TikTok is mostly known as a home for memes, dance challenges, and skits, but there are a bunch of people hoping it can also be educational. You know, in a fun way.
Teen history buffs are using the app to share their love of the past, and they’re doing an excellent job keeping it fun.
Brooke Pavek, 17, lives in Florida and got started on TikTok amid the “Old Town Road” craze. She also happened to be taking AP history classes and started making history TikToks to help her study.
“I do base a lot of my TIkToks on my AP notes,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I try to be educational while also sometimes being stupid at the same time.”
One of her favorite topics is Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, which has inspired many of her videos.
She also covers moments in history from other places, too, and has a knack for fitting whatever she’s learning into whatever the latest TikTok meme is.
There are dozens of these on her channel, but she said a particular favorite is this one about US independence.
“It’s just kind of a fun one,” she said.
Beyond being fun, she said the TikToks really do help her with school, and she hopes they help other people too.
“Most kids always thought that history is a boring subject, and I’ve seen kids fall asleep in my history class, but you can make it fun, not just a lecture,” she said.
“There’s so many things now that are fresh in my mind because of TikTok.”
Pavek was one of many history TikTokers featured in a recent Twitter thread that went viral.
The thread highlighted history TikToks that were both funny and educational, including this one from Ryan White about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
White, 17, lives in Alaska and told BuzzFeed News he’s an avid World War II history buff and a collector of military uniforms. His interest was sparked by his grandfather, who served in the Army and was stationed in West Germany after the war.
“It was everything outside of school that got me interested in history,” said White.
His start on TikTok was sort of accidental. Like many others, he started seeing TikToks elsewhere, downloaded the app out of curiosity, and got sucked right in.
Most of his videos focus on WWII and its aftermath and feature his uniform collection.
His personal favorite is this one about the July 20 plot, which was an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. The uniform here isn’t totally accurate — it’s East German, from after the war.
“For me it’s a fun way of getting one of my biggest hobbies out, which is having a greater understanding of history and collecting uniforms,” said White.
He’s also critical of how history is taught in schools and how it can make people think history is boring. He said learning from a textbook is about memorizing, not actually understanding history.
“I think having that greater understanding of history is what allows us to progress — understanding what went right, and what went wrong,” he said.
But, he said, he’s also run into problems with censorship. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that’s known for taking down videos it doesn’t like. According to the BBC, videos about Tiananmen Square and Tibet are censored, for example.
Still, White has stuck with it because it’s a huge and fast-growing platform where he’s managed to find other teens who love history. Some of them even have group chats, he said.
Each history TikToker brings their own interests into the genre. For Leonardo Vanegas, it’s politics. Vanegas is 16 and lives in California, and is his class president, although his ambitions are even bigger.
“The first time I ever got into politics was very early in 2007 — a young senator by the name of Barack Obama came to San Diego and my parents took me,” he told BuzzFeed News.
“I remember being so inspired by his words that I looked to my mom and said, “I want to do what he’s doing.'”
Vanegas said he likes identifying trending audio and finding a moment in history to match, like this one about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
He also likes this one about the 1986 election, set to a song from Hamilton.
“It helps people study,” he said, adding that it can help teens see their history lessons in a whole new light.
“They’ve been useful for me, and they’ve been useful for other people as well.”
Although these teens may have started due to boredom, they’ve all stuck with it because there’s something so compelling about TikTok.
“It’s a great app, you can see so much creativity, you can have a good laugh, you can be emotionally touched by somebody, you could have gone through the same experiences. It’s like community,” said Venagas.
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