BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College Economics Club and history program hosted a digital panel Tuesday with the creators of a media production company that specializes in historical documentaries for YouTube.

Public History EventIndy Neidell and Spartacus Olsson, co-founders TimeGhost Army, joined Aaron Honsowetz, associate professor of economics, and Ian Lanzillotti, assistant professor of history, in a discussion on the rewards and challenges of producing public history content.

Click here to view the video.

Neidell and Olsson are more than two years into their documentary “World War II Week by Week.” The documentary’s free YouTube channel has more 584,000 followers. A separate TimeGhost History channel features shorter projects, including “The Cuban Missile Crisis Day by Day” and “The Indonesian War of Independence.”

Neidell serves as the host of “World War II” and has, so far, written every episode. Olsson directs and produces.

“We tend to pride ourselves on … doing chronological or real-time history, like we’re doing World War II, week by week, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, day by day, so you get a boots on the ground kind of picture, rather than just covering this battle or that front or this guy,” Neidell said.

The long-form social documentary approach began with “The Great War,” which ran from 2014 to 2018, to illustrate the entire length of World War I. It also carried an interactive component; Neidell said the creators read every comment and answered every one that needed a response.

“That’s part of what we want to achieve, is to give an immersive experience to be able to travel back into time and experience it, not viscerally, of course, but at least intellectually on the same level that things happened,” Olsson said.

“The real-time format really lends itself very well to that phenomena. … The discussion that happens through social media is equally important, because it’s not just us broadcasting historiography, but it’s also community that’s built around this discussion and interaction that it engenders.”

He likened the documentaries to a book rather than a television format in that it can be “more immersive, more exhaustive, and more precise.”

Personal accounts, such as those from a diary, allows the series to conceptualize how high the death toll was and how horrific it was to live through the war.

A new episode is released every Saturday. The most recent is “Jan. 23, 1942.” Each episode ignores all future events in the war, focusing specifically on the time period of the specific episode. That allows emotions and opinions to evolve as the war progresses, Olsson said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next week,” Neidell said of his role as host. “Not knowing, that makes it – you tell a story a different way if you don’t know the ending of the story.”

Even though there was uncertainty by some about social media as the avenue for the documentary, it became clear that there was an active community ready to embrace the content.

In addition to the YouTube series, an Instagram account, which has more than 40,000 followers, gives a daily account of World War II events. Community activity is also featured on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and TimeGhost Army. The program was in part funded through a Kickstarter campaign and through a subscription program on Patreon.

“The advent of social media has created a new way to create communal efforts that just didn’t exist before, outside of academia,” Olsson said. “The possibilities are endless. We’re only scratching on the surface. … It really is the dawn of a new age for academic professions, because knowledge counts, knowledge matters, facts matter.”


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.