Ken Burns Made Me A Civil War Historian

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first airing of Ken Burns’s The Civil War. My original plan was to mark the occasion with a review (or series of reviews) because I have lots of opinions on it (for instance, I both agree and disagree with Kevin Levin’s recent article). Unfortunately, I don’t have time to watch it again and it’s been too long since my last viewing for me to write a proper entry. I’ll get to that someday, but today I want to say a little about my personal relationship with the film. For me, The Civil War isn’t just any documentary–it directly inspired me to pursue American history as a career. Read More

Entry 12: E.T. Wins the Civil War


Ancient Aliens, “Aliens and the Civil War,” Season 7, Episode 9. Directed by Susan E. Leventhal. Written by Rhys Thomas and Max Thompson.

Release Date: April 10, 2015.

Remember when I praised the History [Channel] for including some current scholarship in its most recent Civil War documentary? Well, screw that, because the network aired this historical abomination between the two episodes of Blood and Glory, and I fear crap sandwiches like this are what the current History [Channel] is really about.

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Entry 11: Colorizing the Civil War

Blood and Glory. Directed by Kevin Burns. Written by Kevin Burns, Eric Murphy, Rhys Thomas, and Max Thompson.

Release Date: April 7 & 14, 2015.

I had mixed feelings about this documentary before I’d seen a minute of it. My expectations for a History [Channel] show are pretty low these days, but several names I respect were involved (among them, George Rable, Peter Carmichael, Allen Guelzo, James Oakes, Mark M. Smith). Those names, however, were counter-balanced by others who’s presence was less justifiable (Ben Stein, Richard Dreyfuss, Bill O’Reilly). And then there are those colorized photos that serve as its foundation. I wasn’t a fan from the moment they first appeared. Like their colorized classic film counterparts, the colors are too pastel and there’s something unnatural about them. Then again, any documentary that makes heavy use of Civil War photography can’t be all bad. Now that I’ve seen it, I remain divided. There were things about Blood and Glory I liked and things that really bothered me. I didn’t learn anything new, but it avoided getting too bogged down in the “Football Analyst School” or the more regrettable habits of the History [Channel], and thus emerged as a fairly solid (if somewhat ephemeral) Civil War documentary. Read More