19 Period Dramas That Will Give You A Great History Lesson

The magic of TV is that you’re transported to a different place and are introduced to characters you enjoy watching. A period piece transports you to a time you’ve only read about in a history book. Living with the modern amenities of the 21st century, it’s truly fascinating to see the culture of the 1960s or to go as far back to when the world was just being discovered.

A well-done television period drama makes you wish for a simpler time when we weren’t so plugged in (but also grateful for things like electricity and cars and women’s rights, TBH). Regardless, an intriguing period drama tends to be one of the most thought-provoking glimpses into the past for a true history lover.

1. Call the Midwife (2012-Present)

Taking place in the 1950s in the poor East End of London, Call the Midwife follows a group of **shocker** midwives. In addition to delivering lots of babies, they provide necessary medical duties for the poor families living near them. The series will make you grateful for the modern-day gynecological care available today. You may not want to watch if you’re squeamish, the birth scenes can be a bit bloody AKA accurate. Still, it’s a great story and interesting show.

2. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

This supernatural series takes place in the Victorian era of London and quickly won fans over with its gothic elements. An eclectic cast of characters deal with some of the scariest and creepiest villains from literature including Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Dorian Gray. The main cast works to save the world from darkness while confronting iconic character face-to-face. This show stars Josh Hartnett and can be streamed on Netflix.

3. Turn: Washington’s Spies (2014-2017)

This series depicts the founding of America, covering the years of 1776 to 1781. The show follows a former farmer and his childhood best friends as they form the Culper Ring, an American spy group led by one Mr.
George Washington. Their assignment is to spy on the British after the Brits recapture parts of New York during the Revolutionary War. It’s definitely a good series to watch if you want to see all those silly wigs and learn how America became the country we know today.

4. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-Present)

This period comedy-drama just premiered on Amazon for streaming. It takes place in the late 1950s and introduces us to Miriam Maisel, a housewife with two kids. Her husband is a businessman by day and a struggling comedian at night. When he leaves her for another worman, Maisel gets drunk and performs her own stand-up routine and realizes she genuinely enjoys doing so. See how backwards the world was a mere sixty years ago, the way “Mrs. Maisel” and others are treated will anger you for sure. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has received rave reviews and just got two Golden Globes nominations for its first season. The creator of this series also created Gilmore Girls… so it’s totally worth a watch.

5. Poldark (2015-Present)

Ross Poldark just returned home to Cornwall after fighting in the Revolutionary War in America. He returns to find his father dead and the woman he loved engaged to another. Yikes, same old drama (kind of), it just so happens to be in the late 18th century. No matter the time, life can really suck sometimes. Starring Aidan Turner, this BBC show recently aired its third season.

6. Peaky Blinders (2013-Present)

Peaky Blinders has quickly gained a large audience and is considered by many to be one of the most underrated shows on air. The show follows a crime family in Birmingham, England during the immediate aftermath of World War I. Their ruthless but cunning boss, played by Cillian Murphy has essentially one goal: dominate. Tom Hardy is also in a few episodes if you need a little extra nudge.

7. Anne of Green Gables (1985 Miniseries)

There have been countless adaptations of this classic novel, but the Anne of Green Gables miniseries by Kevin Sullivan is by far the best. He stays true to the novel and somehow found an actress to play Anne Shirley that was able to capture her optimism and spunk. Megan Follows took on the title role and showed us that whether it’s 1897 or 2017, a teen girl wants to have cool clothes and a best friend. Not only is this whole miniseries entertaining to any fan of the book, the Canadian scenery is gorgeous. We should all move there.

8. Z: The Beginning of Everything (2015-2017)

Starring Christina Ricci as Zelda Fitzgerald, we learn about the spunky lady that served as a muse to one of America’s greatest authors. Taking place in the 1920s, we learn that the Fitzgeralds really loved booze. Really, who doesn’t? But what the series did show us is the issues their drinking caused in the marriage between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and its effects on his writing. Plus for those of us obsessed with all-things-Roaring-Twenties (and aren’t we all?), the flapper dresses and overall costuming will instill major envy.

9. Land Girls (2011)

WWII movies and shows usually forget all of the women that volunteered to help win the war. Land Girls gave us all a much-needed history lesson on the integral part women played during this specific time of war in US history. The series follows four women who all willingly volunteer at the Hoxley Estate doing manual labor on a farm since all the men had to go to war. All feminists will probably want to watch this on Netflix.

10. Frontier (2016-Present)

Super tough and buff Jason Momoa stars as Declan Harp in Frontier. Harp is part-Cree, part-Irish who makes it his goal to stop a monopoly on the Canadian fur trade. This show can be a bit intense at times, but seeing the rough Colonial-era Canadian set is really neat. It’s a time and place that is fairly unknown and foreign to us. Any history geek will love this setting and the storyline. Stream it on Netflix.

