Culture

Can We Right the Past? Memory and the Present

By Caroline E. Janney

Last night, the National Geographic Channel aired the first episode of Katie Couric’s new six-part documentary series, America Inside Out. In Re-Righting History, Couric investigated the contentious and at times violent battles that have erupted in the past three years over the removal of Confederate symbols and names from the public landscape. Beginning with extensive coverage of Charlottesville where Couric was on site for the far-right rally ostensibly to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee, the episode offers an opportunity to reflect on how contemporary Americans continue to both romanticize and struggle to come to terms with the more complex and less triumphant aspects of the nation’s history.

A Vaccine for National Healing? Historians on The Vietnam War

Released in September 2017, The Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour documentary series, has been widely acclaimed by film critics. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, Burns addressed the timing of the film, explaining, “You need the passage of time, the triangulation of scholarly information.” And yet, while historians—makers of such scholarly information—were consulted in the making of the series, their voices—and their interpretive disputes—are notably missing on screen. 

Race, Print, and Digital Humanities: Pedagogical Approaches

By Amy E. Earhart and Maura Ives

As literary scholars who work with both print and digital materials, and are interested in the production, construction, and materiality of texts, we believe that a book history approach reveals crucial information about the impact of race on what print materials are digitized. As Earhart has documented in “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” there are clear inequities in our digitization of materials that break along the lines of race and gender.

Chronicling “America’s African Instrument”: Laurent Dubois on the Cultural History of the Banjo

In The Banjo: America’s African Instrument (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016), Laurent Dubois weaves a narrative of how this instrument was created by enslaved Africans in the midst of bondage in the Caribbean and Americas. He documents its journey from 17th- and 18th-century plantations to 19th-century minstrel shows to the bluegrass of Appalachia to the folk revival of the mid-20th century. In the process, Dubois documents how the banjo came to symbolize community, slavery, resistance, and ultimately America itself. A historian of the Caribbean and a banjo player himself, Dubois relied on the work of academic historians as well as insights from musicians, collectors, and banjo makers to tell this story.

History in Harmony: How I Apply My Historical Training to Music Criticism

By David Allen

Whether critics are interested in painting, sculpture, jazz, fiction, or any other art, they are, or at least can be, engaged in historical work. They root descriptions of, and judgments about, contemporary art in an understanding of the past. They might be more prone than professional historians to treating the past on the terms of the present, granted, but they do work that engages history all the same. 

Far from the Harlem Crowd: Rediscovering the Work and Life of Augusta Savage in Saugerties, New York

By Eric Fitzsimmons and Sarah E. Elia

In 1945, Augusta Savage, a sculptor and a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, traded the hustle of Harlem for a secluded house, 100 miles north, tucked at the end of a dirt drive in Saugerties, New York. For a long time, her story was said to end there in a retreat from society and the Harlem art world—a narrative that ignored her ongoing work and active social life in her adopted town.