Sunday afternoon, January 24, was the kick-off for Scarborough’s Civil War-era Sunday film series. Bowdoin College Professor Patrick Rael presented “The Civil War in Film” to an appreciative audience of about 25 at the Scarborough Public Library.
Rael showed clips from and discussed how these films shape our view of history: Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, Gettysburg, Glory, Sommersby, and Django Unchained. He talked about how the early films focused on the lost cause mythology, honor, and how the war changed civilization as it was in the South, and how more recent films focused on combat and male endeavors moved life on the homefront to the side.
After watching a clip from Gone With the Wind one gentleman remarked, “The South was not just Rhett and brandy, but human beings forced to work 18 hour days. This movie is just about the aristocracy.”
This led to a discussion on how inaccurately slaves were portrayed in films, a concept expanded during the discussion of Glory. In Glory, the African American soldiers are portrayed as former slaves when in reality most were educated freemen. Birth of a Nation caused one man to ask whether movie-goers at the time of its release took the film for humor. Rael explained how D. W. Griffith’s intent was to portray (create?) history.
For two hours participants were immersed in thinking about films from a new perspective and many said that they would be back in February for screenings of Gone With the Wind, Glory, and Lincoln.
The next day, thanks to the wonders of technology and the persistence of Louise Capizzo, Scarborough Youth Services Librarian, 20 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in the Gifted and Talented Education program at Scarborough Middle School had the opportunity to Skype with author Adele Griffin.
Griffin and co-author Lisa Brown wrote and illustrated “Picture the Dead” which the students read as part of their Civil War studies. Students came prepared with no fewer than 47 questions about the plot, primary sources, and the author’s purpose to ask Ms Griffin.
Griffin talked about the research that went into the book. For example, a fact-checking mission with Brookline Historical Society led the authors to alter a part of the plot where they intended to have a character drown in a particular, real-life, pond. The historical society informed them such a tragedy would be difficult in what was really little more than a bog.
When asked by Griffin what they had learned in their studies of Scarborough in the Civil War, the students commented on what the soldiers carried and how meaningful it was to handle artifacts.
One girl said that hardtack actually felt and sounded like a rock when tapped on a table. Another student was intrigued by the number of pleasure items (tobacco, playing cards, coffee, mini-bibles) the soldiers carried in their heavy bags.
Griffin cheerfully answered all the questions and concluded her interview by singing “The Old Tobacco Box,” a Civil War song that her grandfather taught her.
Stay tuned for much more activity in Scarborough with their One Book, One Community events on March 7 & 8. Follow the library’s Facebook page for all the details!
Many thanks to Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator, for writing this post.