Ken Burns and the coming crisis of academic history (Popular history, film)

Ken Burns is the most famous historian in the USA. His films are immensely popular: The Civil War may have been seen by as many as a hundred million people. That would make it the most popular history ever written ro produced. His eighteen-hour history of baseball would be second and Jazz--the final instalment in his trilogy of American history--would be third. At a time when Americans are said to be uninterested in history, Ken Burns has become a household name. His particular way of seeing the past has become part of the texture of American cultural life. But he has not fared well in academia. When historians review his films, they routinely condemn them as ponderous, nostalgic, hagiographic, simplistic and so on. And they don't treat popular history much better: it is almost always dismissed as a form of mass entertainment, full of amusing anecdotes and colourful tales but lacking any real analysis or historical understanding--in other words, a lightweight substitute for the real thing. But Burns and other popular historians are doing something important. They are making new truth claims about the past. 'Ken Burns and the coming crisis of academic history' begins with a reinterpretation of Burns' major work, describes the concomitant rise of what might be called 'The new popular history', and explains why that new history will necessarily and inevitably change the way we academic historians go about our work.