I watch a lot of history documentaries, because why wouldn't you? The older the subject the better. I've spent enough time searching for lists of other peoples favorite docs and for "if you liked that you'll love this" recommendations that I figured I should post my own favorites. Hopefully you find a doc in here you haven't seen, and I'd love any recommendations in the comments!
The Dark Ages: An Age of Light – 2012, 4 episodes, BBC
Waldemar Januszczak does a great job further debunking the view that the Dark Ages was an era of civilization wandering the wilderness; that after the Roman Empire fell nothing worthwhile happened until the Italian Renaissance.
Over the four episodes he visits many cultures from this time period; the Romans, Huns, Vandals, Visigoths, Moors, Arabs, Carolingians, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. I especially enjoyed episode 3 because of course the "Dark Ages" in Europe was right during the Islamic Golden Age, and episode 4 which spent quite a bit of time on the exquisite jewelry crafting of the Anglo-Saxons exemplified by the finds at Sutton Hoo and Staffordshire.
Waldemar is fantastic at highlighting the details in the period's art and architecture, more so than any other similar docs I've seen. He explains that the iconic double arches of the Mosque of Córdoba are because columns are a real pain to make, and you'll avoid doing it if you can. So the columns were stolen from other buildings, but they were too short to create the open and airy space the Moors were after. So the solution was to add a second arch on top of the first to really open up the room. He also explains mosques are modeled after the home of Muhammad himself. Exemplified by the Mosque of Ibn Tulun the large open courtyard allowed room for followers, with surrounding shaded arcades providing relief from the sun and heat.
I'm going to have to search for more docs by Waldemar because I really like his energy and obvious passion in his work, it's infectious.
(watch: Amazon Video)
The Romanovs – 2014, 8 episodes, Channel One
History of the House of Romanov beginning after the Time of Troubles with the 1613 coronation of Michael I and ending with the 1917 execution of Nicholas II and his family by Bolsheviks in an Yekaterinburg basement. Russian produced documentary but with English dubbing, all the screen text is still in Russian but you don't miss anything and honestly gives the doc a great atmosphere for non-Russian speakers.
Also it made me realize I need to cast my net wider because there are some great documentaries produced outside of America and Britain. Star Media has a ton of content with at least English subtitles and a few with full English dubbing.
The Great War – 1964, 26 episodes, BBC
Maybe my favorite documentary ever, the kind you couldn't make anymore because of all the first person interviews. Made on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI it's amazing to see the soldiers and people who lived through it in their 60s and 70s, especially since the last WWI veteran died in 2012.
Excellent exposition on the pre-war political, economic and social situation of the belligerents. Understanding what Germany, Russia, etc were like before 1914 goes a long way to explaining how they each prosecuted the war.
The World at War – 1973, 26 episodes, ITV
The WWII equivalent of The Great War. Consistently referenced as the best documentary ever, it doesn't disappoint. The length of the series really lets them expound on specific theaters such as the U-boat wolfpacks, including commentary with Karl Dönitz himself. Maybe that's the most surreal part of this series to me, interviews from the early '70s with names synonymous with WWII: Albert Speer, Curtis LeMay, Traudl Junge, Paul Tibbets, Alger Hiss, "Bomber" Harris and on and on.
One particularly poignant moment was an interview with a member of the Japanese envoy signing their surrender aboard the USS Missouri, who recounted his thoughts and described the scene:
I saw many thousands of sailors everywhere on this huge vessel. And just in front of us we had delegates of the victorious powers in military uniforms, glittering with gold. And looking at them I wondered how Japan ever thought she could defeat all those nations. — Toshikazu Kase
(watch: Amazon Prime)
World War II in HD Colour – 2008, 13 episodes, Military Channel
A more modern and shorter WWII documentary (which of course does not mean better) than The World at War. The original and colorized footage looks perfectly natural and adds great depth to the series. Like most of my favorite documentaries it spends ample time on the pre-war situation in Germany, Japan, Russia and other countries.