New Homework Question

October 27, 2004

I thought of this one today - it is not on the syllabus but it might well go on for next semester.

The historical drama network has put out a call for new proposals for telemovies about American history. Write me two paragraphs presenting your proposal. The first is the precis of a true historical event, as you would tell it on the screen. The second is your explanation of why this particular story would provide compelling television while conveying useful historical information.
My (skeleton) answer below the fold.

I would tell the tale of Benedict Arnold, starting from the invasion of Canada in 1775 and ending with his life in London and career as a Brigadier in the British Army. We would open with Arnold's heroics at the gates of Quebec, then set up his position amid the honor-obsessed officers in the continental army. The first half of the show would end with his role at Saratoga, both disobeying orders and winning the battle. The second half of the movie would show his quarrels about honor and precedence, his decision to surrender his garrison to the British, the random chance that led to Major Andre's arrest, and the events that followed from that arrest - Arnold's flight, Andre's execution, and the cult of Major Andre that developped in the Continental Army. We would end with a brief review of the later lives of the major players.

This would be compelling television for several reasons. I would present it as an Aristotelian tragedy, with Arnold destroyed by the same character traits that made him great. It would be compelling as anti-history, for how dare we show a heroic side to a person whose name is still an insult. Finally, it would show the audience the importance of honor in the early 18th century; given the popularity of Michael Shaara's work on Gettysburg, New Gingrich's Civil War histories, or the recent success of movies like Gladiator and Master and Commander, American audiences want to see tales of honor-obsessed military figures. The lasting historical impact that people would take away would be twofold. On the obvious level, they would be reminded of the near-run aspect of the American Revolution, of the divided loyalties of many Americans, especially people in the middle colonies, and of the importance contingent moments in shaping larger events.

Posted by Red Ted at October 27, 2004 02:39 PM | TrackBack

I think I'd go with Sacco and Vanzetti -- to remind people that terrorism is not new and there's nothing to be gained by throwing away civil liberties to try and fight it.

Posted by: DFH at October 29, 2004 06:28 PM

If someone wanted to submit an idea to the "historical drama network" how would they go about that? Where did you hear about this "call for new proppsals for telemovies about American history"?

Posted by: Debby at November 9, 2004 04:15 PM

There is no such thing as the Historical Drama Network, at least not that I am aware of. I made it up for the purposes of the homework question.

On the other hand, I know that the history channel does some program development, so you might be able to develop a script for one of their series if this sort of thing interests you.

Posted by: Ted K at November 9, 2004 05:33 PM
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