Some Thoughts About Spielberg’s Lincoln

We go to the movies to be entertained and transported to a different time and place.  That certainly happened for me while watching Steven Spielberg’s movie about Lincoln and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. That’s not such an easy thing to do when you’ve spend the better part of the last 15 years reading and writing about the period.  Historians look for complexity and and a certain attention to detail that reflects a careful consideration of the past.  I certainly did, but at the same time we would do well to remember that these kinds of questions rarely arise when watching films about other subjects.

The film fits neatly into the Civil War sesquicentennial with its emphasis on emancipation as the central problem that must be solved as opposed to the preservation of the Union.  Daniel Day-Lewis gives us a sympathetic portrayal of Lincoln as the central actor in this drama and one that certainly deserves an Oscar nomination.  He somehow manages to make Lincoln appealing and even worthy of his place in our collective memory without mythologizing him.  Indeed, one of the movie’s strengths is that it depicts Lincoln as one player (albeit an important one) in that not-so-well-oiled machine that is the legislative process.  Lincoln does his best to help to steer the amendment through Congress with the help of Thadeus Stevens, portrayed persuasively by Tommie Lee Jones.  We see the messiness of it all, but we also get a sense of Lincoln’s and Stevens’s sincere interest in ending slavery once and for all.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts About Spielberg’s Lincoln”

John Brown Lives!

This event has been a long time in the making and I signed on to take part when I was still living in Virginia.  John Brown Lives! is a small organization led by Martha Swan, which focuses on public and educational outreach around issues related to freedom and oppression in history and in our world today.  Freedom Then, Freedom Now offers a little something for teachers, students, and anyone else who is interested in the history and legacy of emancipation.  The list of speakers and subjects to be discussed looks very interesting and David Blight will deliver the keynote address.  I am going to host a screening of Glory for the community and then work with a group of teachers on how they can use it in the classroom.  It promises to be a fun weekend. Continue reading “John Brown Lives!”

Assessing the Sesquicentennial

It’s probably too late to say anything substantial about the sesquicentennial at this stage, but two recent events suggest that Americans remain interested in the Civil War and continue to travel to various destinations in impressive numbers.  Fellow bloggers Robert Moore and Craig Swain both attended events commemorating the 150th of Antietam and were encouraged by what they saw.  This past weekend John Hennessy attended and spoke at an event built around the famous August 19, 1862 photograph of slaves crossing the Rappahannock River to freedom.  He estimates that anywhere between 300 and 350 people were in attendance.  Finally, it will come as no surprise that Gettysburg is bracing for a large turnout next summer.

We continue to enjoy a steady stream of Civil War books from both academic and popular publishers.  I also get the sense that public history programs related to the Civil War era have continued at a healthy pace.  All in all, I remain very optimistic.  What do you think?

Note: Later today I will be a guest on Civil War Talk Radio with Gerry Prokopowicz (3pm est).  No doubt we will talk a great deal about my Crater book.  I will post a link to interview once it is available on their website.

Debating Emancipation on C-SPAN

Over the weekend C-SPAN televised a panel on emancipation that took place over the summer as part of the Civil War Institute.  Pete Carmichael was kind enough to invite me to take part on this particular panel, though I have to admit that I felt a bit out of place next to my colleagues.  The other panelists included Keith Harris, Anne Marshall, Glenn D. Brasher, and Craig Symonds.

My friends at the SHPG were so excited about my first C-SPAN appearance that one member decided to create a short clip of just me.  Apparently, my emphasis on the importance of acknowledging northern racism is news. I couldn’t ask for more loyal support and I thank them for it.

I do hope C-SPAN plans on televising the CWI panel on blogging, which also included Harris and Brooks Simpson.  Finally, I do want to pass along news of Louis Masur’s new book, which explores the hundred days between Lincoln’s preliminary and final emancipation proclamation.  I am about half-way through and enjoying it.

September 22, 1862 – 2012

That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;  and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will  recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. – Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

[Image: President Obama views Emancipation Proclamation in Oval Office]