The Civil War vs. The War: Comparing Ken Burns

I must confess that I am somewhat at a loss for a topic to write about this week.  This is due to not having a Civil War book to review (although I can always make a dent in my library) and getting ready for the Northern Great Plains History Conference next week in Duluth, MN (if you are in that area, I invite you to come here my panel, as two of my colleagues and I are presenting on Civil War related topics).  With that said, I would like to turn my attention to the latest project by Ken Burns called The War, which is currently airing on PBS.  Now this documentary deals with World War II, and I know you are thinking, what does this have to do with the Civil War.  Well, having seen most of the episodes of The Civil War at one time or another, I thought I would offer my initial thoughts on Burns’ new project and how it compares to his earlier one.

Overall, both are in the same general style, but with The War containing obviously more film footage and being broken down differently (episodes of The War run about two hours).  Both use photographs and voice overs very well, as well as interviews.  The main difference between the two programs is the ability to interview veterans, which brings a whole new dimension to Burns’ film.  Though I have only watched part of one episode, I find myself wanting more and hoping that the release of this new project will result in a re-airing of The Civil War on PBS (it’s time to do this, as it has been a few years).  The only thing I miss with this new endeavor is the narrator from his first two series, as the narrator for The War is good, but it is just not the same.  The use of animation is a bit better, which may owe to improved technology, as the battlefield maps used in The War are more animated than they were in The Civil War.  It is my hope that Civil War historians will write about Ken Burns latest work because it would be interesting to see how their interpretations of the project compare to scholars of World War II.  One thing that is interesting with this new project is that Burns is looking at the period of World War II in which the US was involved and while this may be because his focus is on America, it would be interesting to see how he would have presented the first year and a half of the war and the years leading up to it.

All in all, I commend Ken Burns for his latest work.  I hope that he may one day tackle the Vietnam War as well, but I would really like to see a remake of The Civil War to update for recent scholarship and new primary sources that may have surfaced since original production.  I encourage all of you to watch The War even if you are not into the World War II period, as you should enjoy it.  Until next time, have a great week, keep researching, and if you would like a topic to be covered on this site, please contact me.


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