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  • The Civil War by Ken Burns

    One of the things that inspired me to get into history is when I watched Burns' documentary. I eventually want to make my own historical documentaries but I am wondering, is Burns' revision of what happened during the Civil War still significant? In one of my graduate seminars, the new trend supposedly for the topic is through the perspective Drew Gilpin Faust gives in her book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. She concentrates on how, “Death created the modern American union not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments... The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.” Do you agree or is Burns' idealized version still important to consider?
    Last edited by HistoryGirl; 03 Dec 09, 12:49.
    De nihilo nihil. - Persius

    Nemo solus satis sapit. - Plautus

  • #2
    Its a great doc, and I don't recall it was overly idealized (pro-Union maybe). I've read he's preparing one on Vietnam, can't wait to see that.

    Comment


    • #3
      Burns made it for his target audience.

      HG,

      Want I think Burns wanted to do was to show to an American audience addicted to receiving its values from television, what the magnitude and significance of the Civil War was, and how it still impacts the life of the average citizen, even today. Remember that it was designed to be watched by the general audience and not made for the historical expert. Hence the use of contemporary actors to recite the words of the war's participants, the use of drama, comedy, irony etc., and the documentary's concentration on the people involved in the events rather than the actual event itself.

      I remember being awed by the whole thing from the first second I switched over to PBS to watch it. To me it's still the benchmark documentary on the ACW and one I don't think will be matched by anyone else any time soon.

      I would bet that more Americans knowledge of the ACW comes from Burn's documentary than from Gilpin's, or anyone else' for that matter (other than Catton's) book. That is why Burn's made it in the style he did. And he did it admirably.

      Cheers,
      Dan.
      So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

      Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks for the responses so far. I guess I wasn't able to present my concerns that I should have in the first place. I used the wrong word idealized. To me, the accessible information is what I really liked about Burns' approach and how people felt attracted to know more because of it. But why is it frowned upon as too simplistic? My professor felt that Faust's new approach was so great and admirable. Why is approachable not okay with academics? I've been fighting my department with this approach since I began my program. Shouldn't historians try to influence more people to care about their past like Burns did?

        Okay I'll stop for now before I make the rant even longer!
        De nihilo nihil. - Persius

        Nemo solus satis sapit. - Plautus

        Comment


        • #5
          I would probably go with Burns, despite his slant. Re-writing history for politicalization does not readily appeal to me, regardless of the nobility of the author's goals.

          Unfortunately, we are only a generation or so away from losing all knowledge of great conflicts and what they teach us, given the poor excuse for history taught in schools today.

          Most of today's youth believe that the Earth was created at the same time as Desert Storm.
          Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

          Comment


          • #6
            Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Burns' project to tell the story of the ACW from the standpoint of the actual letters from participants?

            How could that be viewed as a simplistic or skewed view of the war?

            As to HistoryGirl's original post, it is good to see a young student already skeptical of the POV of her profs. A "Death" perspective of the conflict, in my opinion, would be the simplistic view. The conflict and it's results were much greater than just a casualty number. And the Nation was Reborn from the healing that came after.

            Good topic.
            History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. Napoleon Bonaparte
            _________
            BoRG
            __________
            "I am Arthur, King of the Britons!"

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
              I would probably go with Burns, despite his slant. Re-writing history for politicalization does not readily appeal to me, regardless of the nobility of the author's goals.

              Unfortunately, we are only a generation or so away from losing all knowledge of great conflicts and what they teach us, given the poor excuse for history taught in schools today.

              Most of today's youth believe that the Earth was created at the same time as Desert Storm.
              Ugh I know bout today's youth! My brother is a freshman in college and their lack of appreciation in anything based on pure knowledge is pure tragedy! And the problem is, today's current teachers in public school do not provide more discipline necessary to make students appreciate actual learning!
              De nihilo nihil. - Persius

              Nemo solus satis sapit. - Plautus

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Torien View Post
                Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Burns' project to tell the story of the ACW from the standpoint of the actual letters from participants?

                How could that be viewed as a simplistic or skewed view of the war?

                As to HistoryGirl's original post, it is good to see a young student already skeptical of the POV of her profs. A "Death" perspective of the conflict, in my opinion, would be the simplistic view. The conflict and it's results were much greater than just a casualty number. And the Nation was Reborn from the healing that came after.

                Good topic.
                You're right about the letters. But you know thinking about it now, the word idealized comes from the professor of that grad seminar. Of course this comes from the professor who wouldn't allow my classmates and I to call ourselves historians when we were amongst English graduate students because we need to be able to collaborate with interdisciplinary studies all the time, since that is the "trend". That's why people like Faust is commended by people like my prof because she's an English professor trying to rewrite how the Civil War is seen. I don't have anything against about interdisciplinary studies or what not, but is it so wrong to just put out the facts and narrate what happened based on evidence so people can understand it better than all the theoretical ideologies mixed in with the specific story being told?
                De nihilo nihil. - Persius

                Nemo solus satis sapit. - Plautus

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Torien View Post
                  Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Burns' project to tell the story of the ACW from the standpoint of the actual letters from participants?

                  How could that be viewed as a simplistic or skewed view of the war?

                  As to HistoryGirl's original post, it is good to see a young student already skeptical of the POV of her profs. A "Death" perspective of the conflict, in my opinion, would be the simplistic view. The conflict and it's results were much greater than just a casualty number. And the Nation was Reborn from the healing that came after.

                  Good topic.
                  Actually, it wasn't "reborn" at all, nor "healed" either.

