Tag Archives: popular culture

I’d love to be a Civil War buff…what do you have to do to be a buff?

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.25.57 AMJerry Seinfeld? Keith Hernandez? What do they have to do with the Civil War? Well…in a very popular episode of Seinfeld – you know the one…where Jerry sort of gets a man-crush on Keith Hernandez…there is a little dialog between Jerry and George that comes close to my corner of the world. It goes like this:

JERRY: You know who that is? That’s Keith Hernandez.

GEORGE: Keith Hernandez? The baseball player?

JERRY: Yeah, that’s him.

GEORGE: Are you sure?

JERRY: Positive.

GEORGE: Wow, Keith Hernandez. He’s such a great player.

JERRY: Yeah, he’s a real smart guy too. He’s a Civil War buff.

GEORGE: I’d love to be a Civil War buff. … What do you have to do to be a buff?

JERRY: So Biff wants to be a buff? … Well sleeping less than 18 hours a day would be a start.

Yes…Jerry’s right about that. Being a buff is hard work. Among things like an encyclopedic knowledge of uniforms, accoutrements, and the various and sundry soldierly minutiae, it helps to know command (at least down to the regiment level) and of course…you need to know the battles cold. I have to say…I love it when popular culture and Civil War history intersect. It makes me smile. And  I’ll bet you a buck that book sales on the Civil War picked up a bit after this show aired back in 199something.

But Hernandez aside, lots of academics (not all, mind you, but lots) sort of look down on buffs. They think of them as all “drums and bugles” and no substance. They (some suggest) don’t delve into issues…they don’t read all the important scholarship…they dismiss complexity.

I say lighten up a little. Civil War buffs keep interest in this historical period alive. Buffs do buy books (including mine…YAY!), they watch TV shows about history and yes indeed…they (thankfully) follow my Tweets and comment on my Facebook posts.

I love buffs. Without them, I might not have an audience at all (or at least a much smaller one). So, Mr. Hernandez – I salute you and all like you who find the Civil War fascinating above all else. We are one and the same. If you ever want to talk – just hit me up. And not incidentally, this July 2-4, I’ll be in Gettysburg signing books and talking to buffs galore. I look forward to it 🙂

With compliments,

Keith (scholar/buff)

Memory and Popular Culture

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 2.09.04 PMIn the early twentieth century a new medium – the motion picture, helped disseminate any number of Civil War and Reconstruction era recollections. One could argue (and many have) that the popularity of movies such as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation helped cement particular (often southern) memories of the war era and its aftermath into the national vernacular.  Well, they certainly had a lasting impact when it came to how Americans remembered the conflict and what followed, but not everyone was on board. The NAACP, for example, was not so keen on the film and its depiction of slaves, freemen, and black soldiers. Union veterans in many cases also found this film to be a great misrepresentation of the cause.

Below is among the most controversial scenes. You will note that the film would suggest black representatives in the South Carolina Statehouse during Reconstruction did not necessarily wear shoes. Or, that they liked to drink whiskey and dance around waving chicken while in session. And it also seems that legalized interracial marriage could move black legislators to burst into a uproarious celebration.

Like it or not, this is precisely how many Americans (especially white conservative southern Americans) “remembered” the period. So much so that memory and history seemed to blend seamlessly. A good number of people thought – just as Griffith had hoped – to be witnessing a true representation of history as it unfolded in the past. I can imagine why this caused such a fuss from opposing parties. I think it is difficult for people today to get their head around this film. I have showed it to students and they are not really quite sure what to say. If you have had similar experiences or have just now become acquainted with this film, I would love to hear your thoughts.

With compliments,



Gone With the Wind and the Battle of Atlanta Wounded

Yesterday, after a lively exchange between historians on Twitter, several of us decided to have some sort of Internet discussion concerning part or all of the 1939 blockbuster Civil War era film, Gone With the Wind. Many of us in the teaching/historian professions have used this film as a teaching tool. It packs quite the educational punch – for any number of topics.

I plan on figuring out some sort of way to host a live Gone With the Wind panel discussion and broadcast it for anyone to see and join in the conversation. But for now we can talk here.

Today I offer a compelling scene – one that was intended to demonstrate the tragedy of the Confederate war. The scene touches many Lost Cause bases, including a score infusing southern patriotic songs with a minor note here and there. Subtle, I know.

At any rate, feel free to discuss at length in the comment section below.

With compliments,

I Can’t Let Tara Go…


Well, Scarlett – I’m afraid Tara is gone…long gone. And it never stood in Georgia either. But it did eventually (sort of) make it there. Yes indeed – the old Tara set, really just a facade, stood for quite some time in a horrible state of disrepair on a David O. Selznick studio back lot in Culver City, California. And it remained there after the lot changed hands from Selznick to RKO to Desilu.

In 1959, the set was dismantled and shipped to Atlanta for use in a theme park that never came to be – the plywood and paper pieces were stored in a barn for years, where – as the story goes – they deteriorated beyond any usefulness to anyone. I know not what became of the remnants. For all anyone knows, they still rot away in some barn in Georgia. Tara’s front door and the large oil painting of Scarlett have found a home in Atlanta…at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.

For all of you film buffs, the old Selznick Studios main building still stands – now the Culver Studios – in Culver City. The building was used in the film, but only during the credits as the backdrop for the David O. Selznick logo.The entryway was used for the formal walk up to Scarlett and Rhett’s new Atlanta home and is virtually unchanged. You won’t see the building, though – it was covered by a giant matte painting. Below is a video clip of Culver Studios today

With compliments,