We all have that first movie, that first book, that took us back in time to the 1860s. We’ve all had an earworm carry us back to yesteryear. I bet we all have a Ken Burns story. We all know Scarlett O’Hara and, frankly, we do give a damn. We all have our favorite on-screen Lincoln. We all know Shelby Foote, and some of us have even read him, and regardless of our feelings about him, we’re all secretly envious of his gravelly Mississippi drawl.
We hope our pop culture series has helped you relive some fond memories. Maybe it’s offered some suggestions for new things to read or watch or listen to. Maybe it’s given you something thought-provoking to consider.
My own interest is all of this has been academic—literally. The genesis of this blog series and our new Entertaining History book come from work I did in 2012 as part of my doctoral studies. One of my “field exams”—that is, one of the areas of concentrated study I chose as an area of expertise—focused on Civil War-related literature. That interest, in turn, was sparked by my experience working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, where visitors came in the front doors of the visitor centers proudly announcing that they’d seen Gettysburg or read The Killer Angels or so forth. Books and movies and other popular media brought people through the front door. Once there, I had the chance to help them learn more about the actual history—an opportunity I would not have had if they hadn’t come in the door in the first place.
In 2015, I parlayed all of that into a ten-part series on the blog, “Telling History vs. Making Art,” which talked about the central tension between accurate history and compelling art, and how they related. (As I write that sentence, I realize it probably sounds more boring than it really was—promise!) I tied in some great work by Gary Gallagher on the ways we remember the Civil War, and then used that lens to look at a wide-ranging bunch of movies and books.
I’ll be honest, there’s nothing like an academic to squeeze all the fun out of pop culture, so I tried very hard to make the series interesting and engaging, and not stuffy and scholarly. After all, we watch these movies and read these books and hum these tunes because we like to be entertained.
Entertaining History: The Civil War in Literature, Film, and Song sprung from that original blog series. It was undoubtedly the hardest single writing project I’ve ever worked on, but what a treat it was to work with so many talented people on subjects they were all so pumped up about. It was an engaging “conversation” for me, so I hope those of you who read the book find it so, as well.
Our “Civil War & Pop Culture” series was an attempt to expand the conversation from the book over to the blog. Even then, there didn’t seem to be enough time and room to write about all the cool things we could’ve included (an ironic thing to say about the infinite internet). We didn’t get to spend any time with Richard Adams’ Traveller or talk about the novels of Ralph Peters. We didn’t have time to explore the dark legacy of the original Birth of a Nation or visit The Free State of Jones. We didn’t get to listen to “The Battle of Bull Run” by balladeer Johnny Horton or compare his version of “Johnny Reb” to the similarly named “Johnny Reb” by the Rainmakers. We didn’t get to watch the video for “Some Nights” by Fun. We didn’t get to debate who the best on-screen Lincoln is.
You get the idea.
We’ll inevitably hit on these things and others in the months and years ahead. After all, this stuff is fun. We love it. YOU love it. And best of all, we get to love it together.
Thanks for taking your fun so seriously.