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 15 (Part 1): Football Analysts and Generals

Gettysburg Movie Poster

Gettysburg. Written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. Based on the novel, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.

Release date: October 8, 1993.

As I mentioned in my last post, Gettysburg is kind of a big deal in the Civil War community. I first saw it long before I imagined becoming a professional historian, so my views on the film have evolved as I’ve learned more about the war. However, the aspect that stood out during my most recent viewing was one that hadn’t struck me before: for a movie that includes so much depiction of and talk about death, it’s remarkably bloodless. Combat scenes that seemed impressively realistic twenty years ago now play more like sterile pageants. Maybe I was naive back then, but this is not the same war I read and write about now. So I began to wonder, is Gettysburg one of the prime culprits in propagating the “football analyst school” of Civil War history?

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Entry 14: Filling in the Civil War’s Dark Outlines

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War. By Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman.

Release Date: May 5, 2015.

“The Civil War was unspeakably bloody.” So begins Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman’s harsh but fascinating new comic book about the Civil War.* The sentence serves as a disclaimer to the reader: The Civil War was awful and you cannot refine it. This isn’t the kind of simplified family-friendly Civil War comic you might find in a Gettysburg gift shop. What Fetter-Vorm and Kelman have done is show how combining text and imagery is a highly effective way to depict the war as a massive American tragedy, not the great American epic. Read More

Entry 4: Digital War is Hell

Ultimate General: Gettysburg. Designed by Nick “Darth Mod” Thomadis and Ilias Georgopoulos.

Release Date: October 16, 2014

I’m only a little embarrassed to admit I’ve been playing historical video games for almost three decades. Games like Civilization, Defender of the Crown, and Panzer General actually inspired some of my initial interest in history. It’s difficult to pinpoint what I still like about them, but it’s nice to occasionally engage with history in an uncomplicated and less intellectual way. I came into history as a buff and I like briefly revisiting that mindset. The problem is there’s really no going back. My mind starts considering the historical implications of what I’m doing whether I want it to or not. This can just make a game seem like a dumb waste of time but sometimes it can even make me feel a little guilty, especially if its a Civil War game. Read More

Greetings Fellow Civil War and Pop Culture Geeks!

Available as a t-shirt from LUCON!C

Welcome to my first blog, Civil War Pop. Here, I’ll examine a different piece of popular culture from or about the Civil War every week or so. I am a professional historian and an amateur critic, so my posts will primarily focus on how a film, song, game, story, etc. holds up against current historical consensus (or non-consensus) and how it reflects America’s popular memory of the Civil War Era (roughly, 1850-1876). Read More