I may go and see Spielberg’s Lincoln again later this afternoon. Anyone want to join me? I’ve done my best to stay on top of what the Lincoln and Civil War communities have had to say. Here is a rundown:
I shared a few of my own thoughts at the Atlantic. This is just what I could remember offhand so feel free to include additional reviews in the comments section. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from reading these folks as well as others. That said, I am not sure how much I learned about the movie given the rather narrow emphasis on what interpretive threads that were not acknowledged. Perhaps I would if the movie was somehow fundamentally flawed as a historical document. No one that I’ve read has said that. I still find myself agreeing with Timothy Burke, who blogs at Easily Distracted. Burke’s post was written in response to an early editorial by Foner.
Which is why I think Foner’s response is in some ways just one more front in the long struggle between social history and narrative. I suspect that he and many other historians would find any cinematic representation of any individual playing a key or decisive role in shaping consequential events inadequate–that what we have here is less an argument about particular discrete facts or events or people and more a deeper argument about what really matters in history.
If we’re going to have that argument through and around cinema, we would be wise to always avoid scolding a film for inaccuracy. Finger-wagging is a death trap for public intellectuals: it keeps us from appreciating the complexity of how a film or other cultural work can have meaning for its audiences, and it casts us outside and above the world of ordinary spectatorship. More importantly, most historians know better than to claim there’s a linear relationship between “accuracy” and “critical thought”, the latter being what most historians would like to see as the outcome of reading or learning about the past from a trustworthy source.
When we want to say that we don’t think that a given event–or any event–was primarily about powerful or important people and their decisions, then let’s say just that and go from there, accepting the legitimacy of the interpretative argument that follows that statement. Disagreement about interpretation involves but is not reducible to fact, to accuracy, to evidence or to comprehensiveness.
What do you think?