Murder mystery… gone wrong?

The file Murder at Harvard tells a story about a historian that attempts to explain the past using creativity and imagination, as well as evidence. The film makes history look more fun as an engaging murder mystery than a traditional documentary with only facts and mild speculation by experts about the past. It seemed more cohesive and entertaining than reading the book because  the actors could reenact multiple scenes of the same potential event without losing the audience over timeline issues. Going back to the question of whether people dream in “movie time” or movies have encouraged people to think this way… I think seeing something occur makes the possible events more real than simply imagining the different scenarios. Therefore, the film reaches a larger audience to become excited about exploring history in a way they might readily understand without prior experience or training.

History presented in less traditional formats seems to be threatening to the traditionalists if it includes a non-academic sense of entertainment. For most traditionalists, “popular” and “academic” a.k.a. “real history” appear to be diametrically opposed in the history field. While this seems unfortunate, the bookstores hold many books written by non-historians (often journalists) and famous historians examined with more criticism for their popularity (like David McCullough). Ironically, Bancroft Prize winning books exhibit similar qualities to these popular books such as readability  to a general audience or some kind of relevance to the present that might make the topic interesting. Perhaps the lesson drawn from these thoughts is making the “mystery” accessible to more than just fellow historians and engaging of the largest possible audience no matter what the topic might be. Murder and medical mystery shows abound on television… history becomes another mystery that deals in the realm of real past events and evidence that the historian plays a starring role in.

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