History professor helps bring age-old stories to life
Where can you find political intrigue, triumphant victories, and a healthy dose of scandal? Netflix? Hulu? Well, yes. But believe it or not, those "binge-worthy" tales can also be found right in our history books!
While there's a prevailing notion that history is a boring collection of dates and events, it's actually a treasure trove of exciting tales (and there are no plot holes, or commercials in these stories!). David Parnell, an associate professor of history, is helping to bring these age-old stories to life.
Parnell is an expert in Byzantine history, and his next book is set to explore the life of the military commander Belisarius, who lived from around 500 to 565 C.E. So, imagine his excitement when he came across a video by Epic History TV, a popular YouTube channel, chronicling the story of Belisarius.
After viewing the channel’s content, he wrote up a good-natured critique and tweeted it (from @byzantineprof, of course). Soon enough, he heard from the series producer and quickly became a consultant for future episodes. Now, Parnell is working hand-in-hand with Epic History TV to retell the story of Belisarius.
"It's very exciting for me," Parnell said. "I get to read through each script and provide corrections and potential additions." Beyond commenting on the script, he also has the chance to look over the plan for the artwork in the episode to make suggestions and connect the art to historical sources.
While Parnell gets to experience a new facet of working in the history field, Epic History TV equally benefits. Producer Toby Groom said that Parnell has been instrumental in avoiding mistakes and contributing extra insights.
"Parnell's enthusiasm for the project, his passion for the subject and his readiness to share expertise with a wide audience have been great assets to the series," Groom said. "He has been a cheerleader for the series on social media and provides viewers with extra detail and context."
Working with Epic History TV has given Parnell new insights into the public side of history. He said while he's used to working with other professional historians and students, it's been a learning experience providing education to the general public.
"I find it really rewarding to share what I'm doing professionally on a widespread scale," Parnell said. "Through this, most people I’m educating are not in my classroom; they’re on social media and consuming pop culture."
He greatly enjoys the opportunity to tell stories like Belisarius' and make quality history content accessible to the general public. Parnell appreciates that, as a consultant, he has the chance to "reach out to people where they are in their lives," rather than limit himself only to the IU Northwest community.
Groom echoes Parnell's sentiment about making history interesting and easily accessible for everyone with an internet connection. "History is our indispensable guide to 'how we got here,' and our only way to make sense of the present. It's the repository of infinite 'true stories' to inspire and warn us, or sometimes just enthrall and entertain us," he said.
"Enthrall and entertain" sums up how Parnell is applying his consultant experience to the classroom. He is admittedly focused on accuracy and realism, like any good history professor, but he strives to incorporate more exciting elements to make history a little more interesting for those who would claim the opposite.
"I've learned about taking back the idea of telling stories in the classroom and using media and artwork wherever possible," Parnell said. "If I can weave together artistic impressions, surviving archaeological sites, and my own voice narrating the story, I can create something that draws people in."
From the classroom to Twitter to YouTube, Parnell is making a mark on public history. By sharing stories on social media, he makes history readily available, and of course, incredibly engaging. It goes to show that in many cases, a history book is just as interesting as any novel, or series.