Thursday, June 30, 2005

Shelby Foote, RIP

A writer and historian of traditional sensibility. A devoted reader of Proust who wrote a sweeping narrative of the Civil War when the historical profession was sinking into the mire of minute case studies and the miasma of narrow viewpoints and the "studies' epidemic. The astonishing thing is that he had the last laugh of sorts.

When he appeared as a commenter on Ken Burns's Civil War documentary, he achieved a fame and popularity that tenured, professional historians can only fantasize about.

There is an irony, of sorts, in that. Foote, a stubbornly old-fashioned Southern gentleman, a man who wrote his 1,500,000 word epic in longhand using a dip pen, tuned out to be a charismatic figure on television.

This obituary is from his home town paper. On Saturday CSPAN will re-air their three hour visit with him from 2001.

UPDATE: I think this is a measure of his charisma. No one can accuse Ken Burns of being a Southern sympathizer, but he knows good television.
Burns said Foote gave the documentary a "sense of willing the past moment to life."

"We had planned to film 30 or 40 historians. Shelby Foote was in it 89 times or something like that. The next closest was seven or eight times," Burns said

HT: Raine in Seattle

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