Murder at Harvard

The film “Murder at Harvard” discussed the process of creating the book Dead Certainties about the murder of Dr. George Parkman and trail of his accused killer Dr. John W. Webster in Boston. The book talks about more than just this event. It is a well written narrative that is a compelling read.  It is not until the end that Schama even lightly delves into the process as he does in the film. He does make some interesting points about historians and history.  He writes “historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in  its completeness, however thorough or revealing their documentation .” (320)  I think this does a nice job of describing the historians dilemma, at lest the one he describes he faced in making the film.  Schama is clear, however, in stating that this is not scholarship. “Both stories offered here play with teasing gap separating a lived event and its subsequent narration. Although both follow the documented record with some closeness, they are works of the imagination, not scholarship” (320).

When thinking about how these two works compare to one another there really is no comparison.  These are two distinct experiences.  When we discussed this in class it was petty clear that there was a self-serving element to the documentary.  The film is more about his process and how he arrived at guessing how this event occurred. I’m less annoyed by the book than I am the film.  The book certainly does not give the reader a clear idea that he’s teasing out narrative and making things up.  The film is somewhat more bothersome to me, because in away I feel manipulated.

I was accused of being somewhat narrow minded in my assessment of how “history” should be done. I want to clarify that I think is it an interesting approach to present history and it opens it up to more interesting questions.  Interesting is good and will bring in the crowds but is it history? Is there a right or wrong side to this film and book.  Do I have to pick a side? The presentation of the film certainly sheds light on the process, but more to the self-serving historian- that is what I find most disturbing.  I can find an argument of making history sexier as Schama has attempted to do here, but I’m not sure where I fall in regards to whether it is good or bad/right or wrong.

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