PresidentialRoundtable Thinking Through History with John Sayles

AHA Session 194
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
La Galerie 2 (New Orleans Marriott)
Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Thomas G. Andrews, University of Colorado Denver
Men with Guns
Gabriela Soto Laveaga, University of California, Santa Barbara
Paul Kramer, Vanderbilt University
Lone Star
Rachel St. John, New York University
Sunshine State
Nathan Connolly, Johns Hopkins University
John Sayles, Independent Filmmaker

Session Abstract

A writer, director, and independent voice in American cinema, John Sayles has brought the power of storytelling and film to bear on some of the most critical social issues that have shaped American life, past and present.  In his 1987 film, Matewan, Sayles vividly brought to life the place of labor, violence, and King Coal in a 1920s West Virginia small town. It is a film widely taught and heralded as a classic by American labor historians. Sayles’ 1996 film, Lone Star, has earned a similar reputation among borderlands historians. Set in Rio County, Texas, Lone Star awakens viewers to the realities of borders—national, racial, and generational—that residents living on the U.S.-Mexico border must contend with. In Sayles’ most recent film, Amigo, a small rural village becomes the scene for exploring the deeply personal consequences for people—both soldiers and citizens—far removed from the seats of political power and imperial ambitions in the Philippine-American War. In this session, five historians representing different fields—labor history, borderlands history, Latin American history, Southern history and race relations, and the history of American empire—will each take up a John Sayles’ film related to their own field to critically reflect on the historiographic and pedagogic opportunities opened up by the place of history in the fictional films of John Sayles, followed by a response from one of the most gifted storytellers in film of our time.

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