With it getting closer to being twenty years since Ken Burns’ The Civil War, is it time for a new miniseries? Yes, there have been some good programs since Burns’, like Civil War Journal and Civil War Combat (one of the few History Channel programs I liked). However, these two program are over five and closer to ten years old and many new insights and questions have surfaced about the war. In addition, historians have written many exciting books over the last few years and it would be nice to incorporate new questions into a documentary.
A new documentary, while not having the soft-spoken nature of the late Shelby Foote, could have a great group of historians to add commentary. Names like Steve Woodworth, Brooks Simpson, James McPherson, and Mark Grimsley to name a few could offer their professional expertise on the war.
In addition to new voices, new images and letters that have surfaced since 1990 offer new experiences and questions for a film-maker. One area that has grown immensely since Burns’ documentary is Civil War soldiers. Since the creation of The Civil War in 1990, Dozens, if not hundreds of books on soldiers have been written. Incorporating McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades, Larry Logue’s To Appomattox and Beyond, and many others that have surfaced provide a documentary with the questions and insights of historians in the last decades that were unavailable to Burns.
A new documentary would combine the new insights from the profession on the war, as well as the different methods used in various programs on the war. A nice combination that would have appeal would be combining the “Burns effect” of still images, with scenes of living history used in programs like Civil War Journal, Civil War Combat, and The Divided Union. In addition, a new documentary could incorporate more interviews with historians than was present in Burns’ film.
Overall, a new documentary with new filming methods and new interpretations is needed as we approach the sesquicentennial of the war in 2011. Many new questions and information has become available since 1990, which warrants a new television series. Finally, with so many people relying on television and the internet instead of books for information, a new documentary with new historical insights and voices will allow more people outside the profession of history to view the new interpretations and appreciate the new sources and voices on the war since the 1990s. As to who should produce the new documentary, perhaps a partnership between Burns and the people behind Civil War Combat would work. While PBS would be the natural place for such a new project, perhaps ABC, NBC, or CBS would benefit from a documentary, similar to when miniseries like Roots and North and South commanded American television screens in the 1970s and 1980s. The time has come for a new series on the Civil War, so let us make our voices heard and ask for one.