I have watched ESPN and all of its offspring networks since ESPN’s beginnings, which coincided with my entry into graduate school and the beginnings of the New York Islanders dynasty of four straight Stanley Cups. As a historian, I’m often impressed on how sports news coverage and historical discourse have common themes (as both do with my other passion, politics).
It seems to me that historians could profit from the example ESPN offers with shows such as First and Ten and SportsNation. There are lively debates, colorful characters, great graphics, and … did I mention great debates?
Moreover, we need not restrict these debates to retrospective reflections and evaluations on the relative merits of Grant and Lee or most overrated/underrated generals and so on. Why not also have a show that presents arguments as they were offered 150 years ago? After all, if several news outlets are “tweeting” the Civil War, why not go all the way (maybe even with the spirit of The McLaughlin Group as inspiration)?
Objective Narrator: Question Number One: Is McClellan slow? What do you think, Sweet Steve Sears?
SSS: McClellan would lose to a glacier. Want to see him move? Watch him run away from his own shadow and responsibility.
Objective Narrator: Harsh words indeed, Sweet Steve. What do you say, Eager Ethan Rafuse?
EER: McClellan could and would move if that meddling Lincoln just got out of the man ‘s way. Once you give a man a job, let him do it. Stupid politician.
Objective Narrator: A wise observation, Eager. What do the rest of you think?
… and so on. Everyone would watch; every historian would want to be on one of these shows (even Matt Gallman). After all, if we want to enlarge the audience for history, and make sure that qualified historians are a part of the production, why not go in this direction?
Besides, at last I’ll get to channel my inner Skip Bayless.