Why America Needs a New Civil War Documentary

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Pat Young

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After the airing of Henry Louis Gates's new Reconstruction documentary, an historian podered whether we need a new full-length documentary on the Civil War. The Ken Burns documentary series has been massively influential in how Americans view the war, but it is heavily colored by the romantic Lost Cause opinions of Shelby Foote.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR2Pwb1EjjuySps61sf04KyctURVkf6dGfAPCgl7ajicBYoLK22ww_7u9Ik
 

Waterloo50

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Mark Lundberg in his article ‘Thanks a lot Ken Burns’, said, ‘The film was perfectly calibrated to please most every constituency in the post-Vietnam culture wars.‘, there’s probably a lot of truth in that and it’s possibly something that gets overlooked, I don’t think many of us question who the documentary was intended for. if a producer of a historical documentary wants his production to be successfuly received by the public, then it has to be geared to match the social climate of the time. Today of course there’s a new type of audience and perhaps a new set of documentaries which covers some of the more uncomfortable truths would help future generations gain a more balanced picture of events.
 

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After the airing of Henry Louis Gates's new Reconstruction documentary, an historian podered whether we need a new full-length documentary on the Civil War. The Ken Burns documentary series has been massively influential in how Americans view the war, but it is heavily colored by the romantic Lost Cause opinions of Shelby Foote.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR2Pwb1EjjuySps61sf04KyctURVkf6dGfAPCgl7ajicBYoLK22ww_7u9Ik
Very interesting and persuasive. I agree with the argument that we need a Civil War documentary that looks at history with honesty and tells the whole story, slavery included, without bias. And tells it well.

Shelby Foote. Sigh. I don't know who you can find with the charm and stage presence that can rival Foote's. For the vast majority of viewers he was the highlight of the series, so he had a disproportionate influence. If a new series lacked an interpreter that interesting, Ken Burns would be the one people keep going back to.

I can think of many brilliant scholars that I now love watching on YouTube or Cspan whenever possible- Gary Gallagher, Brookes D. Simpson, David Blight among many others. I know now that it's always worth listening to them because I'll learn something new. I don't go to listen to their accents or get charmed and I'm starting to know their strengths and limitations. It took me a while to get there.

However, for the me of 1990, frustrated because I only got to watch half of the series because my husband taped over the rest, I saw no issues with the documentary and was highly influenced by the views of Shelby Foote. I was charmed by his beautiful accent and apparent insight. I was hardly alone in that.

How does a poor filmmaker compete with that?

Ken Burns has been very influential. When I took a university class on the war many years later the professor used huge excerpts from Burns to introduce different topics. By then I had watched all of David Blight's Yale course online, so I had a bit of an idea that the field is complicated and that interpretations keep evolving.

For most viewers Ken Burns will be seen as the best unless someone can make a film that is honest, complex and just as compelling. I hope someone can.
 
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Alex Scotland

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If you had to make a new documentary it would have to be at least24hrs long to cover all the issues surrounding the war & even that might not be long enough.

For the record I still really like watching 'The Civil War' & think it's a great documentary series. I don't go along with people saying it promotes the 'lost cause' theory but that's just my opinion!
 

Viper21

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After the airing of Henry Louis Gates's new Reconstruction documentary, an historian podered whether we need a new full-length documentary on the Civil War. The Ken Burns documentary series has been massively influential in how Americans view the war, but it is heavily colored by the romantic Lost Cause opinions of Shelby Foote.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR2Pwb1EjjuySps61sf04KyctURVkf6dGfAPCgl7ajicBYoLK22ww_7u9Ik
Absolutely impossible to please everyone. There's bias/opinion in every presentation of the war, & it's complexities. Most folks are sticklers for meat & potatoes facts, unless they approve of the narrative put forth by the presenter.

What is left out, is just as significant, as what is covered. An entire narrative can be shaped simply through omission. One can recite facts, nothing but facts yet, clearly direct a narrative in a desired direction. Seems to occur in nearly everything written today.

I love the Smithsonian museums. Have been to most multiple times, just haven't been to the newest ones yet. I never viewed them as bias, or pushing narrative. Yet, I wonder how Clarence Thomas feels about being excluded from the AA museum...?
 

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However, for the me of 1990, frustrated because I only got to watch half of the series because my husband taped over the rest, I saw no issues with the documentary and was highly influenced by the views of Shelby Foote. I was charmed by his beautiful accent and apparent insight. I was hardly alone in that.
I associate the series with the voice of the narrator as much as Shelby Foote.
 
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Northern Light

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While I can agree that a more balanced documentary might be enlightening and educational, Burns' "Civil War" has become so iconic that it would be an extremely hard act to follow. Do most people want to know that Sullivan Ballou probably didn't write that beautiful letter and that his body was desecrated by Southerners, his skull used as a drinking cup? That the the haunting melody of "Ashokan Farewell" was not contemporary to the war? That Shelby Foote was not an historian, but a story-teller? That Alexander Gardner dragged a Confederate body around to get better shots? I think not.
 

