History and film – “The People” and the “Founding Fathers” in Liberty!

One frequent critique of documentary films about the distant historical past (and especially documentaries on the American Revolution) is that they are little more than traditional, old-fashioned, elite-focused “great white man history” in a new guise. The complaint is that these documentaries typically present historical events from the perspective of the famous elite men who ended up on the winning end and ignore the ideals and ambitions of ordinary people (small farmers, craftsmen, sailors, women, slaves, and Indians). Critics note that this is especially true when ordinary Americans wanted something different than the “founding fathers” and the two sides clashed. In these cases, filmmakers always seem to side with the elite founders and ignore or explain away what ordinary Americans wanted, often by making ordinary folk seem impractical or wrongheaded.

The 1997 PBS documentary series Liberty! claimed to break that mold by offering a more inclusive telling of the Revolution that includes a diversity of voices and perspectives. Your essay will assess how well or poorly filmmakers accomplished that goal

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QUESTION: To what extent do these episodes of Liberty! represent the ideals, objectives, and perspectives of ordinary Americans (non-elite white men, women, free Blacks, slaves, Indians)? Or is Liberty! still “great white man history” with a few ordinary voices added to a narrative that remains centered almost entirely on the ideals, objectives, perspectives of the founding elite?


Here are the links to the episodes of “Liberty!” needed to write this essay:

Episode 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCAWRXfD33I

Episode 6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Y9Srf0k7Y

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