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One to Watch: History Detectives

Not sure what to watch during summer rerun doldrums? May I suggest PBS’s History Detectives?

I got turned onto the show by Stacy, who, being an historical archaeologist, is a sucker for such things. The detectives are real live historians and such, with strong credentials. Each show is comprised of three “cases,” typically instigated by someone finding something historic in their home, and wondering about its history.

Cases in prior seasons proved quite uneven, but now in its third installment, they seem to have hit their stride. The stories are told well, with the detective work gradually revealing the circumstances under question.

And what really excites me about the show is that they are not shy about controversial subject matter, and bridging gaps between historical incidents and current events. A recent episode dealt with Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, and a WWII German POW Camp in Texas. The former case lead to a discussion on forcible repatriation (definitely a black mark on American history), and the latter on the Geneva Convention and the treatment of detainees, with direct reference to contemporary treatment at Guantanamo.

This show’s populist, social history orientation makes clear the value of PBS in comparison to advertising-supported alternatives.

Not to say that everything is of social import. That same episode featured an investigation into a 1920s toy mouse named “Micky,” and its relationship to Disney’s famous mouse. An engaging story, much of the music that underscores the case comes from a personal favorite, the Bonzo Dog Band.