University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Getting creative with early modern history

In a previous post, Dr Katy Gibbons looked at how second-year students studying the Debating the Past module, translated Natalie Davis’s book The Return of Martin Guerre into other media: emojis, memes and poetry.  Our first-year students in the Beliefs, Communities and Conflicts: Europe 1400-1750 module are also set an assessment asking them to employ the imaginative use of media to explore a theme relating to their studies on the module.  Below we look at two great responses to this.

Having initially thought about crocheting an item or artwork from the early modern period (!), Megan Conway decided to produce a comic. Visual formats often make it easier to take in complex information; historical comics and cartoons were what initially got Megan to be so interested in history as a child; she says might not have studied history now at university had it not been for them.

Megan Conway

Megan Conway


There are controversies surrounding visual media as a form of education due to “ethical implications” such as how certain cultures are displayed and the bias that evolves from such. [1] To tackle this, Megan ensured that she mainly used stick figures with the flags, or clear labels, instead of defining features. The few times she drew historical people they were “cartoonised” and based on references to other modernised cartoon drawings and comic books. [2] Additionally, she avoided biased colours for example using red backgrounds as it is often used to symbolise Catholicism and orange as it symbolises Protestantism. She thus attempted to avoid any potential bias influenced by colour theory, depictions of certain countries or people.


Elliott Thomas and Jack Baker used a different approach, a podcast, quoting statistics which show that there was an estimated 23.3 million podcast listeners in the United Kingdom.[3] Podcasts are clearly an important medium in showing information, be it life advice, comedy or history.

They decided to do a podcast about colonial empires as they were an important aspect of the development of early modern Europe. More specifically, they decided on a tier list ranking a selection of colonial empires. Those empires were: Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Spain, England/Great Britain, France and Portugal. Before setting off on research, in the group they discussed the parameters of how an empire is ranked, as naturally it can be controversial due to the sometimes-abhorrent crimes committed in their name. They decided that they should compare the empires based on: territorial extent, impact, military might and to a certain extent: legacy (mainly in the short term). They were quite strict in confining their discussions of the empires to the early modern period (c. 1450-1750)

They decided to group the empires in five tiers: The Best, good, middling, bad and the worst.

Their conclusions were surprising: instead of the stereotypical winners like the Spanish or Portuguese, France came out on top.  Have a listen to their podcast and see if you agree.

[1] Annette Kuhn, ‘Memory Texts and Memory Work: Performances of Memory in and with Visual Media’, Memory Studies 3, no. 4 (27 September 2010), https://doi.org/10.1177/1750698010370034.

[2] Newcastle University and National Civil War Centre, ‘Fact File: Oliver Cromwell’, British Civil Wars (blog), accessed 4 March 2024, https://britishcivilwars.ncl.ac.uk/key-people/fact-file-oliver-cromwell/; Andy Hirsch, History Comics: The Transcontinental Railroad, 10 vols, History Comics (Macmillan Publishers, 2022), https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250794772/historycomicsthetranscontinentalrailroad.

[3] “Estimated number of podcast listeners in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2017 to 2016”. https://www.statista.com/forecasts/1147560/podcast-reach-uk#:~:text=Podcast%20reach%20in%20the%20United%20Kingdom%20(UK)%202017%2D2026&text=As%20of%202021%2C%20there%20were,28%20million%20listeners%20by%202026 , last accessed 18 March 2023

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