This article examines how the popular television series Downton Abbey, functioning in tandem with twentieth-century novels, provides students with a cultural forum that opens up a cultural, literary, and historical period that would otherwise remain distant. By encouraging students to perceive television as participating in what Horace Newcomb and Paul M. Hirsch call “public thinking,” the article highlights the way the PBS period drama offers students the means to engage critically and empathetically with a historically distant cultural moment. Ultimately, the author argues that incorporating Downton Abbey and related social media to the study of novels of the early twentieth century enlivens the material, motivating students to enter into a period of history through its literature in service of not only increased historical and literary knowledge but also a more nuanced understanding of the importance of the humanities in examining society and its values, the very elements television both shapes and reflects.

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