Historians Consulting on Historical Films

Historians often critique historical films through film reviews and newspaper articles that are written after the films are released or when Oscar nominations generate media buzz. Journalists sometimes ask historians to “fact check” and assess the “historical accuracy” of blockbuster feature films set in historical periods.

Less often, historians are invited to act as historical consultants on films during the production process. Historians serving as consultants might engage in screenplay writing or offer feedback during filming and editing.

Filmmakers sometimes utilize historians’ works without having them serve as consultants, however, and sometimes without even acknowledging their publications.

The Guardian reports that: “The ever-expanding number of history programmes on television ought to mean boom time for historians. Yet a growing number of authors and academics believe they are being unfairly cut out of the process. The Society of Authors says it has seen a rise in complaints from members about their work being used in TV shows without credit or payment.”

A complaint regarding the series Harlots has been particularly significant, according to an article by James Tapper, entitled “Historians Fight Back as TV Raids their Research Treasures for its Shows,” which appears in The Guardian.

“Two years ago,” according to Tapper, “Hallie Rubenhold complained that ITV had used her book, The Covent Garden Ladies, as inspiration for Harlots, the drama about the sex trade in Georgian London. She has since been credited as the series inspiration, and her complaints galvanised the Society of Authors, who had been looking at the issue, to draw up guidelines, with Pact, the body that represents independent TV producers.”

One of the best works on the complex relationships between filmmakers and historians is a conversation between filmmaker John Sayles and historian Eric Foner, published in Mark C. Carnes, Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 1996).

Posted in Careers in History, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, European History, Historical Film, History in the Media, Museums and Historical Memory, Noble Culture and History of Elites, War in Film | Leave a comment

The Weight of Antiquity

The Franke Institute for the Humanities at the University of Chicago is hosing a graduate student conference on The Weight of Antiquity: Early Modern Classicisms at the Regenstein Library on 23 February 2019.

The conference participants will present new research on the fascination with antiquities and the reception of classical culture in early modern Europe.

The conference program and poster are available online at the University of Chicago:  The Weight Of Antiquity – Early Modern Classicisms Feb 23.

Posted in Art History, Conferences, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, European History, Graduate Work in History, Italian History, Museums and Historical Memory, Renaissance Art and History | Leave a comment

The Defeat of Napoleon and the Occupation of France

My French historian colleague, Christine Haynes, recently published Our Friends the Enemies, a new book on the defeat of Napoleon and the occupation of France.

The book description at Harvard University Press’s website reads:

“The Napoleonic wars did not end with Waterloo. That famous battle was just the beginning of a long, complex transition to peace. After a massive invasion of France by more than a million soldiers from across Europe, the Allied powers insisted on a long-term occupation of the country to guarantee that the defeated nation rebuild itself and pay substantial reparations to its conquerors. Our Friends the Enemies provides the first comprehensive history of the post-Napoleonic occupation of France and its innovative approach to peacemaking.

“From 1815 to 1818, a multinational force of 150,000 men under the command of the Duke of Wellington occupied northeastern France. From military, political, and cultural perspectives, Christine Haynes reconstructs the experience of the occupiers and the occupied in Paris and across the French countryside. The occupation involved some violence, but it also promoted considerable exchange and reconciliation between the French and their former enemies.

“By forcing the restored monarchy to undertake reforms to meet its financial obligations, this early peacekeeping operation played a pivotal role in the economic and political reconstruction of France after twenty-five years of revolution and war. Transforming former European enemies into allies, the mission established Paris as a cosmopolitan capital and foreshadowed efforts at postwar reconstruction in the twentieth century.”


Haynes has written a post entitled “The Occupation of France after Napoleon, or Confessions of a Cultural-Turned-Military Historian,” on Age of Revolutions about her historical research and the genesis of her book project.

Haynes explains that: “The ‘Age of Revolutions’ was also an Age of Wars. While this point may be obvious to most readers of this site, as well as historians of the period, it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand. Trained as a cultural historian focused on nineteenth-century France, I saw military history as separate from, and tangential to, the dramatic political and social changes unleashed by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire. Sure, I studied and eventually taught the wars that ensued from the French Revolution and their role in the rise and fall of Napoleon, but it took me a good while to recognize the centrality of war to all aspects of life in this period. … Paradoxically, my realization of the importance of war in this period came while researching a topic that, on the surface, could not be farther from military history: book history.”

Haynes discusses the trajectory of her research process: “While writing what ultimately became my first book on the ‘politics of publishing’ in France during the century after the re-regulation of the book trade by Napoleon in 1810, I noticed that following the fall of the Empire, many of the booksellers and printers in Paris came from outside of France. Curious about why so many foreigners arrived in the French capital at that time, I realized that this influx was spurred by the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the military occupation of France by the powers allied against the Emperor following his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. Seeking to sell books to the thousands of foreign soldiers and civilians in occupied France, these cosmopolitan printers and booksellers served as a reminder that the years after 1815 were a period of post-war reconstruction.”


