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Finding John Brown’s Body

There is a place in North Elba, New York, where pine trees encircle a meadow. Looming over the pines are two ski jump towers used during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. From the parking lot can be seen a small enclosure, a weathered barn, a wooden farmhouse, and a pond. Standing before it all is a larger-than-life statue depicting an unbowed and unbroken John Brown with his arm over the shoulder of an African American child.... Read More
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Holding the Moral High Ground: Reflections on Just War Then and Now

I recently picked up a copy of D. H. Dilbeck’s 2016 book A More Civil War. Given my interests in the intersection of the morality and consequences of war, it seemed like something worth reading. As I went through it, I found myself not thinking of it just as a work of Civil War scholarship but also as reflection upon the enormous shifts in our understanding of moral warfare since the 19th century.... Read More

Sirens’ Song: The Appeal of Romanticism in History

During our launch week this past Wednesday, we had fun producing a list of some of our favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ history movies. These were movies that we each love, but as historians we cannot help but squirm at the liberties taken with the history or time periods that they portray. Many, if not most, of our criticisms came from certain stylized depictions of the past that, while appealing, range from not quite accurate to horribly misrepresentative. Indeed, these romanticized portraits of history prove so appealing that even as we criticized our chosen films we reaffirmed our affection for them. Never ones to let such cognitive dissonance go unchallenged, we decided to pry a bit further. Why can romanticism in history be so alluring, even to those trained to resist its charms?... Read More
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We Love Them Anyway: Guilty Pleasures in TV and Film

Movies and TV shows are often some of the most compelling ways to tell history, but they’re not without cost. Along with every attempt at bringing history to the big or small screen comes the critiques of historians, and we’ve certainly analysed our fair share. Whether it’s structural inaccuracy or imperfections in costuming and makeup, the challenge of adapting the mess of history to a neat narrative always results in some problems, minor or glaringly major. Despite these flaws, however, there are some stories you can’t help but enjoy. Here we’ve assembled a taste of our historical guilty pleasures: movies and TV shows we fully recognize have problematic relationships with the history they portray, but we love them all the same.... Read More
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Pillars of History: Perils of Escapism

With everything that has happened since last November, many Americans, including those of us with a serious interest in history, have at times felt tempted to bury our heads in a good book and to tune out the world around us. This is understandable, and hardly unique to historians. Many have reacted differently, of course, and now more than ever feel called to engage in their civic community. We all deal with things in our own ways. Even as some feel called to confront the challenges of the day, others may look to the apparent comfort of the past and immerse themselves in it. In moderation, this is no problem. However, if treating the past as our private getaway becomes our primary way of engaging with it, we leave ourselves exposed to the traps of mythology, irrelevance, and storybook simplicity.... Read More