Blog Highlights: “Murder at Harvard”

“In the documentary, all we get for the alternative (Webster was not the murderer) is a brief statement by an armchair historian. It is not very convincing. So, Schama’s view of the story prevails, both in the book and the movie.” [douglass]

“I think that if we, as historians, force the public to see and read historical fiction that is completely historically accurate, or refuse to consult with film directors and authors that do not plan to have a completely historically accurate final product, then there is no future to history as a profession. I don’t know anyone who picked up The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the age of 10 (or 40 for that matter) and fell in love with history. However, I know a lot of people who went to Williamsburg and came away wanting to learn about Colonial America, or who saw Casablanca or Schindler’s List and wanted to learn more about World War II.” [blaher]

“So, should we consider Schama’s work history or fiction? I think that was his point. The more I read about Dead Certainties and reactions from diverse people, the more I am inclined to believe that Schama intended to shake things up and make people question our discipline. We should be critically asking “What is history?” We should be questioning the methods, traditions, and ingrained perceptions academic historians before us have long accepted as the norm.” [sibaja]

“the unknowable truth is not synonymous with the nonexistent truth.” [bergman]

“Storytellers need to stay out of the story unless their presence is relevant.” [warburton]

“How does a filmmaker convert the written word into film when faced with the issue of footage shortage?” [cook]

“I think that perhaps the criticism of the film is the very thing that makes it interesting. Historians debate the ambiguity of fact vs. fiction and this film/book is no different. It just happens to make the statement more in our face.” [giampa]

“One thought is that history is a series of stories that come together through the voices and perspectives of many people, both involved with and removed from the actual events. If viewed in this way, Schama speaks to the very essence of history, which like a murder mystery, is filled with holes, inconclusive evidence, and much left to the imagination.” [lapple]

“Therefore it must be better to not report on the unknown (stick to the facts) than to extrapolate what is known to fill in the gaps. That is to say, this is a better representation of the past:
than this:
Which of these two historical representations gives you a better understanding of how the past fit into the surrounding environment?” [king]

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