BBC America Explores America's Future
On the heels of one the most fascinating U.S. elections in decades, comes a new series on BBC America from Simon Schama, one of TV’s most popular historians and a Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University. The American Future: A History by Simon Schama was shot against the backdrop of the US presidential campaign with Schama traveling throughout America to dig deep into the conflicts of its history to understand just what is at stake right now.
To coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Presidential Inauguration, The American Future: A History by Simon Schama will premiere in four parts at the following times:
Part 1- Monday, January 19, 8:00 p.m. ET/PT
Part 2 - Monday, January 19, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT
Part 3 - Tuesday, January 20, 8:00 p.m. ET/PT
Part 4 - Tuesday, January 20, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT
After 9/11, Katrina, Enron and Baghdad, the robustness of American optimism is struggling to reassert itself against the sobering reality of domestic anxieties and military frustration. This is an America grappling with an un-American sense of its own limits. The voters in the 2008 Presidential election expressed feelings of uncertainty about military outcomes and anxiety about their suddenly shaky prosperity leading to a weakened faith in governance that has not been felt this painfully since Watergate.
In his travels through America, Schama takes the long perspective, looking at four of the critical issues facing the country: war, moral fervor, immigration and the increasingly difficult relationship between expectations of prosperity and the reality of economic and environmental limits. Turning to fascinating moments in American history to understand the present, connecting legendary figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Henry Ford, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln with contemporary soldiers, businessmen, truckers, schoolteachers and even politicians, Schama offers a timely and gripping vision of the United States, past and present, at a critical moment – not just for the U.S., but also for the rest of the world.
The DVD of The American Future: A History by Simon Schama, hits stores on January 20, the same day as broadcast and is available at www.bbcamericashop.com. Schama’s accompanying book to the series, The American Future: A History will be available by Ecco, an imprint of Harper- Collins on May 19.
PART 1 - American Plenty
Simon Schama explores how American optimism about the infinite possibilities of its land and resources is in danger of coming to a grinding halt. Nowhere is this more evident than the American West, which has always been a symbol of opportunity and freedom. Oil at $4 a gallon may be dominating the headlines, but here it’s the lack of water that’s an even bigger threat to the American future. The West is in the grip of a nine-year drought. America’s optimism about its natural resources has always been spiced with clashes over conservation, going back to the first man to navigate the Colorado River, John Wesley Powell. American ingenuity made farming on an industrial scale possible in the early years of the 20th century but at the cost of making Oklahoma a dustbowl. The building of the Hoover Dam, a modern American miracle, which provided essential irrigation for farming and for the new city of Las Vegas, now no longer supplies enough water for both.
PART 2 - American War
Simon Schama reveals how different the American attitude is to war from what outsiders assume it should be. “The world has got in the habit of thinking of America as the tough-guy empire; trigger-happy cowboys addicted to the rush of military power. But that’s not the way America sees itself,” he says. Two of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, disagreed about whether America should even have a professional army – a division still evident when Simon visits America’s premier military academy at West Point. From the Civil War right through to Mark Twain’s denunciation of President Teddy Roosevelt’s imperial adventure in the Philippines, war has inspired profound debate. And nowhere more so than San Antonio, Texas, nicknamed Military City because of its high population of veterans and serving soldiers, where Simon finds feelings about the war are deeply divided - it’s a debate which forces America to dig deep and rediscover what it stands for.
PART 3 - American Fervor
Simon Schama explores the ways in which faith has shaped American political life. His starting point is a remarkable fact about the recent election: for the first time in a generation it’s the Democrats who claimed to be the party of God. It was Barack Obama, not John McCain, who spoke about his faith. The British have long regarded American religion as largely a conservative force, yet Simon shows how, throughout American history, it has played a crucial role in the fight for freedom. Faith helped create America; it was the search for religious freedom that led thousands to make the dangerous journey to the colonies in the 1600s. After American independence, that religious freedom was enshrined in the Constitution, the first country in the world to do so. Simon also looks at the remarkable role the black church has played, first in the liberation of the slaves in the 1800s, and again in the civil rights movement of the Sixties – neither would have happened without it. It’s this very church that was been the inspiration for Barack Obama, who traces the roots of his political inspiration to his faith.
PART 4 - What is an American?
Simon Schama looks at the bitter conflict over immigration in American history. Who should be allowed to enter America and call themselves an American has always been one of the nation’s most divisive issues. He traces the roots of this conflict to the founding of America. The early settlers were themselves immigrants but they saw America as fundamentally a white and Protestant nation. Simon looks at the key events that challenged this view: the annexation of parts of Mexico in 1848 that made 100,000 non-whites American citizens, the immigration and subsequent expulsion of the Chinese in the late 19th century, and the massive immigration from Eastern Europe during the industrialization of the Twenties. Each time there have been those who have insisted America must stay white if it is to stay true to itself, and each time they have been defeated by the sheer force of history. John F. Kennedy defined America as a Nation of Immigrants in 1964 and Simon argues that the election of Barack Obama represents the final triumph of the vision of America as a multi-ethnic nation.