                  The Reconstruction was one of the most shameful and corrupt scandals in the history of American government, on a par with the treatment of the Indians, and the societal impacts are still with us today in the form of laws favoring minorities and the issues of racism and states' rights.
                  Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by HistoryGirl View Post
                    One of the things that inspired me to get into history is when I watched Burns' documentary. I eventually want to make my own historical documentaries but I am wondering, is Burns' revision of what happened during the Civil War still significant? In one of my graduate seminars, the new trend supposedly for the topic is through the perspective Drew Gilpin Faust gives in her book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. She concentrates on how, “Death created the modern American union not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments... The work of death was Civil War America’s most fundamental and most demanding undertaking.” Do you agree or is Burns' idealized version still important to consider?
                    This is a very interesting question on several levels. First, I would question the use of the term "revision" for Ken Burn's documentary. I would say it is more likely termed his "version" of it. In no way, shape, or form is Ken Burns "revising" history of the Civil War. Faust's book is yet another perspective on how to view it. The Civil War can be viewed through many lenses-economically, religiously, militarily, socially, & politically to name a few. Some folks even view it sexually or from a culinary perspective. Then, of course, there are the views from a Northern or Southern perspective, from a racial perspective, from a gender perspective, or lots of other ways.

                    Ken Burn's series was a much needed breath of fresh air. Many people had lost interest in the 20-25 years since the 100 year anniversary (I see the same exact thing happening to World War II in another 50 years). With Ken Burn's series, you had a well done SIMPLISTIC version of the Civil War that all could understand. For folks who had heard little to nothing about the Civil War, it was a Godsend. It helped educate those who were ignorant about the Civil War & hopefully lead them down a path of more research & understanding.

                    For me, & thousands of other hard core Civil War scholars, the series was good, but far too basic. There are parts of the Civil War that they would spend 30 mins on that I was bored with in 5. Then there were parts that they touched on briefly that should have been given far more time. For a beginner, it was a great springboard. For the experienced & knowledgable, it just wasn't what we were looking for. Watching the series with friends, I had to correct & give far more detail regarding the circumstances surrounding certain events than what the series told about. There are far better series out there for the purely military aspects of it. But for tying all of the elements together, it is hard to beat. Just take it for what it is, understand its shortcomings, & then push further along in your studies on the war.
                    The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                      Actually, it wasn't "reborn" at all, nor "healed" either.

                      The Reconstruction was one of the most shameful and corrupt scandals in the history of American government, on a par with the treatment of the Indians, and the societal impacts are still with us today in the form of laws favoring minorities and the issues of racism and states' rights.
                      In your opinion, no. Most historians would argue that it was the necessary beginning & the instrument of change. Had the North lost & the South stayed a seperate nation, it is doubtful that many blacks would be in the position they are now. The nation did not end slavery AND racism all at once. 200 years of racism in America took some time to work itself out. Different nations worked out race relations differently, the United States was no exception. Reconstruction is hardly worse than the 4 years of Civil War from many perspectives. Much of that had to do with the fact that Lincoln was assasinated by John Wilkes Booth. Had he lived, I think Reconstruction would have been far better. Booth's bullet hurt the nation & the South specifically far worse than anything else. That & the "Lost Cause" mentality that was allowed to rise up from the ashes. The war-weary North simply let it happen & that makes them guilty as well for the poor race relations that happened. And yet, it did work itself out.....while by no means perfect, race relations are way ahead of what they were 50 years ago. Groups like the KKK have had to change tactics & go "legit", maintaining their "hoods" to distract us from the real threat of those who try to infiltrate mainstream America to pour out their version of hate.
                      The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think the series was outstanding. He tried to show balance thru the writers "he" interviewed, and their slants on the war.

                        You picked a very good Doc. to use as your "guide". Hope to hear of great things from you...
                        In Vino Veritas

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Dan M View Post
                          HG,

                          Want I think Burns wanted to do was to show to an American audience addicted to receiving its values from television, what the magnitude and significance of the Civil War was, and how it still impacts the life of the average citizen, even today. Remember that it was designed to be watched by the general audience and not made for the historical expert. Hence the use of contemporary actors to recite the words of the war's participants, the use of drama, comedy, irony etc., and the documentary's concentration on the people involved in the events rather than the actual event itself.

                          I remember being awed by the whole thing from the first second I switched over to PBS to watch it. To me it's still the benchmark documentary on the ACW and one I don't think will be matched by anyone else any time soon.

                          I would bet that more Americans knowledge of the ACW comes from Burn's documentary than from Gilpin's, or anyone else' for that matter (other than Catton's) book. That is why Burn's made it in the style he did. And he did it admirably.

                          Cheers,
                          Dan.
                          Right on the money Dan.
                          The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Ken Burns created a new form of documentary, dare I saw a new artform, when he made The Civil War. The combination of still photos, current footage, readings of period letters, new and period music, and commentary by noted historians were all combined to please everyone from those ignorant of history to historians. Despite the excellent work Burns has since done, this is still his best work, and the benchmark for all other documentaries.
                            Lance W.

                            Peace through superior firepower.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Lance Williams View Post
                              Ken Burns created a new form of documentary, dare I saw a new artform, when he made The Civil War. The combination of still photos, current footage, readings of period letters, new and period music, and commentary by noted historians were all combined to please everyone from those ignorant of history to historians. Despite the excellent work Burns has since done, this is still his best work, and the benchmark for all other documentaries.
                              Well stated. But Baseball was just as good, IMO.
                              History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. Napoleon Bonaparte
                              _________
                              BoRG
                              __________
                              "I am Arthur, King of the Britons!"

                              Comment

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