Disunion book released; If Birth of a Nation flops,will we go back to “white savior” slave films?; NBC’s Timeless and Lincoln; History is not on the side of a Trump comeback; Nat Turner rebellion sites

A great Christmas gift for the Civil War buff in your life!

First off, a bit of shameless self-promotion: Today Oxford University Press has released a new book that I had a (very) small role in. If you recall, the New York Times had a series called “Disunion” which featured essays on the 150th anniversaries of many of the events of the Civil War. It was a widely praised and successful series, and now a selection of those short essays have been collected into a book. I am happy that one of the pieces I wrote is in it, and especially thrilled that it is on an event that I am particularly proud to have been able to write about–the attack of the 54th Massachusetts on Fort Wagner. But forget about my humble effort– there are some big time historians/writers that have many fine short essays in the book. I think it makes for a great addition to any Civil War buff’s library, so please keep it in mind for Christmas gifts!

So after my very lengthy review of The Birth of a Nation the other day, you know where I stand on the film. Today, Alyssa Sepinwall, Professor of History at California State University – San Marcos, has an interesting piece on the History New Network that also defends the movie despite its inaccuracies and the controversy surrounding its creator, Nate Parker. She too feels that it is an excellent movie on its own merits, but fears that if the film continues to flop, it will likely be a long time before we get another honest movie about slavery that does not view the institution from a “white savior” perspective. I think she is right, and I hope you’ll keep this in mind when deciding whether to see it and/or to advice other people not to.

Did you catch this week’s episode of NBC’s Timeless? It took our heroes back to the Lincoln assassination, and they had to ponder whether or not they should stop it from happening. It was mildly entertaining, but I was most happy to see it feature African American soldiers celebrating the end of the war and excited about the prospects for the future of their race. It was another small but important swipe at the Lost Cause, making it clear that Confederate defeat was a good thing for the nation and African Americans in particular. Of course we know how Reconstruction turned out, as did the show’s main characters, thus creating their dilemma as to whether or not to stop the killing of Lincoln. (Which was all the more poignant for the black member of our time travelling trio).  Say what you will about the show’s cheesy factor, it is well done and is exposing a large audience to historical questions. Take this reviewer for example, who confesses “if Timeless serves no other purpose, it’s already ginned up more enthusiasm within me to read up on important moments in American history than any of my teachers in high school ever did.” That, my friends, is the power of pop culture.

If you do not follow Nate Silver over on FiveThirtyEight, you are missing the best source for knowing exactly where all the polls in all the states stand. It isn’t looking good for Trump right now, and Silver argues that there is now no historical precedent for a comeback this late in the game. Don’t jinx it!

By now, I am sure that most of you have seen the news about how Hurricane Matthew unearthed some pieces of Civil War artillery ordnance. But if you missed it, check it out. 

Back in the early 2oth century, the first human to arrive at the South Pole, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, lost his vessel when it sank off the coast of northern Canada. Now, Norwegian researchers have salvaged the ship and it is once again above the water after 80 years. It will soon sail home on a barge. It is a very sturdy looking ship!

OK, time for me to start posting lots of creepy stuff for Halloween. The other day I was looking up if there were any home sites that still remain that were involved in the Nat Turner rebellion. Sadly, there seems to now only be one (and it is not in the original location). Sadder still, just a few years ago there were a couple still standing, including the house where Turner made his only kill by his own hands, as well as the slave house that may have been the home of his wife, Cherry.  But they are now gone, which is a crying shame that major efforts were not made to try and salvage them long ago or especially more recently. Still,  I found this 2013 posting from Phillip Levy in which he describes what was still standing at that point, and it features a couple of photographs that will give you a shiver if you are well aware of the savage events that took place at those particular sites.

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