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“Skipped History,” a humorous web series, explores overlooked ideas, people and events that continue to shape the United States. Hosted by Ben Tumin, a historical satirist, the series makes history both accessible and funny.
“For me, the reality is that the story is endlessly fascinating,” Mr. Tumin said. “If you’re just looking for answers as to how the society we live in has become the society it is today, and it’s such a flawed society in so many ways, what can you find where things went wrong? helps reimagine how well things might turn out in the future. “
The first season of “Skipped History” was hailed by important historians. Greg Grandin, history professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, called the show “a treasure,” after an episode that explored the racially motivated reasons for the United States’ first major overseas war in the Philippines.
“There are statistics that high school and college students generally find history to be one of the most boring subjects,” Tumin said. “And meanwhile, there are all these academics and educators doing an amazing job and unearthing an amazing story that we had no idea about. So the question is not: “Is the story interesting?” It’s about how you present it.
I recently spoke with Mr. Tumin about the creation of “Skipped History”, the importance of the history of the United States and why so many stories told by Mr. Tumin have been forgotten or overlooked. . Our conversation has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How did “History bypassed” start?
Before the pandemic, I was a live performer of longer-form humorous historical pieces. I was about to go on tour with a play exploring a US-led coup in Guatemala in 1954. It was in 2018. And so inspired by [President Trump’s] travel ban, I dug into the history of refugees and gave a 45 minute presentation with humorous interviews with Syrian refugees. I would show 1938 polls of citizens in the United States and their views on refugees at the time and compare them to current polls and show very clear parallels.
Afterwards, in conversations with the public, people were always interested in more story. That’s when I thought to myself, OK, it’s time to dig deeper into the story. I studied history at university and I love to read history books. I’m just naturally very curious and a little cheesy.
The pandemic was a very unwelcome opportunity to catch up with a lot of history books that I didn’t have time to read because I traveled so much, and once I started reading those books, the idea sort of materialized.
There is a lot of research, including videos, devoted to each episode. How do you find all the elements that you include?
I’m going to read a book that maybe a historian recommended to me or that has garnered a lot of attention or that just looks interesting. And I’m looking for moments or people or ideas that I didn’t know, that just make me catch my breath and surprise me.
For example, how is it possible that a racist German statistician in the 1890s wrote a deeply flawed book on racial and criminal statistics, and that these statistics and his analysis then spread to the United States to the point where Do police departments still unwittingly cite his analysis to justify tactics like stop-and-frisk?
I’m going to look for moments like this and ask myself: how is this possible? Because it seems appropriate. It seems to be in tune with the currents of American history. But it also sounds so outrageous and is something other people might be interested in learning.
Why is it important to tell these stories?
In 1970 James Baldwin wrote a letter to Angela Davis in which he said: “What has happened, it seems to me, and to put it far too simply, is that a whole new generation of people. evaluated and absorbed their history, and, in this formidable action, freed themselves from it and will never again be victims.
And I think that reveals the challenging nature of the story and how truly joyful and rewarding it can be to learn.
Why do you think much of this story has been ignored?
I would borrow a phrase from historian Tiya Miles, who describes “the riddle of the archives,” which is how historical archives tend to tell what people in power want them to tell. I love and admire historians for waging an unrecognized form of resistance and combing through the archives to reveal what many people wish we never knew. In return, it is a joy to bring these stories to life in a different way on “Skipped History” and to further highlight the work of historians.
I also think the reason so many moments in history are being ignored is that there is an erasure of US history. Making history uninteresting is part of the history of the United States. Writing a racist version of history in schools is part of American history. And on the other hand, we now have more of an interest in learning what this real story is and people are making it.
Think about all those different history commissions in the United States trying to find their cons to Project 1619, which is a revealing and remarkable piece of history that represents this really interesting moment when people are watching the history of the United States. in a new way. And maybe more importantly, we are now seeing people like Nikole Hannah-Jones or Elizabeth Hinton having the platforms to publish these articles and get the attention and respect that their truly amazing work deserves.
Season 2 of “Skipped History” ends. Are there any stories you hope to cover in season three?
Season 3 will focus on economic history, environmental history, and the history of Indigenous peoples. Plus, the cross-currents that seem to be behind every episode i.e. the growth of unchecked white supremacy. There are also a few other things I want to cover.
How would you describe “History skipped” to new viewers?
I think for new viewers there is a mixture of seriousness and silliness in “Skipped History”. And I’m saying it’s possible to insert lightness without taking things lightly. People often associate the story with being dull and also being really depressing, and that’s one of the barriers for a lot of people.
And honestly, I think anyone who studies history is affected by it. I think it’s important to know that you can discuss these topics in a really interesting way while making jokes and making it entertaining.