How “Finding Your Roots” Manipulates the Past

Last night I caught part of Season 3 of Finding Your Roots, which included an episode about Keenen Ivory Wayans. The recent controversy involving Henry Louis Gates and Ben Affleck left me wondering if any substantial changes would be made to the show. It didn’t take long to answer.

FYR is pretty good at “finding” people, but at times they do an absolutely horrendous job of interpreting what they find. A case in point is Gates’s interaction with Wayans in locating and interpreting the life of Ben, an ancestor, who was the slave of South Carolina Governor John L. Manning. Continue reading “How “Finding Your Roots” Manipulates the Past”

Arrived at “Mercy Street”

Mercy StreetLast night PBS aired the first episode of its Civil War drama, Mercy Street. As some of you know I had a chance to preview the first season (6 episodes).  You can also read it at History News Network, but I should warn you that it covers the entire season. I don’t think by reading you will ruin your own viewing experience, but there are a few minor spoilers.

My evaluation of the show does not get bogged down in dialog. Yes, you will find some of your standard cliches and, at times, some of the dialog will leave you wincing. It’s inevitable in this kind of production.

I was much more interested in how the show directs our thinking about the war in all of its complexity. It is here that I believe Mercy Street excels, but don’t take my word for it. Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Teaching Research at the AAS

I recently sat down with my good friend, Megan Kate Nelson, to talk about my recent experience teaching the American Studies Seminar at the American Antiquarian Society for the SCWH’s new blog. My responses are relatively brief, so let me know if there is some aspect of the course that you would like me to expand upon. I am happy to do so.

You can read my responses here or at the SCWH site. Finally, the SCWH is looking for contributions for its blog page. You can find the details here. Continue reading “Teaching Research at the AAS”

Free State of Jones: Official Trailer

It’s here. The first trailer for “Free State of Jones” starring Matthew McConaughey is now available and it looks incredible. The movie is based on Victoria Bynum’s excellent book, The Free State of Jones, Movie Edition: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, which will soon be re-published by the University of North Carolina Press.

I will be reviewing both the book and the movie, which hits theaters this coming summer, for The Daily Beast. A couple of weeks ago I asked Vikki to reflect on the place of this movie in the context of our recent Civil War memory.

Confederate Monuments in an International Context

My trip to Prague this past summer forced me for the first time to consider the ongoing debate about the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces within an international context. We would do well to remember that other nations have faced and/or are currently dealing with  divisive questions surrounding memorial/commemorative landscapes. Many of these debates reflect divisions with deep historical roots that easily surpass those that can be traced to our own civil war. Continue reading “Confederate Monuments in an International Context”