Historian Simon Schama writes a book called “Dead Certainties” about a ninteenth-century murder.  We know this book was controversial because Schama interpolates historical fact with fiction.  By using his imagination to embellish the facts of the case, we get a more colorful picture of the actual events.  But it leaves one with the desire to investigate the real from the surreal.  We get a meditation of sorts on the nature of history which makes this film interesting.  Schama must glean some kind of relief from the doldrums of  presenting historical fact in this way.  The fact that he colorizes the plot with his own interpretations makes the documentary more entertaining and more like a movie.  Historians should be frustrated by this subtle remix of fact and fiction because, content and context are both confused.  Overall I think he did a nice job of blending the genre of historical documentation with that of fiction.  How do we know that historical fact is in fact–correct anyway?  We can only base any historical evidence on what another human has recorded.  Is anything ever really accurate?

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One Response
  1. rsibaja says:

    You highlight a good point:
    “Overall I think he did a nice job of blending the genre of historical documentation with that of fiction. How do we know that historical fact is in fact–correct anyway? We can only base any historical evidence on what another human has recorded. Is anything ever really accurate?”

    So, why the virulent criticism of Schama. If anything, his approach might be a commentary on the historical profession and its assumed factual presentation. Since so much of history is based on what other (fallible) humans produce, why couldn’t his suppositions and conclusions carry equal weight? Because of the presentation of his work?