Megan Kate Nelson once again proves her hipness, by arguing on her Historista site that historians should watch more television. The advantage is that we stay attuned to “what the larger American public understands as history,” and that television “can provide useful lessons-or even templates for-historical storytelling.” I agree on both counts, especially the former, but I would add a third—it helps us to make comparisons that younger generations can relate to. When I first started teaching back in the 90s, I would often successfully make specific points by referring to certain TV shows, M*A*SH* for instance, or Family Ties, or even Saved by the Bell. But as time goes on, increasingly my students have never seen those shows. (Can you imagine!?) So I’ve updated my pop cultural references to good effect. Just last week I made a point in class by referring to the new Fuller House show. I’ve shown clips from Drunk History to my college students, with very good laughs and results! And if you really want to connect to this generation, make a Harry Potter reference, or Beyonce, and you’ll see the lightbulbs go on. In addition, it also makes them see their teacher as someone they can relate to, which becomes more and more difficult as we age. A good way to combat that is to drop in a current pop cultural reference or two. Still, what I have discovered lately is that the amount of students that actually watch TV and movies is decreasing in the age of social media. I guess I better start spending time reading the gossip on Yik Yak (ugh).
Along similar lines: it seems that many teachers are having a lot of success using the soundtrack to Broadway’s Hamilton in the classroom in some very interesting ways. Ahhh, I can feel Jefferson’s disdain!
Kevin Levin’s valiant war against the Black Confederate Myth continues, this time in a video interview with the Civil War Monitor. (Such a great series they do). In it, he provides a little info on when and why the myth began to emerge, interestingly tying it to neo-Confederate reactions to the original Roots miniseries and the 1989 film Glory. Just more evidence for why pop culture matters. So, progress can cause a backlash that sends us backwards? That is a perfect tie-in to the next story:
Just when you thought I’d let a posting go by without taking a shot at Trump: we’ve seen other essays that connect Trump to the racial politics of Reconstruction, but Quartz just posted another one to consider that features and interview with historian Brian Kelly. American history has shown that we often go backwards in regards to racial progress, as the failures of Reconstruction and the increase in segregation during the Progressive era attests. It is hard to imagine that a Trump presidency could send us THAT far backwards (as Kelly points out), but history certainly does teach that gains can be quickly reversed when certain people seek to “take back our country.”