What Can "Downton Abbey" Teach Us About British History? with Dr. Julie Taddeo

What Can "Downton Abbey" Teach Us About British History? with Dr. Julie Taddeo


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One of the most popular period dramas of all time, "Downton Abbey" is much more than escapist fantasy. While its fashions and lavish interior decorations certainly appeal to viewers, we also can use the series to understand the social, political, and cultural life and values of early twentieth-century Britain, from the Edwardian era through the Roaring Twenties. This seminar will explore this period of history, through the lens of this well-known series.

The popular success of the PBS period TV series "Downton Abbey" (2010-15) has not always been matched by its less favorable critical reception. As with other period costume dramas, scholars are often critical of historical inaccuracies and the tendency to view the past through nostalgic-tinted glasses. But "Downton Abbey" is much more than an escapist invention: we can use the series to understand many facets of twentieth-century Britain. This seminar will use the TV series (and the 2019 "Downton Abbey" movie) as a way to explore such topics as Edwardianism, the New Woman, the Great War, voting rights, the Roaring Twenties, and the first sexual revolution, among others.

"Downton Abbey" has also created its own industry, with products we can consume and museum exhibits, so that the TV series has become a part of history itself. Lastly, why this series has had such international appeal and what it says about the twenty-first century (from the 2008 economic crash to Brexit to Americans' fascination with British royalty) will be discussed.

Led by an expert on Modern British cultural history, this seminar will revisit a much-loved TV series and the period of dramatic history it represented. Designed to inform and educate, participants will emerge with a greater understanding of what we can learn from a historical perspective from this useful series.

Dr. Julie Taddeo is Research Professor of History at University of Maryland. Her area of expertise is Modern British social and cultural history. She has published several books on such topics as the Bloomsbury Group, Steampunk, British period drama television, and reality TV.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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