Christine Haynes’s new book is Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France After Napoleon (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).

Posted in Early Modern Europe, Empires and Imperialism, European History, French History, French Revolution and Napoleon, Paris History, Strategy and International Politics, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | Leave a comment

History of Women’s Rights in the News

A renewed search is on for the original signed copy of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

Megan Smith, who served in President Obama’s administration, has announced that a new plan to locate the original document.

“We’d like to find the original,” Smith said, “and give it the correct position of prominence it deserves with the Charters of Freedom in the rotunda of the National Archives.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the convention, which deliberated on a series of resolutions for women’s rights that became the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.

When male politicians and journalists mocked the women who met at the Seneca Falls Convention, Stanton wrote that: “No words could express what seemed to us so timely, so rational, and so sacred, should be a subject for sarcasm and ridicule to the entire press of the nation.”

The New York Times reports that “A scholar of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ann D. Gordon, wrote a blog post in 2015 criticizing the search for the declaration as ‘Megan Smith’s romantic quest for something truer or more authentic.’ In fact, other historians see Ms. Smith’s public search as a Quixotic quest because the content of the Declaration of Sentiments is widely available.”

Nonetheless, Smith’s search for the document has arguably renewed interest in the history of women’s rights in the news media in the United States.

“For Ms. Gordon, the renewed attention on a document that is lesser known in American history has served as a reminder of the never-ending fight for women’s rights,” according to The New York Times.

Gordon commented: “Maybe what we learn is that this generation of women could think a whole lot of it through and lay down some rules, and then we only later discovered how hard it would be to implement that.”

It is refreshing to see women’s historians like Ann D. Gordon being interviewed by journalists and to have women’s history featured in major newspapers.

The New York Times reports on the Seneca Falls declaration.

Posted in Archival Research, History in the Media, Human Rights, Political Culture, Women and Gender History | Leave a comment

Renaissance History and Franco-Italian Quarrels

French President Emmanuel Macron has recalled the French Ambassador to Italy, in response to the Italian government’s support of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protest movement in France.

Italian Deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio have both made multiple comments praising the Gilets Jaunes. Di Maio escalated tensions by meeting with Gilets Jaunes protesters and declaring that a “new Europe is being born.”

This dispute grew out of nationalist rhetoric, immigration policies, domestic politics, and European Union politics. However, Renaissance history also figures in the expanding Franco-Italian quarrels, as politicians and their supporters compete over the heritage of Leonardo da Vinci and Catherine de’ Medici.

A major exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci being organized at the Louvre Museum in Paris is now caught in the middle of the Franco-Italian dispute. The Guardian reports that “as Europe stages a year-long frenzy of events to mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci’s death, Italy and France are engaged in a diplomatic tussle over him that threatens a blockbuster exhibition at the Louvre in Paris.”

Illaria Maria Sala observes that “The Louvre museum in Paris, where the Mona Lisa is exhibited, has been preparing to commemorate later this year the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. The painting became the property of Francis I, a king of France and da Vinci’s patron, after da Vinci’s death in France in the early 16th century — a time when the concept of Italy as a nation was shaky at best. Last year, Italy promised to contribute to the special exhibit by lending the Louvre major, sumptuous pieces, but the new government is mulling how to renege on that pledge.”

Meanwhile, Italian politicians are engaging in “French-bashing,” according to Sala, using an array of Renaissance historical references to claim Italian superiority. For example, “a popular myth has resurfaced on Twitter in these fractious days about how both haute cuisine and humble utensils were introduced to the French court by Catherine de Medici, after she was sent from Florence to Paris to marry Henry II in 1533.”

Illaria Maria Sala’s op-ed was published by The New York Times. See The Guardian for a report on Salvini and Di Maio’s support of the Gilets Jaunes. The Guardian also reports on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre.

Posted in Art History, Court Studies, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Empires and Imperialism, European History, Food and Cuisine History, French History, French Wars of Religion, History in the Media, Italian History, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Political Culture, Renaissance Art and History, Women and Gender History | Leave a comment

“Time for Another Kent State”? Politicians Target Campuses for Violence

Politicians are targeting university campuses for repressive violence.

One of the of the most shocking recent incitements to violence against students came in 2017, when Dan Adamini (Republican), Secretary of the Marquette County Republican Party, advocated using firearms to stop protests on university campuses. Adamini was reacting specifically to the student protest against Milo Yiannopoulos (Breitbart News editor) speaking at the University of California-Berkley.

Adamini tweeted: “Violent protesters who shut down free speech? Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery.”

