In analyzing the movie, Murder at Harvard, I’m not sure the average viewer (even the average PBS viewer) is interested in the innerworkings of how Schama arrived at his conclusions. Yet the movie presents this complicated story in a dramatic format that is helpful to the viewer. History is filled with unpredictable people and events that are very hard to analyze. To that end, I don’t think this film should be faulted by introducing dramatic components that evoke emotion since history is filled with people making irrational emotional decisions. Yet, Schama has so much angst about his subject! If I were to change anything, I would make it smoother and less about Schama. I believe that storytellers need to stay out of the story unless their presence is relevant.
Compared to the book, Dead Certainties, Murder at Harvard had broken out elements of the story for the viewer to analyze. This is in contrast to the book, which is told as a murder-mystery type book, and the reader is taken along for the ride. For example, Schama does not shy away from commentaries such as: “the wonderful strangeness” of the Doctor. Additionally, Schama brings out the personalities of the trial by adding his own narrative commentaries. In contrast, the movie breaks out Schama’s thoughts and posits alternative theories based on the evidence. While this method is awkward, the viewer gets a better idea of what is fact and what is opinion. It’s a device that probably works better with multimedia.
When history is told in nontraditional formats, it can provide more tools for the viewer. It may be a further step in unraveling the scientific method as applied to history, or it may build it up. It may break it down by adding dramatic elements such as sound and acting, obscuring “objective” history. However, the website is helpful for analysis– providing a window to analyzing documents which, if became more popular, could really educate the public to the skill of analyzing primary sources. For example, in the special features of the PBS website, the poll on the level guilt American courts should apply is something that engages the viewer and helps them to think about the trial in a new way. They can also apply this knowledge to modern analysis of trials, which strengthens their citizenship. Furthermore, the multimedia cuts against scientific analysis in the commentary and explanation of why the producers made choices they did. This is very helpful because we can account for these elements before buying into them, as the book is more likely to have the reader do.