11. Mr. Selfridge (2013-2016)

Taking place from 1908-1928, Mr. Selfridge is about a flamboyant yet straight American man who opens a modern department store in London. Mr. Selfridge was a real person and the series is based on real events but what’s extra interesting about the historical side of this show is the way that the store becomes a character of its own. It’s so elegant compared to what we have today and just might make you long for the olden days of service and pride in work.

12. Pride and Prejudice (1995 miniseries)

Just like Anne of Green Gables, there are so many adaptations of this classic book. The 1995 miniseries starring a dashing Colin Firth is by far the best period drama to take on the classic story. I mean, how could it not be? COLIN FIRTH. The casting is spot on, the costumes are beautiful, and Colin Firth is the most perfect Mr. Darcy (thus why he played him twice in the modern take on the tale: Bridget Jones’s Diary). Pride and Prejudice is for the romantic in all of us and this version never disappoints.

13. Ripper Street (2012-2016)

There are very few things creepier than a serial killer who never was caught. That’s the issue that Detective Inspector Edmund Reid is facing as he and his fellow police officers struggle to keep 1889 East London, including Ripper Street, safe. As they continue their pursuit to find the Jack the Ripper killer, more women are being murdered. Detective Reid is tasked with keeping order and hopefully finding the killer. We know how this one ends. Perfect for those who love history and murder, Ripper Street‘s dark vibes make the show as perfect as it is.

14. Black Sails (2014-2017)

The scene is 1715 and Captain Flint and his pirates search for gold and fight for the survival of New Providence Island. Their target is a lush island in the Bahamas and their not the only ones who seek it. For those of you who have given up on Pirates of the Carribean but want to keep following the tales of 18th century pirates, this show’s the one for you! Arrrrr.

15. Good Girls Revolt (2015-2016)

Gone too soon, Good Girls Revolt followed three young women working for News of the Week magazine back in the day. It’s 1969 and women aren’t even allowed to hold high levels in the newsroom. YEP — not even fifty years ago and this was the situation. Some of the female researchers are pissed when they learn just how much less money they make then the male reporters (a trend that continues to this day across work industries). On top of that, if they manage to get a story published, it’s published under a man’s name. FOR REAL. So what do they do? Revolt! Stream this women power series on Amazon Prime like, now.

16. Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

Downton Abbey is the epic British series that wooed fans and then proceeded to break their hearts by killing off all of their favorite characters. Don’t worry, we won’t tell you who. Just don’t get too attached. The show displays the stark difference between the hereditary Earls of Grantham aka the wealthy Crawley family and the servants living in their house. Starting with the sinking of the Titanic and then following the family and the “downstairs staff” through other well-known historical events, it’s fun to follow along with your history of the early 1900s.
The sinking kills the heir to the Crawley estate (since they only have daughters), and they must find the new proper heir. The series has romance, drama, humor, death (I’ll say it again — death!), historical events, and a wonderfully sassy Maggie Smith as the Crawley matriarch. She’s just as amazing in this as she is in Harry Potter and every other show she’s been in.

17. The Crown (2016-Present)

You may have heard of this little Netflix show that pretty historically accurately documents Queen Elizabeth II‘s life. The first season began with her wedding to Prince Phillip in 1947 and follows her first few years of rule. The show flips the idea of the “stuffy” British monarchy on its head and humanizes some major players from the history books. Claire Foy is currently portraying the Queen but the series is planned to continue with the Queen’s story to the present day which could mean a recast — or some pretty interesting makeup art.

18. Outlander (2014-Present)

Outlander is a period drama that involves time travel, which is either a major perk or a major drawback depending on who you are. Based on a series of novels of the same name, it begins with main character Claire in 1945. She’s a former WWII nurse who, while exploring the standing stones at Craigh na Dun in Scotland, is transported to the 18th century. While there, her medical experience helps as she aids a young man named Jamie needing attention after an attack by redcoats. Together, Claire and Jamie use her knowledge of history to prevent dangerous events — and, naturally, fall in love. There’s a lot of time hopping and many events that you never even learned about in school.

19. Vikings (2013-Present)

Based on the Norsemen tales, this historically-accurate period drama tells the tale of the Vikings and their explorations in the 13th century. Ragnar Lothbrok acts as the main inspiration of the show and the plot is taken from a book called Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok. Even though the actual Vikings era was long ago and they practiced passing stories orally which can obviously effect the accuracy, the show has been praised by historians as an incredibly authentic telling of the time period. It airs on the History Channel after all.

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