Then, in a Facebook post, Adamini clarified his position: “I’m thinking that another Kent State might be the only solution… They do it because they know there are no consequences yet.”

Kent State University officials responded that Adamini’s comments are “abhorrent.”

The Kent State University statement reads:

“May 4, 1970, was a watershed moment for the country and especially the Kent State University family. We lost four students that day while nine others were wounded and countless others were changed forever. This abhorrent post is in poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still pains the Kent State community today. We invite the person who wrote this statement to tour our campus and our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened four years ago, to gain perspective on what happened 47 years ago and apply its meaning to the future.”

Adamini’s shocking comments seemed to confirm worries that politicians’ anti-student rhetoric would lead to another episode of deadly violence on university campuses.

A Politico article by James Robenalt published during the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign considered the troubling possibility of “another Kent State” resulting from then-candidate Donald Trump’s comments. Robenalt wrote that “Donald Trump is now openly inciting violence at his rallies. In Kansas City, he mouthed the words, ‘I’ll beat the crap out of you,’ when describing what he would have done to a protester who charged him in Dayton, Ohio, earlier in the day. ‘Boom, boom, boom,’ he said, mimicking a schoolyard beat down with his fists.”

Robenalt warned that candidate Trump’s incitements to violence were remarkably similar to President Nixon’s labeling of student protesters as “bums” in 1970, just a few days before National Guard troops gunned down student protesters at Kent State.

USA Today reports on Adamini’s statements and Kent State’s response. Dan Adamini later resigned from his position as Secretary of the Marquette County Republican Party.

The issue of guns on campuses and the references to the 1970 shooting of college students at Kent State have remained in the news over the past several years.

A graduate of Kent State controversially posed for a photo on campus with an AR-10  rifle in May 2018. The Washington Post reported on this incident, which went viral as gun rights activists celebrated “gun girl.”

In September 2018, a “tense” gun rights rally was held on the campus of Kent State.

This story has reemerged recently as other politicians seem to advocate violence on college campuses.

Meanwhile, the School of Peace and Conflict Studies at Kent State University is now preparing a conference on “Commemorating Violent Conflicts and Building Sustainable Peace.”

As a professor at Northern Illinois University, a university that has suffered a mass shooting, I call upon politicians to condemn incitements to violence on university campuses.

Gun violence has no place on college campuses.


Posted in Academic Freedom, Arms Control, Civil Conflict, Conferences, History in the Media, History of Violence, Human Rights, Northern Illinois University, Peacemaking Processes, Political Culture, Terrorism, War, Culture, and Society | Leave a comment

History, Identity Politics, and the “French Destiny”

History and identity politics are intimately interwoven in modern French society. The history of the French Revolution and Napoleonic period to define the landscape of  political ideologies (socialism, liberalism, conservatism) in the nineteenth century and forged the language of modern political culture.

Political writer and pundit Eric Zemmour is once again provocatively stirring identity politics in France with a new book, Destin français (or, French Destiny). He has been accused of inciting racial hatred with his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

In his previous books, Zemmour has argued for a French nationalist agenda based on imperial nostalgia, anti-immigrant politics, and Great Man history. “Zemmour’s detractors often link him to the Rassemblement National — formerly the National Front — but his true allegiance is to Bonapartism,” according to The New York Times.  He even strikes a classic Napoléon Bonaparte pose for his photo.

Although he is not a trained historian, Zemmour’s political writing relies heavily on historical references and historiographical interpretations. Although he studied political science and launched his career as a political reporter, Zemmour presents himself as a historian.  “Most of Zemmour’s books are what he calls ‘historical essays,'” according to The New York Times. “His narratives, based on a personal reading of many works by historians, are long (the last three were more than 500 pages each) and intended for an audience already familiar with Robespierre and the Girondins.”

Zemmour utilizes highly selective and idiosyncratic readings of French history in his political writing and punditry. The New York Times reports that “Zemmour’s newest book, French Destiny, is in some ways a response to the surprisingly successful World History of France, compiled and edited by the noted historian Patrick Boucheron and published the year before. Where Boucheron presents French history as a product of diverse ethnic and geographical influences, Zemmour adheres to Thomas Carlyle’s dictum that history is ‘but the biography of great men’: the most powerful win, and rightly so. For Zemmour, the strict hierarchical social order born of Catholicism, divorced from the church and joined with the principles of Roman law is what gives French society its unique structure.”

Historiographical debates continue to shape current political identities, historical memory, and national politics in modern France.

The New York Times reports on Zemmour’s new book, Destin français. Patrick Boucheron’s book, France in the World: A New Global History, is available in English.

Posted in Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, French History, French Revolution and Napoleon, Globalization, History in the Media, Museums and Historical Memory, Political Culture, Revolts and Revolutions, Strategy and International Politics, World History | Leave a comment