". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sons of Liberty - 3 part History Channel Scripted Series

Sons of Liberty is a three-part History Channel scripted series that dramatizes the lead up to the Declaration of Independence; it premieres Sunday night, January 25th.

Well shot, staged and scripted, the sneak peeks look promising for the whole. The primary location is Boston, so there's lots of mob violence, which is more than accurate for Boston and the push to get the Colonies to secede from English Crown rule. This also ensures that Sons of Liberty will be more generally entertaining than was AMC's attempt last year, to make small screen period drama out of our history, the earnestly dull and misfortunately titled Turn: Washington's Spies. (Nevertheless, Turn returns for season 2 on April 13.)

John Adams, Sam Adams, Paul Revere plot secession in a tavern. Though  John Adams didn't do that much plotting, personally, but in other ways he was in, not least since his cousin was one of the multiple-headed plotting hydra, if not the head of the heads.
The central figure in Sons of Liberty, as indeed he should be, is Sam Adams -- John Adams's cousin. With the focus on Boston and Adams's crew, we probably won't see the accompanying agitprop strategies for the South worked out with figures from Virginia and South Carolina -- which included organizing their own tea parties -- to galvanize the citizens generally to raise the cry for secession. Or, maybe we will, since George Washington is among the cast of characters, though Jefferson seems not to be.

George Washington, History Channel's Sons of Liberty
Sons of Liberty seems not to be entirely factually accurate, but at least the historical consultants for the series present the facts in their own video bits, for instance, emphasizing why the Crown put the tax and other regulation on tea, such as only tea from the East India Company and their agents could be sold in the Colonies, in order to bail out the bankrupt Company.  I don't know, however, if the series will also tell us how much every agent in the Colonies depended on selling the lower priced smuggled tea to the financially stressed, always cash-strapped Colonies' women who found the non-taxed smuggled tea to be more than compatible with their household accounts.

It does look from the sneak videos that we will see how little the English Crown and parliamentarians knew about their North Atlantic colonies.  For instance, when reading the documents from the period -- as independent historian Nick Bunker did in his recent study, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (2014), many of them seemed not to understand that the mid-Atlantic colonies such as New York, and the New England colonies, were populated mainly by white people with small farms -- completely unlike conditions in their Caribbean sugar colonies.

Sons of Liberty has been criticized in some quarters for casting so many English actors in the leading roles. However, then, one wonders: how much of the history of the Independence movement in the Colonies is understood in those quarters, since, you know, all those personages were citizens of England.  It wasn't until around the Tea Party era that the Colonies's citizens began to refer to themselves as American rather than English.

Appropriately, Sons of Liberty is underwritten at least in part by Sam Adams beer, and it seems, also appropriately, by Rums of Puerto Rico.  It wasn't only tea the North American colonists smuggled at astounding rates, but rum.  There were also the illegal distilleries, particularly in Rhode Island, the English officials were supposed to shut down. And where did Sam Adams et al. plot?  In taverns, of course.  :)

I'm pulling hard that Sons of Liberty be as good as it suggests it can be.  The History Channel's first redeemed itself with The Hatfields and McCoys. It's won famously with Vikings, which is currently my favorite television.  But I know far less about that era, the geography and the figures than I do about the matters of Sons of Liberty, which can make a big difference in how much one enjoys a period series, as shown by the comments by Scandinavian historians who watch Vikings.

So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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