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Ken Burns's the Civil War: Historians Respond

by Toplin, Robert Brent

  • ISBN: 9780195093308
  • ISBN10: 0195093305

Ken Burns's the Civil War: Historians Respond

by Toplin, Robert Brent

  • List Price: $27.50
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publish date: 12/01/2001
  • ISBN: 9780195093308
  • ISBN10: 0195093305
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Description: Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War made television history, breaking all viewing records for a PBS series. Indeed, forty million people saw it, more than the populations of the Union and the Confederacy combined. For a generation of Americans, this documentary is the Civil War. Yet many professional historians criticized it sharply for ignoring the roles of minorities, pointing to a lack of women and of blacks throughout, a disregard for the aftermath of the war (particularly its legacy to race relations), a conventional emphasis on military history rather than social history, and uneven coverage of the military campaigns that gave short shift to the bloody Western front. Ken Burns's The Civil War brings together detractors, supporters, and Ken Burns himself in a volume that will inspire readers to look again at this stunning documentary, at the way television shows history, and at the Civil War itself. C. Vann Woodward and Robert Brent Toplin describe the painstaking efforts to maintain accuracy and develop a sophisticated interpretation of history. But other contributors are sharply critical. In "Noble Women as Well", Catherine Clinton describes the experiences of women during the war, disguised as soldiers, working as nurses in makeshift hospitals, or besieged in caves by enemy armies, saying that Burns ignores their stories completely. Eric Foner and Leon Litwack are even more scathing, saying that the series distorts the legacy of the war by focusing on the preservation of the Union, ignoring the importance the institution of slavery had to those who fought the war, and neglecting the experiences of blacks both during and after the war: out of 28 people whose post-war careersare mentioned, only two blacks, both men, are included. The filmmakers themselves respond in the last section. Geoffrey C. Ward, the series' writer, pleads for greater cooperation between filmmakers and historians. Ken Burns's essay is a defense of his art that is as well-crafted as the series itself. He discusses the unique limitations of television, pointing out, for instance, that television documentaries, unlike written history, require specific, identifiable visual images, limiting the coverage of subjects with little pictorial documentation. And he praises the power of television to move, inform, and educate, pointing to its unique responsibility in an age where Americans receive more and more of their information through television and film.
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