Old-Time Stuff Is Not Forgotten on "History"






THE big names — Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, Lee, Grant — are getting much of the focus during television’s Civil War spring and summer, as they always do when this pivotal conflict comes up. But to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, the programming that resumes with a burst this weekend and continues over the next several months also has much smaller things on its mind: a child’s doll, an aging tintype, a faded letter. And it is those things, 19th-century artifacts elevated to new prominence by a 21st-century television trend, that provide some of the clearest reminders of what the war was really about and how it remains with us today.

Finding new ways to look at the war is, of course, a sort of Ken Burns effect — an effort to clear the bar that Mr. Burns set so high in 1990 with his mini-series “The Civil War.” Mr. Burns, for one, doesn’t think the form is dead.

“I think there are still stories to be told,” he said. “The Civil War is such a watershed moment, the watershed moment in the childhood of our country.” Yes, there are limits on such documentaries — there’s only so much you can do with still photographs and diaries — but that doesn’t mean there can’t be innovation. “It just forces us into new relationships with photographs, new relationships with voice, new relationships with narrative,” Mr. Burns said....



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