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Historian Simon Schama
The American Future
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January 16, 2009

"America is not impervious to these great moments of philosophical self-examination. We think of it all as sort of TV slogans and spin, the creatures of opinion management. But there have been moments over and over again, Watergate and the aftermath of Kennedy, we've said we are a great democratic experiment. What has become of us? And I did think this would be another of those moments." -- Simon Schama

Bill Moyers speaks with historian Simon Schama, who spent months traveling across America in the run-up to an historic election to discover what events in our nation's past can tell us about how we live today and what's in store for the future. In his 4-part BBC series THE AMERICAN FUTURE: A HISTORY, Schama looks at how conflicts in the past resonate in political life today, addressing such issues as land resources, war, faith and immigration.

>See also: The JOURNAL on American History: A Collection

Simon Schama

Simon Schama, photo by Robin Holland

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York. Since 1990, he has also written and presented more than 30 documentaries on art and history for the BBC.

He first gained public attention for his 15-part BBC series A HISTORY OF BRITAIN (2000-2002), which won numerous awards. His other TV credits include the BBC's Emmy-winning eight-part POWER OF ART (2006 — BAFTA nomination for the Huw Wheldon Award for Specialist Factual); the 90-minute BBC film ROUGH CROSSINGS (2007); MURDER AT HARVARD (2003 — based on his novella DEAD CERTAINTIES: UNWARRANTED SPECULATION); Landscape and Memory (a five-part BBC2 series in 1995); and a film on Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE. He has also appeared on BBC1's political discussion show QUESTION TIME, most recently in the USA in the run-up to the 2008 election.

Professor Simon Michael Schama was born in London on February 13, 1945, the son of second generation immigrant Jewish parents with roots in Lithuania and Turkey. In the late 1940s, the family moved to Southend-on-Sea in Essex before moving back to London. The young Schama won a scholarship to Haberdashers' Aske's School then went on to Christ's College, Cambridge University before becoming fellow and tutor in modern history at Brasenose College, Oxford. He then spent 13 years as professor at Harvard. He joined Columbia University in 1993, where he specializes in European cultural and environmental history and the history of art.

Schama's writing career preceded his broadcasting career. From 1995-98, he was art critic and cultural essayist for THE NEW YORKER magazine, which gained him the National Magazine Award in 1996. He has written 14 books, translated into 16 languages from China to Brazil: PATRIOTS AND LIBERATORS: REVOLUTION IN THE NETHERLANDS 1780–1813 (1978), which won the Wolfson Prize for History; TWO ROTHSCHILDS AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL (1979); THE EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: AN INTERPRETATION OF DUTCH CULTURE IN THE GOLDEN AGE (1987); CITIZENS: A CHRONICLE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1989 — winner of the 1990 NCR Book Award); DEAD CERTAINTIES (UNWARRANTED SPECULATIONS) (1991); LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY (1995); REMBRANDT'S EYES (1999 — contrasting the biographies of Rembrandt and Rubens); A HISTORY OF BRITAIN, VOLUME 1, 3000 BC–AD 1603 (2000), VOLUME 2, THE BRITISH WARS 1603–1776 (2001), VOLUME 3, THE FATE OF EMPIRE 1776–2000 (2002); HANG-UPS: ESSAYS ON PAINTING (MOSTLY) (2004); ROUGH CROSSINGS: BRITAIN, THE SLAVES AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (2005) — winner of the USA National Book Critics Circle Prize for non-fiction; and THE POWER OF ART (2006). He has also written a book to accompany this series: THE AMERICAN FUTURE: A HISTORY, published in the UK by The Bodley Head in October 2008 and in the United States in spring 2009..


Simon Schama's documentary THE AMERICAN FUTURE premieres in the United States on BBCAmerica beginning January 19, 2009.

THE AMERICAN FUTURE will also be broadcast on some PBS stations (check local listings).
Among the PBS stations are: Idaho Network; Wisconsin Network; KLRU Austin; KNME Albuquerque; KNPB Reno; KPBS San Diego; KQED San Francisco; KSPS Spokane; KUED Salt Lake City; KUHT Houston; WETA Washington; WFYI Indianapolis; WGBH Boston; WGVU Grand Rapids; WHYY Philadelphia; WMVS Milwaukee; WNED Buffalo; WPTD Dayton; WSBE Providence; WTVS Detroit; WUFT Gainesville; Published January 16, 2009.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.

Related Media:
the power of artTHE POWER OF ART
Simon Schama's POWER OF ART recounts the remarkable story of eight moments of high drama in the making of eight art masterpieces. Also check out the BBC Web site for the series.

Katherine Newman, photo by Robin HollandAMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Murder At Harvard
In November 1849, Dr. George Parkman, one of Boston's richest citizens, suddenly disappeared. The police conducted an extensive search of the city and dredged the Charles River. Parkman had last been seen walking towards the Harvard Medical College. The Medical School's janitor, Ephraim Littlefield, who had a suspicion where Parkman might be found, spent two grueling nights tunneling beneath a basement laboratory looking for clues. What he discovered horrified Boston and led to one of the most sensational trials in American history. Inspired by a book by historian Simon Schama, MURDER AT HARVARD uses drama and documentary to re-examine this grisly episode.

Katherine Newman, photo by Robin HollandNOW WITH BILL MOYERS
Simon Schama spoke with Bill Moyers several times on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS. With fellow historian Niall Ferguson, Schama discusses whether the United States is an empire. And, with international relations expert Samantha Power, Schama discusses electoral politics and baseball.
References and Reading:
BBC Interview with Simon Schama

Simon Schama in THE NEW YORKER

Guest photos by Robin Holland

Published January 16, 2009.

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Bill Moyers speaks with historian Simon Schama, who spent months traveling across America in the run-up to an historic election to discover what events in our nation's past can tell us about how we live today and what's in store for the future.

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