With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

“The Simpsons” is taking aim at GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump — clowning with his hair, spray tan, temperament and tiny hands.

A two-minute bit on the animated Fox show’s YouTube channel shows Homer and Marge Simpson canoodling in bed before the perpetually worried wife expresses her concerns about the 2016 presidential race.

She flips on TV, where they find a political ad — which offers a Trumpian twist to a 2008 Hillary Clinton commercial aimed at then-candidate Barack Obama.

The ad shows Trump up late, tweeting, reading a book — “Great Speeches” by “A. Hitler” — and blowing off an emergency call on his red telephone.

What does it mean when white audiences are suddenly so eager to consume narratives of black suffering? And is this preferable, or even progressive, compared to their long history of looking away? During the Oscar campaign for 12 Years a Slave, leaked ballots from Academy members revealed that some voters simply chose not to view the film. “Look, I’ve lived long enough to know what it was like to be a black person in America,” one voter wrote. “What I don’t want is more terrible stuff to keep in my head.” Centuries later, the history of slavery hovers like the sun. We feel its presence always, but we cannot bear to stare directly at it.

American audiences haven’t been this interested in slavery stories since the nineteenth century, when narratives by escaped or freed slaves became best-sellers. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, an autobiography of a former slave living in Britain that was first published in 1789, had at least ten editions by 1837. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, now required reading, was massively popular upon its release in 1845, selling 5,000 copies in four months. Solomon Northup sold 27,000 copies of his book within two years. Slave narratives “provided antislavery propaganda,” Vernon Loggins observed in The Negro Author in 1931. “But that they sold rapidly is a surer reason for their great abundance.”

NBC’s new series Timeless follows a unlikely group of people who travel back in time to stop a mysterious criminal who steals a state-of-the-art time machine with the intent of destroying America by changing the past. Today at TCA, executive producers Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan told critics they had no intention of “sugarcoating” history and discussed why it was so important to cast female and African-American leads….

On the topic of historical accuracy, Kripke warned, “There will be a lot of race-related issues” for Bennett’s character. “We have to play it realistically. The show is a really visceral grounded attack on history, and we don’t sugarcoat it. The reality is he’s going to face all sorts of racism that will be specific to those particular periods.”

D’Souza’s main trick as a documentarian (if you can call him that) is his wide-eyed faux naivete. So the movie begins with him shocked—shocked!—to be going to prison for violating campaign finance laws. Violating campaign finance laws is hard to do in a post-Citizens United world! But this never comes up—instead, D’Souza argues that he is in jail because he made a movie that made President Obama look bad. In the first of many, many reenactments, a judge screams at him and sends him away for eight months….

The film then becomes a history of the Democratic Party. For D’Souza, the fact that the Democrats emphasize the last 50 years of their history means that there is a conspiracy. So he spends roughly 40 percent of the movie going through American history to prove that, actually, Democrats did all the bad stuff in American history. Indian removal and genocide? Check. Slavery? Check. The KKK? Check. Eugenics? Check.

Gold Circle has preemptively acquired movie rights to Stephen Harding’s “The Castaway’s War: One Man’s Battle Against Imperial Japan.”

Described as “‘Lone Survivor’ meets ‘Hell in the Pacific,’” the book tells the true story of U.S. Naval Lieutenant Hugh Barr Miller, a prewar football star at the University of Alabama, who went into the water as his destroyer the USS Strong was torpedoed in the Solomon Islands in 1943 and washed up desperately injured on a small Japanese-occupied island. Against all odds, Miller survived his injuries and spent a month fighting a one-man guerrilla war against the enemy outpost, the outcome of which proved pivotal in the Allied war effort.

For decades, a mysterious black stain has been spreading across the face of an anonymous woman in Australia. She is the subject of a painting by Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist painter, and since the 1920s, the oil paints in her portrait have gradually faded, revealing the hints of another, hidden portrait underneath.

Until recently, attempts to capture the image underlying “Portrait of a Woman” with conventional X-ray and infrared techniques have only yielded the shadowy outline of another woman. In a study published on Thursday, however, a team of researchers reports that they have revealed the hidden layer underneath the painting, which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, at a very high resolution. It seems to be a portrait of Emma Dobigny, a model who was a favored subject of Degas.

Adam Matthew and Shakespeare’s Globe are delighted to announce their collaboration on a landmark digital project - ‘Shakespeare’s Globe: Performances and Practices’. This major agreement will see the digitization of the majority of Shakespeare’s Globe’s archives, preserved since its opening in 1997. The collection will include an array of essential material for the study of Shakespeare, literature, theatre and performance, and will publish in Spring 2019, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Globe’s founder, Sam Wanamaker in June 1919.

Khal Rudin, Managing Director of Adam Matthew, said: “Education is at the heart of Shakespeare’s Globe and we’re very excited to have been chosen to digitise their vitally important archive, providing the global academic community with the opportunity to access it online”.

Stories about Katharine Hepburn, Angela Lansbury, the smash hit Hamilton and more are featured in Ken Bloom’s Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes, which will be released in paperback October 3 by Oxford University Press.

