Engaging the Past

Mass Culture and the Production of Historical Knowledge

Alison Landsberg

Columbia University Press

Engaging the Past

Pub Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9780231165754

232 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9780231165747

232 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£74.00

Pub Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9780231539463

232 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Engaging the Past

Mass Culture and the Production of Historical Knowledge

Alison Landsberg

Columbia University Press

Reading films, television dramas, reality shows, and virtual exhibits, among other popular texts, Engaging the Past examines the making and meaning of history for everyday viewers. Contemporary media can encourage complex interactions with the past that have far-reaching consequences for history and politics. Viewers experience these representations personally, cognitively, and bodily, but, as this book reveals, not just by identifying with the characters portrayed.

Some of the works considered in this volume include the films Hotel Rwanda (2004), Good Night and Good Luck (2005), and Milk (2008); the television dramas Deadwood, Mad Men, and Rome; the reality shows Frontier House, Colonial House, and Texas Ranch House; and The Secret Annex Online, accessed through the Anne Frank House website, and the Kristallnacht exhibit, accessed through the Unites States Holocaust Museum website. These mass cultural texts cultivate what Alison Landsberg calls an "affective engagement" with the past, tying the viewer to an event or person and fostering a sense of intimacy that does more than transport the viewer back in time. Affect, she suggests, can also work to disorient the viewer, forcibly pushing him or her out of the narrative and back into his or her own body. By analyzing these specific popular history formats, Landsberg shows the unique way they provoke historical thinking and produce historical knowledge, prompting a reconsideration of what constitutes history and an understanding of how history works in the contemporary mediated public sphere.
Alison Landsberg skillfully penetrates one of the most interesting yet elusive questions about popular representations of the past. What kinds of knowledge of the past do they offer? In elegant and precise analyses of selected texts, she demonstrates how they engage affect and emotion through experiential modes of communication. Contrary to many assumptions about such forms, Landsberg brilliantly argues that these reenactments have the potential to provoke self-conscious historical thinking much sought after by more conventional historical modes of communication. Ann Gray, emerita professor of cultural studies, University of Lincoln
The book is carefully structured, sensitively expressed, and the analysis of thevarious media a contribution to thinking differently about cinematic uses ofpast. Critical Inquiry
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Theorizing Affective Engagement in the Historical Film
2. Waking the Past: The Historically Conscious Television Drama
3. Encountering Contradiction: Reality History TV
4. Digital Translations of the Past: Virtual History Exhibits
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Read the introduction:

About the Author

Alison Landsberg is an associate professor in the Department of History and Art History and the Department of Cultural Studies at George Mason University. She is the author of Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture.