Historians were MIA from the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentaryHistorians in the News
tags: Vietnam War, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s recent 18-hour PBS documentary on the Vietnam War was adored by critics (The New York Times, for example, said it would “break your heart and win your mind”). And judging by the numbers -- some 34 million viewers total -- audiences loved it, too.
But historians? Not so much, based on a lively weekend panel called “A Fateful Misunderstanding: A Discussion of the Film Documentary The Vietnam War” during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.
One big problem, panelists said, was Burns and Novick’s deliberate exclusion of professional historians from their 80 talking heads. By the panelists’ accounting, the documentary included two trained historians with military credentials but otherwise relied on witnesses -- mainly U.S. veterans and their families.
The panelists, all academic historians, credited Burns and Novick with including some North Vietnamese veterans but questioned any attempt to tell the full story of the Vietnam War without an explicit critical interpretation. Such a perspective, or perspectives, are crucial in the name of history, they said, and also in terms of how history can inform the political present -- namely one that also involves long-term military engagement with shifting objectives.
In various press interviews, Burns has drawn many parallels between the Vietnam era and the present. But the documentary itself avoids overt judgments about policy decisions that led to and prolonged the war, and instead takes what panelists described as an “elegiac” and “conciliatory” tone.
comments powered by Disqus
- New findings from Penn Slavery Project show how U. benefitted financially from enslaved labor
- Is it anti-Semitic for President Trump to call Chuck Todd ‘sleepy eyes’?
- Human Evolution: Walking Upright Evolved at Least 3.6 Million Years Ago—Long Before Modern Humans Appeared
- Why a primary challenge to Trump is likely to fail
- Smog and Disasters Spurred the Laws Trump Wants to Undo
- Feds charge controversial Kent State University professor Julio Pino with lying to FBI
- New Yorker publishes profile of H.R. McMaster just weeks after Trump fires him
- Dartmouth historian Matthew J. Garcia says conservative partisans in Arizona have taken over a civics school he once ran
- Berkeley’s Carolyn Merchant explains what ecofeminism is
- University of Southern California's David Kang says Korea is the only place on earth where the Cold War continues