History 101 Review: Provides Bite-Sized Information on Pertinent Themes

Rhea Srivastava -

History 101 Review: Provides Bite-Sized Information on Pertinent Themes
Movie Rated


Infographics and archival footage deliver bite-size history lessons on scientific breakthroughs, social movements and world-changing discoveries.

Format: Docuseries
Platform: Netflix
Movie Rated: 13+
Genre: Documentary, History
Language: English
Digital Premiere Date: 22 May 2020




What is the Story about?
What is the significance of the sexual revolution? Which nation is winning the space race? What makes McDonald’s so addictive? These are just some of the basic questions that are explored in Netflix’s latest docuseries ‘History 101,’ which takes on pertinent themes that affect humanity in the present, but from a historical perspective. Netflix has been indulging in a few documentary anthologies of this nature in the past, the best example being ‘Explained,’ which, as it is named, explains basic concepts from a grassroots level. History 101, once again with a name that is pretty telling, is like a spiritual sequel to that show. The first season, consisting of 10 episodes of about 22 minutes each, takes on basic historical themes and gives a brief overview of why they are significant in the modern world. 

The first episode starts off, quite appropriately, with ‘fast food’ because one can’t explain it any better than a bite-sized look at how the fast-food industry changed the way people eat, revolutionised the world food market, and yet moved with the times. Other interesting themes include robots, AIDS, and genetics. Some of the more politically charged episodes include the rise of China into a global superpower; how oil became a centre point for religious tension in the Middle East and whether this was a worthy pursuit; and the momentum at which we are still struggling to provide women basic rights within a larger feminist construct.
There is a bit of a dichotomy when something is named ‘History 101,’ reminiscent of a class you may have come across in high school. In terms of structure, History 101 remains true to its name. It is highly unlikely that a show would be able to provide too much depth into simple events and occurrences within a short runtime. Thus, History 101 is like your most basic classroom. The topics are varied and give you just about the most foundational introduction that in case it is something you would like to explore further, you’d probably want to pick up on a better and deeper resource for that information. However, since the name also suggests the basics of history, it is somewhat disappointing that themes don’t include ancient civilizations, philosophical thinkers and leaders, the creation of cities, war etc. But this is not to say that this may not happen in forthcoming seasons. For those who aren’t looking for socio-historical topics that create political buzz, it might be more useful to get on to Youtube and watch one of the many excellent and meaningful video essays on those themes. In the meantime, this show will give you a somewhat charged-up look on current creations of history. 

History 101 is just great by the concept. These are several video essayists who give extremely visceral, visual and well-researched videos on several historical movements, periods and important figures on Youtube. The Netflix show borrows from that concept to give it a docuseries value, which is commendable on its own. And it's certainly not a terrible starting point for better documentaries. 
Putting a lot of its themes in a geographical and political context, however, comes with its flaws where certain realities about nuclear energy, for instance, have to be eliminated (the energy is quite important and safe outside of war usage), and there may be some factual discrepancies when multiple movements across countries in the same topic cannot be explored because time just won’t allow it. The writing is very basic and that might be the show’s biggest advantage and it’s biggest downfall.

Music and Other Departments 
History 101 is very well edited and put together, with interesting archival footage and colourful infographics. There is definitely a lot to learn and digest from some of the facts and figures are thrown around.
Did I Enjoy It?
Kind of. I have a lot of interest in history already and I like my documentaries to be more thorough. But even I was able to gain a fact or two that I didn’t know about. There is definitely a lot to learn here, no matter how short or long, or how superficial or deep an episode seems.
Do I Recommend It?
Yes. If you just want to learn something, give it a shot. I would suggest steering clear of the show if you are a history major or beyond, but the show has tremendous potential to explore more ‘historically significant topics’ in the future. 

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