More praise for WGN’s Underground; Smithsonian to delve into craft brew history; Oliver Stone on Truman & Hillary; latest on Tut’s “secret chambers”

I’m back! If you follow me regularly, you know I tend to not have time to post much at the end of a semester because of final exam grading and etc, but I’m in the last stages of putting Spring 2016 behind me, so I’m back on the case.



You guys know that I have been championing WGN’s Underground since the series began and have posted often about why I think it is such an important show. Well here I go again. First, check out this really interesting interview from Paste with the show’s creators and actors as they explain why they were drawn to the project, what they hoped to accomplish, and why the show matters. They understand that slavery was filled with complexity and that the enslaved were survivors that resisted every single day. Indeed, “Underground isn’t just about characters [that ran away], it’s about all those seemingly small acts of rebellion before someone runs, and it’s about honoring the acts committed by those who chose to stay.” YES!  About 2.5 years ago I wrote a review of 12 Years a Slave in which I was critical of its depiction of the other enslaved people surrounding the main character as seemingly having “had all life beaten out of them, choosing to become docile and completely compliant in order to survive.” But, as the Paste article points out, “Perhaps the most important thing about [Underground] is that these moments of bowed heads are few and far between, and almost never without some act that depicts agency, intelligence and rebellion among the enslaved.”

Secondly, today over on Civil War Pop, Christian McWhirter offers up his take on the show,   labeling it “the best Civil War era show on TV.” He too appreciates the show’s slave agency, but also points out that one of its most impressive themes is how slavery had a negative impact on everything it touched, forcing moral compromises from those that both resisted and supported “the system that infects every aspect of American life.” This is an interesting observation, especially since this theme was a core component of nearly every speech, book, or pamphlet written by antebellum abolitionists.

Honestly, I am surprised that the show has thus far received so much less attention from historians than did PBS’s Mercy Street. I will admit that there have been scenes and situations that did not ring true for me, but overall this is a really fine show that manages to do all these brilliant interpretive things and yet at the same time is very entertaining television. There is only one episode left in this first season, but if you have missed the show, set your DVRs for the May 11th marathon of the whole season preceding the finale.

Now for something completely different:

I have several friends that are professional historians as well as craft brew specialists/enthusiasts/historians, so this news will likely intrigue them. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced today that they have started a project to “collect, document and preserve the history of brewing, craft brewers and the beer industry” so as “to explore how the beverage and brewing connect to larger themes in American history.” Should make for a very interesting display, and I am guessing that they will have sampling.

Oliver Stone is out there interpreting American history again. This time he showed up at a Chicago area high school, screened an episode of his 2012 Showtime documentary, and then blasted Harry Truman as “the worst president in US history,” gave his opinion on the Spanish American War, and expressed concerns about a Hillary Clinton presidency because of her penchant for “bombs over diplomacy.” The good news is that it appears no one asked him about the trajectory of the “magic bullet.” For a while there was talk about him doing a movie about George Washington, but that project seems to have gotten dropped. Looks like we dodged a bullet.

So what is the latest on the theory that King Tut’s tomb has some unopened chambers that may contain Queen Nefertiti? I’ve been watching this story for a while now, and it seems that resistance to the idea of these secret chambers is growing. Apparently, the radar scans remain inconclusive and at a recent conference in Cairo the archeologist working on the project got some blow back. Goodness, just let the man dig.


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