Guest Post: HBO’s Westworld and the Realities of Living History

Cam Shriver is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, working in the Myaamia Center at Miami University. He has a PhD from Ohio State University, and his research focuses on surveillance among Native and European communities in early North America.

westworldWhen I began watching episode one of HBO’s new show Westworld, I was prepared for something in the Western genre. I had seen a trailer that included horses, Indians, and a stereotypical Old West landscape. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is Westworld in the mold of previously-successful HBO projects, it also forced me to think about the prospects of living history. “Living history” simulates and interprets the past. Attractions assert history-as-entertainment. In that vein, successful museums must constantly keep exhibits fresh, introduce new initiatives, storylines, and characters, and generally give visitors a reason to return. The same problem faces the Westworld theme park, as technicians and writers strive to provide an ever-more entertaining and realistic experience. The show raises a perplexing question: how “real” should we get? Continue reading

The American Revolution: The TV Series

TV-test-patternA couple of weeks ago, the American History Guys at Backstory took on the issue of representations of history in film. Of most direct interest to those of us here at the Junto was the interview of Mark Peterson by Peter Onuf, asking why there were so few movies about the American Revolution, and why they were so terrible. The answer Peterson proffered was about patricide. The difficulty of evoking sympathy for the killing of a father figure that wasn’t manifestly evil led the British to be portrayed as caricatured villains – and even Hollywood audiences weren’t buying a tale so badly spun. Continue reading