The ‘Future of America’s Past’ with Ed Ayers to premiere
Ed Ayers is a man who loves history. He’s written numerous books on the Civil War and Reconstruction, been named National Professor of the Year, and received the National Humanities Medal, among other honors and accolades. He even co-hosts a popular podcast on American history.
Now Dr. Ayers has a new project — a television series. “The Future of America’s Past” premieres locally on Aug. 8 at 9 p.m. on VPM PBS.
Produced by Field Studio in partnership with VPM, Virginia’s home for Public Media, and with major funding from the Virginia Foundation for Public Media, “The Future of America’s Past” sets out to discover how public historians are re-shaping the ways American history is preserved and remembered. On location in New York, California, Texas and Virginia, Dr. Ayers talks to artists, curators, activists, National Park Service rangers and the very people whose lives and families were shaped by particular historical events.
“I hope viewers will see just how multifaceted, vigorous and exciting the practice of American history has become,” explained Dr. Ayers. “Across the nation, in all kinds of communities, passionate advocates are keeping alive stories the textbooks leave out.”
Season 1 begins with a visit to Virginia’s Fort Monroe, the spot where slavery began in British North America and where it started to unravel during the Civil War. From there, Dr. Ayers explores the history of New York’s deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the making of Texas before the Alamo, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Leading the production are Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, documentary filmmakers based in Richmond, Va., and the founders of Field Studio. Both serve as directors and producers on the show. The crew, a diverse, majority-women team, includes collaborators from Virginia-based Red Amp Audio and SpangTV. The pilot episode features music composed by Richmond-based jazz artist Devonne Harris.
“This series is exciting to produce because there are so many individuals dedicating emotional and creative energy to helping Americans understand our past,” explained Ms. Ayers. “And we’ve discovered places where there is a critical mass of people looking at one event or one era from different angles. What that means is that events like the arrival of the first Africans in British North America or the
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire take on new meanings and new relevance in 2019. When Ed has a chance to talk with a survivor or descendant, an artist, a curator or an activist, the history feels relatable — and present.”
Both Ms. Ayers and Mr. Warren hope that viewers will appreciate the show’s refreshing approach to American history and the honest and down-to-earth conversations that were captured during filming.
Warren finds that the show’s smart yet down-to-earth tone demonstrates how to talk about “hard history” constructively — even hopefully. “Often on television,” he said, “we see history used as a weapon by one side against another. But this isn’t what we’ve seen out in the field. Rather than using the past to argue and divide, many Americans, we’ve discovered, find in our history stories of justice, fairness and hope that rise above partisan divisions and resonate on a deeply human level. ”
“We are really excited about this series,” said Steve Humble, VPM’s new Chief Content Officer. “History is an important pillar in our programming, and we are so lucky to have experts like Ed Ayers in Richmond working closely with VPM.”
VPM is the new name and brand identity of the Community Idea Stations, which includes PBS stations in Richmond, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg as well as NPR stations in Richmond, Chase City and the Northern Neck. “The Future of America’s Past” is a fitting first release under the new moniker VPM, which represents Virginia’s home for Public Media.
The four-episode first season of “The Future of America’s Past” will be presented locally on VPM PBS on August 8 and August 15 at 9:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. with back-to-back episodes each night. Complete local listings are available at VPM.org.
Beginning in September, the series will be broadcast on nearly 300 PBS member stations nationwide through distribution by American Public Television (APT).