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Absolutely impossible to please everyone. There's bias/opinion in every presentation of the war, & it's complexities. Most folks are sticklers for meat & potatoes facts, unless they approve of the narrative put forth by the presenter.

What is left out, is just as significant, as what is covered. An entire narrative can be shaped simply through omission. One can recite facts, nothing but facts yet, clearly direct a narrative in a desired direction. Seems to occur in nearly everything written today.

I love the Smithsonian museums. Have been to most multiple times, just haven't been to the newest ones yet. I never viewed them as bias, or pushing narrative. Yet, I wonder how Clarence Thomas feels about being excluded from the AA museum...?
I tend to agree, people who complain about "political spin" in historical presentation generally just want a different "political spin" instead.......... Hate when non political things like history become political and people want to feud over a particular "political slant"

Thats the nature of politics, opposing partisan views, so the other view is as partisan as the one it complains about........
 

nitrofd

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After the airing of Henry Louis Gates's new Reconstruction documentary, an historian podered whether we need a new full-length documentary on the Civil War. The Ken Burns documentary series has been massively influential in how Americans view the war, but it is heavily colored by the romantic Lost Cause opinions of Shelby Foote.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR2Pwb1EjjuySps61sf04KyctURVkf6dGfAPCgl7ajicBYoLK22ww_7u9Ik
I have the reconstruction programs on dvr but have yet to watch them.big fan of Henry Louis Gates.
 
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Northern Light

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I tend to agree, people who complain about "political spin" in historical presentation generally just want a different "political spin" instead.......... Hate when non political things like history become political and people want to feud over a particular "political slant"
History is non-political? Most history is all about politics in one way or the other.
 

nitrofd

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While I can agree that a more balanced documentary might be enlightening and educational, Burns' "Civil War" has become so iconic that it would be an extremely hard act to follow. Do most people want to know that Sullivan Ballou probably didn't write that beautiful letter and that his body was desecrated by Southerners, his skull used as a drinking cup? That the the haunting melody of "Ashokan Farewell" was not contemporary to the war? That Shelby Foote was not an historian, but a story-teller? That Alexander Gardner dragged a Confederate body around to get better shots? I think not.
Ashokan is a resivouir near Harriman State Park in New York.
 

archieclement

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History is non-political? Most history is all about politics in one way or the other.
Not really to me....History is events......the political aspect of the time and debate is over, it ended 100 years ago.....is simply a recorded event now that shouldn't have an partisan bias or attachment today, as it a factual event in time.

Thats the problem to me, once you reintroduce modern politics, it becomes opinion, and is no longer a factual event in time, but subjective speculation.........and not really history....which is recorded factual events......

That history is about past political events......shouldn't put political spin on it today
 
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Northern Light

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Not really to me....History is events......the political aspect of the time and debate is over, it ended 100 years ago.....is simply a recorded event now that shouldn't have an partisan bias or attachment today, as it a factual event in time.

Thats the problem to me, once you reintroduce modern politics, it becomes opinion, and is no longer a factual event in time, but subjective speculation.........and not really history....which is recorded factual events......
Recorded events have their own bias, but I see what you are saying.
 
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archieclement

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Right. All of history is political and all history is biased. A good historian can break through the middle and find the facts.

I have no problem with facts.....which are known and provable events....... I question when one goes into "interpreting" motives or what was supposedly in someones mind 150 years ago that they never met...... lets just roll some chicken bones or hold a séance for "facts"

When one goes beyond noting known events.....to "interpreting" motives to put a particular spin on presentation of the event.......personally seems a bit of an overreach to me
 
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Presenting facts in a way that is consumable to the general public requires people that do have an exceptional story-telling ability. Shelby Foote was such a person and did a magnificent job of being objective. The amount of facts readily available now are vast compared to what they were 20-30 years ago and all facts should be presented rather than concentrating on the high publicity people and events. A good example of what I'm talking about is: when I was in school during the 1950's and 60"s, it was all about Virginia and the ANV, although they couldn't ignore Shiloh since it's just down the road. Or Atlanta since "Gone With the Wind"

Any future documentary should present all facts, whether they shine a favourable light on the north or South, include all the theatres of the war, and be presented by someone who can tell the story well, as Foote did, and above all remove all political correctness.

P. S. I believe Foote was a great historian. You try to produce a complete narrative on the war like he did.
 
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OldSarge79

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My great great grandfather enlisted October 10, 1861; he mustered in as a sergeant Co H of the New York 52nd. He was wounded at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. and discharged April 28, 1863. I'm just interested in learning all I can about the war and getting more information about his service. I have a photo of him with the GAR ribbon and a couple of other ribbons or pins I haven't been able to identify.
That philosophy worked for the proponents of the Lost Cause, didn't it?:giggle:
Yes, as a matter of fact it did, and I don't mind agreeing. However, I don't know that the promoters of the "Lost Cause" ever tried to silence those who disagreed. That being said, I hope that we can infer from what you just said that you think it is wrong to do that.
 
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