The Historians Film Committee Focuses on the Presidency
AHA Staff, March 2004
In conjunction with the 118th annual meeting of the AHA held recently in Washington, D.C., the committee organized a panel, "The Presidency in Film." The panel was chaired by Peter Rollins, the current editor of Film & History, the journal published by the committee. John E. O'Connor, founder of the journal, provided summary comments. The three panelists—William Bushong (White House Historical Assoc.), Myron Levine (Albion Coll.), and Deborah Carmichael (Oklahoma State Univ.) explored topics discussed in two recent books edited by Rollins and O'Connor: Hollywood's White House: The American Presidency as Film and History (Univ. Press ofKentucky) and The West Wing: The American Presidency As Television Drama (Syracuse Univ. Press).
Bushong presented a visual history of the evolution of the West Wing as a workshop for presidents—from its days as a vegetable garden to the current three-story colony of cubicles and offices and its current role, along with the adjacent Rose Garden, as a site for ceremonies of state. Levine took a political scientist's perspective to examine the real versus the reel world West Wings. Carmichael discussed a fascinating—yet frighteningly fascist—presidential film, Gabriel Over the White House (1933).
The audience was attentive to all three presentations and C-SPAN 2 broadcast the event live to the entire nation as part of its Booknotes series (also available as Tape 179862 from the C-SPAN Archive at Purdue University). Over the last six years, the Film & History sessions at the AHA annual meetings have been televised by C-SPAN, a public service of the Cable Association of America. Previous events featured, among others, filmmakers Ken Burns and Oliver Stone and scholars Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Garry Wills, and Robert B. Toplin. These televised sessions have helped spread the word to the general audience about what historians are doing to study motion pictures both as contemporary instruments of persuasion and as artifacts for study by later generations.
The next two issues of Film & History will focus on "Latin America in Film" featuring guest editors M.K. Schoenecke (MKSchoene@aol.com) and S. Baugh of Texas Tech University.
The next conference—scheduled for November 11–14, 2004, and to be held in conjunction with the Film and History League and the Literature/Film Association—will focus on "War in Film, Television, and History." Papers and panels are invited with a deadline of July 30, 2004, for abstracts. Adrian Cronauer, whose "life" was appropriated by Barry Levinson for Good Morning Vietnam (1987), will be a featured luncheon speaker. Following a screening of the film, Cronauer will discuss how his original script was transformed into the final screened version. More information on the conference and on the Historians Film Committee/Film & History can be found at www.filmandhistory.org.