'Perpetually dividing and suturing the past and present': Mad Men and the illusions of history

This piece considers the relationship between popular culture and the history of nation with particular reference to American television of the past decade or so (see also Landsberg 2010. Waking the Deadwood of history: Listening, language, and the 'aural visceral'. Rethinking History 14: 531-49), and focuses its attentions (after some introductory questions) on Mad Men. The meditation herein arises from simple questions that might even be considered credulous about the nature of popular history in an international context. What does it mean to watch or read about the history of another nation? Is there some connection to a shared global past that means that all citizens of the world might somehow own particular historical periods, or feel a connection to them? How might one conceptualise 'history' within a framework of otherness and particularly geographical, cartographic or spatial otherness? The understanding of popular history that is central here is textual, cultural and formal rather than social and economic. The piece approaches popular history as in film, television, documentary, museum, computer games, advertising; in general the ways in which the past is communicated to the present largely outside the academy and the institutions of state. The television series Mad Men is used to begin to respond to some of the opening queries: in particular, how popular historical texts might act as moments of dissent from, or challenge to, nationalism.