Tag Archives: television

Counterfactual History–the new TV season and thinking historically

29 Sep

At a time when ordinary people are struggling to cope with forces, structures, and systems beyond their control, contemplating speculative scenarios allows us to fantasize about transcending our sense of powerlessness and using individual agency to effect positive change. As historians, we should recognize the emotional resonance of counterfactuals and understand that the process of imagining how the past could have been can be part of the effort to shape the future. We should all heed the advice of Timeless’s Delta Force sergeant, Denise Christopher (played by Sakina Jaffrey) who in trying to enlist the services of the reluctant professor, Lucy Preston (played by Abigail Spencer), pointedly asks her: “I’d think that someone who loves history would want to save it.”

So concludes historian Gavriel D. Rosenfeld in a thoughtful post at the Organization of American Historians blog. Read the rest of his article here: The New Wave of “What Ifs?” – Process

Ken Burns Overlooks the Secret of FDR’s Success: The Power of the People

29 Sep

Political Scientist Peter Dreier has some interesting critiques to make of the recent The Roosevelt series on PBS. While his critiques are not major, and while he overstates his case that “none of these incidents can be found in Burns’ series” (I recall seeing something on Eleanor and A. Philip Randolph and a threatened civil rights march), they do serve to remind us that even the Burns’ narrative magic is not the whole story.

An excerpt from Dreier’s piece gets close to home here in Siouxland:

Between 1929 and 1932, farm income fell by two-thirds. Farm foreclosures were occurring at a record pace. As Adam Cohen recounts in his 2009 book Nothing to Fear, these experiences radicalized many farmers throughout the farm belt. For example, in May 1932 – while FDR was campaigning for president against incumbent Herbert Hoover – 2,000 farmers attended a rally at the Iowa state fairgrounds and urged fellow farmers to declare a “holiday” from farming, under the slogan “Stay at Home – Buy Nothing Sell Nothing.” In effect, they were urging farmers to go on strike – to withhold their corn, beef, pork and milk until the government addressed their problems. They threatened to call a national farmers strike if Congress did not provide farmers with “legislative justice.” In Sioux City, Iowa, farmers put wooden planks with nails on the highways to block agricultural deliveries. In Nebraska, one group of farmers showed up at a foreclosure sale and saw to it that every item that had been seized from a farmer’s widow sold for five cents, leaving the bank with a total settlement of just $5.35. In Le Mars, Iowa, a group of farmers kidnapped Judge Charles Bradley off the bench while he was hearing foreclosure cases and threatened to lynch him if he did not agree to stop foreclosures.

You can find the entire Dreier piece at History News Network here: History News Network | Ken Burns Overlooks the Secret of FDR’s Success: The Power of the People.

A bit of Robin Williams archivally–at the Library of Congress

12 Aug

Mike Mashon at the Library of Congress (LOC) provides something of a brief historical reflection on the late Robin Williams. You can find his piece, and archival links, here: Robin Williams | Now See Hear!.

A Hallowed Dutch(?) Legend

1 Apr

At the Library of Congress, Erin Allen has an interesting post arguably linking what Russell Shorto characterized as a Dutch-American place “at the center of the world” in the 17th century with today’s global entertainment:

Nearly two centuries after its publication, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is as popular as ever.

Fox TV has a hit on its hands this season with its retelling of the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by American author Washington Irving 1783-1859. The new drama series—one of many with supernatural themes—premiered Sept. 16, 2013, to 10 million viewers with 3.5 rating/9 share, making it the network’s highest rated fall drama premiere in the past eight seasons. Several weeks after the first episode aired, Fox renewed “Sleepy Hollow” for a second season.

Washington Irving. 1861. Photo by Matthew Brady. Prints and Photographs Division.

Washington Irving. 1861. Photo by Matthew Brady. Prints and Photographs Division.

Written while the itinerant Irving was living abroad in England, the popular tale was one of 34 essays and short stories—including “Rip Van Winkle”—comprising “The Sketch Book,” which Irving wrote under the pseudonym of “Geoffrey Crayon.”

One might argue that the post-Revolutionary- War tale of Connecticut schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and the dreaded Headless Horseman in the Dutch enclave in New York State known as Sleepy Hollow has never been far from the American imagination.

Note the phrase “Dutch enclave” in that last sentence …

See Allen’s entire post here: Trending: A Hallowed Legend | Library of Congress Blog.

A Case for the New Westerns

4 Sep

At the Religion in the West blog, David McConeghy makes a case for “New Westerns” like Hell on Wheels and the remake of True Grit. (I’ve seen the latter; I have not seen the former.) In principle, I find McConeghy persuasive. In practice, I haven’t seen enough of the New Westerns to really feel that informed. I know I had very mixed feelings about Disney’s Lone Ranger … Here is McConeghy’s piece:

Religion in the American West: Protected: The New Westerns and AMC’s Hell on Wheels.

For more on such things, see Chad Beharriell’s Westerns Reboots blog.

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