June 13, 2015
How to be inspired by history, Part II
Note: This is a transcript from the podcast of this series. The podcast can be found on this website and the Remembering History Podcast Page.
Hello History Friends and welcome back to rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history. I’m glad that you have returned for this fantastic, trailblazing and incredibly amazing series called “6 Fun and Easy Ways to be inspired by history”! And I believe this series really is all those things. Why? Because anything that can help to inspire us in so many different ways (and to such great heights) must be fantastic, trailblazing and incredibly amazing-or at least just incredibly amazing!
What have we learned so far? In Part I, we discovered that you can be inspired by books about history. I’m not talking about the 800 or 1,000-page history textbooks from high school and college though some people could be inspired by them. But I am talking about history as great literature. I mentioned the “non-fiction novel” that was first used by Truman Capote when he wrote In Cold Blood. Then I also mentioned the Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Devil in the Grove, written by Gilbert King that brought the setting and players of the early civil rights movement to life. Definitely get that book!
I discussed and read excerpts from slave narratives and from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, which presented history directly from the people involved. In short, we discovered that books about history can be amazingly inspirational when they are works of real literature that tell stories rather than feed us names, dates and death counts. As David McCullough said, “No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read.” I have many inspirational books about history in the bookstore at rememberinghistory.com. So, I hope that you’ll look there and find something for you. Remember that I have personally read and vetted these sources so you can trust them. Or you can hold me accountable if you don’t like them.
Today (in Part II), we will examine another way to be inspired by history.
Watch Great Movies!
I understand that there are lots of people who just prefer not to read. Or they have to read all day so they don’t want to spend their evenings and weekends reading too. I get that! And I don’t make any judgments.
There are fantastic movies that bring history to life and are amazingly inspirational too. Just like books, movies walk the line between fiction and nonfiction. Here are some examples: Amistad (about the transatlantic slave trade and a group of captured Africans who demand to be returned home). Twelve Years a Slave (about the experience of Solomon Northrup who was a free black man, captured and sold into slavery for 12 years), Glory (about a black army troop during the Civil War), Schlinder’s List (about the Jewish holocaust and the rescue of Jews during WWII), Saving Private Ryan (follows a marine troop during World War II), Lincoln (about the passage of the 13th Amendment), Selma (about the civil rights movement, including the marches and protests to demand voting rights) and many other movies immersed audiences in great historical events or the lives and experiences of people from the past. (By the way, I just want to mention that most of these movies are based on books, nonfiction novels—they are great reads!) These movies could be called big screen equivalents of Capote’s nonfiction novel. Still, these types of movies are firmly based in fact but they present as stories. In movies, this means that there is some creative license to “fill in details” or make slight changes to the truth, the true story, in order to make the story flow well and connect on the screen.
Other movies are purely works of fiction but are so well researched and presented that they also cross the line into inspirational works of true history. Remember The Color Purple showed life in the 1920s American south for Celie who endured racism, sexism and abuse before she discovered her own power and self-worth. Beloved by Toni Morrison which shows the horrors of slavery and the aftermath—emotional, physical and psychological effects—of that terrible practice. Other movies brought painful stories to life but also inspired us to overcome our own challenges and hardships. Personally, I will never forget the film, Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding, Jr. Who could fail to be inspired by that movie? I could go on and on (you know that I can) about the different movies and how they can be so inspirational but I promised to keep it wiki (remember that’s Hawaiian for quick) so I won’t mention any more of them but I will encourage to follow the link (if you’re reading the blog) or go to the Remembering History Podcast page on Facebook for a great list and discussion of these movies. And remember that you can purchase them in the Books & Stuff store on the website.
On a slightly different note, leaving the nonfiction novel-type of movie, I want to mention documentaries. No sighs or rolling eyes please! Documentaries usually delve deeply into a particular person’s life, an historical event or a situation. They are similar to history textbooks except (obviously) they are visual and they tend to give a more full, more realistic and more lively picture. They will not use creative license to fill in facts. They present the facts so it is a different genre than a movie like Saving Private Ryan, for example. But documentaries are usually wonderfully well written, well researched and well presented. They are worth your time and attention because they will—they do—inspire.
Let me give some examples about documentaries made about former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. (Yes, he is one of my heroes!) There was the documentary called With All Deliberate Speed (2004) which actually contains interviews with some of the people involved in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. Vernon Jordan, Julian Bond are interviewed. And Thurgood Marshall’s son gives an inspiring and emotional interview about the case and his father. Another documentary called And Justice for All (2005) discusses the Brown case and gives the background about segregation and the fight to desegregate the public school system. Not boring listening with facts and numbers flashing on the screen. Instead there is real footage, interviews, discussions and explanations about the civil rights movement. People are telling their stories. And we hear Thurgood Marshall’s story. Literature on the small screen! And inspiration can be felt throughout the film.
Biography and History Channel have many excellent documentaries and you can find them on the rememberinghistory.com website in the bookstore.
So, movies based on history can be incredibly, amazingly inspirational. Documentaries can be equally inspirational. Don’t be put off by documentaries—they are more than visual textbooks, they are collections of living history. Both movies and documentaries are also educational and informative. And entertaining too. Remember as David McCullough said that “No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read”, I will take it a step further to say that no harm is done to history by making something that someone would want to watch!
So, Part II of this 6-part series on “Fun and Easy Ways to be inspired by history” is to Watch movies and documentaries. Watch. Learn. Be inspired.
That is all for today, history friends! I hope that you have enjoyed this part of the series and have found a useful way to connect with history. But we’re not done yet. We still have part three and, no, I won’t give any sneak peeks into the third way to be inspired by history. You will just have to listen to the podcast or read the bodacious blog tomorrow.
I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history. Bye for now.