Ken Burns is an archivist’s dream.  He has been making documentary films for over thirty years, establishing a trademark style of combining images of archival materials with commentary by historians and well-written narration.  His latest effort is The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, whose fourteen hours chronicle the public and private lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  If you don’t have the patience to wait for the film credits, you can just look at the film’s website and find pictures with citations from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, the Houghton Library at Harvard, and the Library of Congress, just to name a few of the repositories whose resources were used.

On September 10th, Fresh Air aired a review by David Bianculli.  Although I agree with his analysis that this miniseries is some of Burns best work, his comment that Burns had a different challenge in this miniseries due to the existence of audio and video clips seems unfounded, considering that Burns has also done documentaries about World War II and baseball, as just two examples that also incorporate extant audio and video.  Plus, any time you can get Meryl Streep involved, there’s no need to worry about a disconnect between the narration and the recorded voices.

On September 15th, Ken Burns was interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  In the context of musing about whether the Roosevelts could be successful in today’s climate, Burns made a fascinating comment about heroism:

“Heroism is actually this negotiation — sometimes even a war — between a person’s very obvious strengths and their not so obvious weaknesses, and it is that negotiation that defines heroism.”

Burns also provides interesting analysis at the end of this interview about the differences of communication for Teddy Roosevelt, who was accustomed to telegraphs and shouting stump speeches, and for FDR, who so eloquently used the medium of radio.

On September 16th, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History presented “The Roosevelts: A Conversation with Ken Burns.”  The live webcast featured filmmaker Ken Burns along with historian Clay Jenkinson, Franklin Roosevelt biographer Geoffrey Ward, and the National Museum of American History’s chair and curator of the Division of Politics and Reform, Harry Rubenstein.  Rubinstein provides some especially interesting artifacts related to the Roosevelts.

My favorite part of these interviews is when Burns comments that he and his team continue researching all the way up until the final edits are made on the film.  As someone who loves doing research, I can appreciate this dedication.


On a different note — and in a nod to Banned Books Week — Paul Brandeis Raushenbush provided an interesting commentary this week about the temptation of banning books.   He concludes,

“our very existence as a free, enlightened society rests on the idea of the flow of information coupled with the skills to understand it.  If you needed any more proof, the first thing ISIS did in the areas that they control is ban the study of certain subjects in the schools.”