History provides a rich source of material for television programmes, which can repeatedly reassess past events. The Last Days of the Raj (Channel 4) looked back 60 years to 1947, when Lord Mountbatten was sent to India to negotiate independence for the country. He tried to achieve this in an incredibly short time, hindered by demands for India to be partitioned into Pakistan and what Jinnah called 'Hindustan'. Mountbatten eventually agreed on partition but this caused immense problems, because Hindus and Sikhs didn't wish to be ruled by Muslims, and vice versa. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who drew the dividing line between India and Pakistan, had never visited the country before and knew little about its people or its divisions. A virtual civil war broke out, with half a million people killed and immense streams of refugees moving across the country.

The programme told the story through interviews, contemporary film, and reconstructions using actors. This was an uncomfortable mix, as the actors in the reconstructions bore little resemblance to the real people shown on film. Yet the events were detailed clearly and the documentary was a salutary lesson about Britain's carelessness in trying to withdraw from India so hurriedly.

The Trap - What Happened to Our Dreams of Freedom? (BBC2) was another of Adam Curtis's explorations of recent history, following his usual practice of finding connections between a variety of disparate events. This time he suggested that post-war governments saw it as their duty to protect people from the economic chaos which led to the Depression of the 1930s. They tried to guard against the dangers of capitalism and the free market but, in the process, aroused a reaction in favour of a brand of 'freedom' which allowed unfettered self-interest to gain supremacy. "The attempt to liberate people from the dead hand of bureaucracy has led to the rise of a new, and increasingly controlling, system of management driven by targets and numbers."

Adam Curtis tied this in with game theory, developed by the Rand Corporation, which regarded everyone as "selfish, isolated and suspicious creatures". Curtis's theme was further complicated by his tying in the ideas of R.D.Laing, who even seemed to regard love as a method of domination and control. The programme propounded some interesting ideas but the thesis didn't hold together. It disregarded the fact that humans are not always motivated by selfishness: they can also be altruistic and co-operative.

A similarly muddled approach to recent history was evident in Are We Having Fun Yet? (BBC4) - a series subtitled How we've changed in ten years. The first episode considered the baby-boomers: the people born in the ten years after the Second World War. The Editor of Saga magazine described this age-group as having "lived through a period of great change and liberalisation" and other commentators suggested that the baby-boomers are enjoying greater wealth and freedom than previous generations.

Yet the commentary contradicted this by admitting that "some pensioners remain among the poorest in society", with a million and a half pensioners living below the poverty line. Certainly, some baby-boomers are well-off and enjoying life - even selfishly, so that they have been called the SKI Generation (standing for "Spending the kids' inheritance"). But the programme failed to note that many of these fortunates also spent years struggling to bring up children or acting as carers for ageing parents. Here, as in the Curtis programme, the generalisations were thought-provoking but too one-sided to be convincing.

The Last Slave (Channel 4) reminded us that the British slave trade was (supposedly) abolished 200 years ago - in 1707. We followed David Monteith from Hackney as he went in search of the truth about his ancestor, Archibald Monteith, who was transported on one of the last slave ships from Africa to Jamaica. Archibald got his surname from the family that owned him. David travelled to Jamaica and then Nigeria, where he discovered the sad truth that Archibald had been sold into slavery by his own people. The programme was reminiscent of Alex Haley's Roots, which created such a stir 30 years ago.