, and historical culture is engaged with in
a variety of ways. These engagements can take widely different forms depending on the media
used. In this article I argue that a more media cognizant understanding of historical culture needs
to be developed. This is necessary because digitalized media has changed our dealings with
historical knowledge, and remediation is constantly challenging our perception of how “reality”
can be properly represented.

In the paper, I discuss how theoretical works related to historical culture have a slightly
troubled relation to digital media, and do not properly take into account how media content is
consumed today. I argue that the source of these troubles is at least partially the hegemony of
memory-related theory in the scholarly understanding of historical culture. The current scholarly
discussion of historical culture mainly lacks understanding of how popular media functions and
is engaged in the digital age. For this reason, central aspects of digitally mediated historical
culture do not receive enough scholarly interest.

In the article, I employ a framework based on media studies for understanding popular
historical culture. By doing so, I distance my analysis from discussions related to memory
and begin to develop a view, in which instantiations of popular historical culture are seen as
converging media that people engage with in hopes of gaining more knowledge about the past.
Here, different instantiations of popular historical culture are seen as entry-points to more
history-related content, rather than as competing holistic representations. This leads to an
alternative knowledge-centered interpretation of why popular historical culture is engaged with.