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

Putting the “Pop” into Popular History: Pop Culture Videos in the Classroom

Kanye West may not be ready to enter our historical surveys, but there are other pop culture references that deserve more attention.

President Kanye West may never become a reality, but I’d like to think he’d choose a Secretary of Education who’d endorsed creative pedagogy.

Kanye West’s presidential ambitions remind us that American history is full of fun surprises—even if most of them are short-lived and forgettable. Although it’s probably too much of a stretch to make the entertainment of #Kanye2020 relevant to American history—though Donald Trump’s candidacy perhaps proves that nothing is outside the realm of possibility—I do love to find pop culture references and videos and bring relevance to what students might see as staid topics.

I’m declaring this post a judgment-free zone so that I can be frank: I have a tough time keeping the attention of the freshmen students in my undergraduate survey class. But I have found that one thing that works well is video clips, and so I find myself drawing from youtube nearly as much as I do from powerpoint. Luckily, I’m a TV-show junkie, and so I have have a lot of background at my disposal. (Finally a way to justify my Netflix binges!) Indeed, my use of videos in class is one of the constant positives in my students’ evaluations, so I know it’s not just me who enjoys this approach. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHThis has been a momentous week for early Americanists, with the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination to start the week and, especially for those of us in Massachusetts, the annual commemorations of Patriot’s Day this weekend. We have lots of great links for you below the fold!

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State Lotteries in the Early Republic: Or What I Learned from John Oliver

John_Oliver_Lottery.png.CROP.promo-mediumlargeI originally planned to title this post: “Do I have to thank John Oliver in my dissertation acknowledgments?” In the first season finale of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, Oliver did a segment on state lotteries (NSFW, crude language), many of which fund education. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I devote a decent chunk of space discussing lotteries to fund schools in the critical period and early republic. If anything makes my research cool to non-academics, it’s that I can relate some of it to this John Oliver bit. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Mother’s Day! Consider our gift to the mothers amongst our readership to be the following links, links, and more links…  Continue reading

Turn, Turn, TURИ

I had the opportunity, over the course of Passover-Easter break, to watch the first three episodes of AMC’s new series Turn (transcribed as TURИ on subway ads).[1] The show is very much in the vein of the recent spate of high-serious historical (Mad Men) or faux-historical (Game of Thrones) dramas airing on the finer cable networks (AMC, IFC, HBO). Turn, like its sister-shows, features excellent acting and wonderful set and costume design. Unlike these other shows, however, it adapts for television a historical event that gets a lot of coverage on this blog–the American Revolution.[2] For the series AMC has turned Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring into a tale of conflicted loyalties, love, betrayal, and waterboarding fit, some ways, for our new Golden Age of television. At the same time, much is lost in the adaptation process.

For the more spoilerphobic among our community, this essay will contain spoilers for the pilot episode of Turn.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Sunday! With the excitement from March Madness still ringing through the halls at The Junto, we look forward to bringing you more great content on a wide range of issues in early American history in the coming weeks (including an interview with Mike Jarvis, our champion!). In the meantime, let’s head right to this week’s links!
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