The 304-page tome is described as such: “Did you know that Frank Sinatra was nearly considered for the original production of Fiddler on the Roof? Or that Jerome Robbins never choreographed the famous ’Dance at the Gym’ in West Side Story? Or that Lin-Manuel Miranda called out an audience member on Twitter for texting during a performance of Hamilton (the perpetrator was Madonna)? In Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes, Broadway aficionado-in-chief Ken Bloom takes us on a spirited spin through some of the most intriguing factoids in show business, offering up an unconventional history of the theatre in all its idiosyncratic glory. From the cantankerous retorts of George Abbott to the literally show-stopping antics of Katharine Hepburn, you'll learn about the adventures and star turns of some of the Broadway's biggest personalities, and discover little-known tidbits about beloved plays and musicals from The Black Crook to Beautiful.”

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles released Revolver, an album that would revolutionize pop music. Apparently, nobody told Newsweek. When we published a piece on the Beatles several weeks later, under the headline "Blues for the Beatles," we didn't bother to mention the record once. Instead, the article focused on the fall-out following John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remark and pondered whether the Fab Four's years of selling out stadiums was over. (We weren't too far off—the 1966 tour indeed was the Beatles' last, although the group's most influential studio period had barely begun.)

Truman loathed Thomas Hart Benton for an unflattering portrait of Tom Pendergast, Truman’s mentor, but ultimately wound up calling Benton ‘the best damned painted in America.’

In retrospect the choice of Thomas Hart Benton to paint a mural for the Truman library seems a natural fit. Both Benton and Truman were natives of the State of Missouri.  Benton, like Harry Truman, had politics in his blood, since he was the son of a U. S. congressman and was named for his great-uncle, the first U.S. senator from west of the Missouri River. They were both ardent Democrats. They both knew the history of their state inside out. They were both great readers of history.

But for months—for months that stretched into more than a year—Harry Truman resisted the notion of having Benton make a painting for the Truman Library. He had some old grudges to work through.

At stake were some matters of artistic taste, but more than that, there was the issue of Truman’s personal loyalty to the notorious political boss of Kansas City, Boss Tom Pendergast, who had been responsible for Truman’s entry into politics.

A new documentary aims to bring the untold story of Curious George's creators—and their daring escape from Nazi-occupied France—to life.

As German Jews spending their four-week turned four-year honeymoon in Paris, Hans and Margret Rey knew they were in trouble. It was June of 1940, and with Hitler’s troops rapidly approaching and cannon fire audible from the outskirts of the city, they were amongst the millions of refugees trying to flee south. There were no more trains; they didn’t own a car. Hans hurried over to a bicycle store, but the only thing left was a tandem bike. This was not going to work for Margaret, whose tolerance for impractical things was minimal, even on a normal day. It took no longer than two minutes on their test ride before she lost her patience: “I am not riding this with you, Hans! Come up with some other way.” That night, Hans became a magical bicycle maker as he cobbled together spare parts to make two separate bicycles. Along with a few articles of clothing, Margret packed up their life’s work – unpublished manuscripts of children’s books, including one particularly special book— Fifi: The Adventures of a Monkey.

The next morning, the Reys took off just 48 hours before the Nazi troops marched into Paris, joining the five million other refugees on the streets of France. They slept in barns and on floors of restaurants, just ahead of the German bombings. Finally, they came across running trains. Thanks to the advance check they had received from a French publisher for Fifi, they could afford all the necessary travel documents to escape.

When I was watching Star Trek Beyond recently, I found it so interesting and funny that the producers named a space station after the Battle of Yorktown — probably thinking that it was an obscure American History reference not everybody would get, but many would appreciate. However, thanks to Hamilton, the general public is not only well-versed in Revolutionary history these days, but eager for more. We're in luck, too, because The History Channel's Alexander Hamilton documentary is kind of a must-see for Hamilfans.

There are a lot of documentaries and specials taking advantage of enthusiasm for these figures and this time period. However, this History Channel special is definitive in a lot of ways. Just to clear up some FAQs: this is not the documentary on the musical that PBS is airing in October, which is also not the performance recorded earlier this summer. With so much quality Hamilton: An American Musical content out there, it's easy to get stuff mixed-up.

 When Bill Rauch applied to become the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in 2007, he pitched an ambitious ten-year project: the festival would commission thirty-seven new plays about moments of change in American history, on the model of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven-play canon. “Shakespeare wrote the history of his people onto the stage,” Alison Carey, who directs what became American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, told me. “Why don’t we do that?” Last week, O.S.F. announced eight more commissions, bringing the total to thirty-two, with five to go. So far, the commissioned playwrights—who include David Henry Hwang, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Young Jean Lee—have written dramas about immigration, Presidential elections, the slave trade, Roe v. Wade, radical politics, and the decline of American industry. The results have raised a tricky question: Is Shakespeare still a useful guide, or do playwrights need to create a new kind of drama if they want to depict American history?

Last week, Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood fell into the nostalgia trap with his comments in an interview with Esquire magazine. There, Eastwood said about Donald Trump that: "He’s onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist…The press and everybody’s going, ‘Oh, well, that’s racist,’ and they’re making a big hoodoo out of it. Just fucking get over it. It’s a sad time in history."

Eastwood faced criticism for those comments because they were perceived by some to be poorly timed in a moment when the United States is grappling with extreme political polarization and right-wing faux populism in the form of Donald Trump and his takeover of the Republican Party. Others were upset because when the divide between the Hollywood persona and the true self is dropped, fans and the public often discover something unappealing. Celebrities are not “real” people; they are commodified projections that are idolized by fans. To disrupt this relationship is to invite upsetness.