American History Night With Ken Burns


Thursday night, March 26, 2020.

Here is PBS press release:

PBS will make the Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History available to its stations beginning March 26. PBS is calling it “American History Night with Ken Burns.” The event happens on Thursdays. The documentarian’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and The War will follow The Roosevelts in the series.

PBS is looking to provide viewers more intriguing entertainment amid the coronavirus crisis. Earlier this month, it made the Burns documentary Baseballavailable for streaming on demand.

The American History Night programs will also be available for streaming on all station-branded PBS platforms.

“PBS and our member stations are committed to using our broad reach and local presence to help Americans find light and hope during these uncertain times,” said Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS. “Through his epic films, Ken Burns has shown us time and again how our country can accomplish great things in the face of tremendous adversity, and we look forward to sharing these extraordinary stories with our audiences in the coming months.”

Read the rest here.

Happy 50th Sesame Street!


Today I was at my local public television/public radio station doing some media with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and took advantage of a photo-op with Big Bird.

I know I am a few days late here, but I needed to do a post in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street.  The show premiered on November 10, 1969.  I don’t know if I watched that first episode, but I am pretty sure I started watching the show at some point during the first season on Channel 13 (WNET)

I grew up with Gordon, Susan, Mr. Hooper, Bob, Maria, Luis and, of course, Jim Henson’s Muppets.  I then watched thirty years later as my kids got to know some of these same characters in addition to new residents of the neighborhood including Alan, Gabriela, and Gina.  Here is a song from 1998 that brings back memories because I remember watching it (and later singing it) with my daughter Ally:

Does Ken Burns’s *The Civil War* Have a "Lost Cause Narrative?"

Shelby Foote

I have seen Ken Burns’s The Civil War  multiple times.  I often showed clips of it when I taught a course on Civil War and Reconstruction.  I was glad to see that PBS will broadcast the documentary on September 7 to honor the 25th anniversary of its release.

Much of The Civil War holds up well twenty-five years later, but, as Kevin Levin argues at Civil War Memory,  “a clear Lost Cause narrative is discernible.”  Here is a taste of his very interesting and insightful post:

To be fair, the series does place slavery at the center of the narrative at different points, especially in early episodes leading to the war. Talking heads such as Barbara Fields devote substantial time explaining the unraveling of slavery midway through the war as well as Lincoln’s own rocky road toward emancipation. Even with all the attention that slavery and emancipation receive throughout the series a clear Lost Cause narrative is discernible. It is given voice by none other than Shelby Foote, who dominates the series as the most vocal talking head.
In fact, Foote spoke 7,653 words compared to the second highest speaker, who spoke 1,112 words. Foote’s choice of words is worth exploring. As a total percentage of words spoken by talking heads, Foote’s commentary reached 73.5. It is important to remember that this does not include what was edited out of the final script. Remarkably, in all of the words spoken by Foote he referenced slavery in one form or another only three times. Never once did Foote reference slavery as having anything to do with secession/the cause of the war or as a motivating factor for Confederate soldiers at any point during the war.
Read the whole post here.  What do you think.  Does The Civil War have a “split personality?”

Reviewing "The Abolitionists"

A couple of days ago I did a post at The Anxious Bench on the new PBS three-part series on abolitionism.  It focuses on the lives of five prominent nineteenth-century opponents of slavery: Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grimke, John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriett Beecher Stowe.

Over at The Junto, Jonathan Wilson and Ken Owen (with whom I had an invigorating conversation this weekend in New Orleans about the American Revolution in Pennsylvania) review the series

They are not very impressed.

Here is a taste of Wilson’s analysis:

So Part I of The Abolitionists leaves a lot to be desired. But I’m still thinking of using it in my course. Mostly, a good teacher should be able to fill in the gaps. Taken as the story of certain abolitionists rather than “the” abolitionists, this part of the film leads in some promising directions. It just doesn’t go there itself. I found the dramatizations effective; I think they will make it much easier for students to visualize life in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. (Tim Cragg’s cinematography is downright pretty.) And I consider that to be one of the most important — and difficult — things to get right in a history classroom.

And here is a taste of Owen’s analysis:

While the abolitionists are brought strikingly to life, 19th century society seems strangely flat. In contrast to Jonathan, I was disappointed by the portrayal of religion. The beliefs of all the key participants were mentioned, but (brief cameos from Stauffer and Gilpin aside) seemed to be skated over quickly, rather than explained in greater detail (positioning this within a wider movement of religious revival would have been helpful). The ideology of paternalism, in all its hypocrisies, was never adequately explained. Perhaps this highlights the biggest difficulty in portraying slavery to a modern audience. The complicated story to us today isn’t why Garrison, Grimke, Brown and Douglass despised slavery and campaigned so vigorously against it – it is why so many other people remained complicit with the slave system. Hopefully the next installments will go some way to creating a more vivid and dynamic world in which the institution of slavery became more strongly challenged.

In addition to these thoughtful reviews, this post also includes links to seven other reviews of the documentary. Check them out.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The Evangelical Impulse Behind the Abolition of Slavery"

Did you get a chance to watch The Abolitionists last night on PBS?  If you missed it, you can watch the first episode  here.  The series focuses on five nineteenth-century abolitionists–Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, and Angelina Grimke–and their fight to end slavery in America.  As I watched the show last night I was reminded of the powerful role that evangelicalism played in the abolitionist cause.   Whatever one thinks about the role of evangelicals in public life, it is clear that they have been engaged in moral causes for a long time.

Read the rest here.