As 2018 comes to a close, AASLH staff wanted to share some of our favorite historical media we’ve encountered this year. From monographs and historical fiction to documentaries and podcasts, history is everywhere in popular culture these days, reaching new audiences that perhaps never thought that they would be fascinated by the past. These are our top picks for enjoying history outside the museum, on the go, or at home in your pajamas this winter break.
Bethany (Chief of Operations): I read several great books on history this year. For Little House on the Prairie fans, I’d recommend Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. I fell in love with history by reading the Little House books as a child and this book placed the story of Laura in historical context in a powerful way. A more serious monograph I appreciated was The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon. This book scared me in its relevance to America today. It was also somewhat eerie to see photos of Klansman in robes riding a Ferris Wheel with their robed children. Finally, everyone should check out The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table by Rick Bragg. More a memoir than a history, Bragg tells the story of poor, white sharecroppers in Alabama through the food his mother cooked, complete with recipes. Bragg’s childhood was very similar to my father’s and reading this book took me back to eating chocolate pie at my grandmother’s table as a child.
Aja (Program and Publications Manager): I came across a film called The Retrieval which I really liked. Set in 1864, it tells the fictional story of two African-American men who are forced to work recapturing runaway slaves for bounty hunters. After tricking a runaway into returning south with them, the men start to form a friendship and contemplate an escape plan. It’s suspenseful, thought-provoking, and beautifully filmed, and it prompts viewers to contemplate the millions of lives and interactions that comprised the experience of America’s most tragic war.
Alex (Administrative Assistant): I really enjoyed The Nineties miniseries documentary for several reasons (including nostalgia and Backstreet Boys references). It was also illuminating of historic events that occurred in my early life that I did not quite grasp the importance of at the time. It made for a unique reflection on my own connection to the past, and a better understanding of the world I grew up in.
Darah (Marketing Manager): One of my favorite podcasts is called Slow Burn, and it focuses on the experiences of living through historical moments that have become cultural touchstones. The first season discussed the Watergate scandal and the second goes into Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I really appreciated the second season because this was something I lived through and, as a child, didn’t really understand. It was both fascinating and horrifying to compare contemporary coverage of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair with today’s #MeToo movement discourse.
Natalie (Education and Service Manager): I recommend John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. I saw the Netflix special, which made me laugh and cry, but it’s also a Broadway play (which has won a special Tony award and has been nominated for Best Play). Equal parts comedy, history, self-discovery, and cultural commentary, this program made me think about all the history that doesn’t get taught, how that affects marginalized groups, and what historians can do to uncover hidden voices. It also comes with a reading list, most of which has now been added to my Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf.