Slavery in “The Civil War” Film by Ken Burns

The documentary created by Ken Burns about the civil war is primarily striking with the scale of the work done. Research, studying the materials, and documents, finding photos, and finally presenting the results to the audience – these aspects I find most impressive not only in the last episode but also in the entire series. They are crucial because the knowledge base, interpretation, and presentation influence how people understand such an important event as the Civil War. The final ninth episode concludes the series with a story about what happened after the end of hostilities. Despite the considerable work done by the film crew, some aspects, in my opinion, are not sufficiently covered.

The advantages of the episode are creating an atmosphere and accurate transmission of events. They contribute to the immersion of viewers in the film and enhance the impressions received from it. For example, Lincoln’s death was presented not only through a statement of facts but also by recording events. In terms of content, simultaneously, I consider the film’s last minutes devoted to the war’s consequences to be the most significant. They determine the meaning of events, and the analysis of the effects makes the audience think about modern society’s nature. For instance, slaves officially became free people, but they did not receive the freedom they expected. However, the film devotes too little time to discussion of these topics, downplaying their significance. Burns (1990) emphasizes the emotions, impressions, and memories of events’ contemporaries. As a result, the film lacks the analysis and opinion of historians. The reason for the shortage is that the film is aimed at a broad audience.

Even in that short time devoted to the consequences of the Civil War, the watched episode helped to slightly contextualize the studied materials, particularly concerning the impact on modern people. The events themselves were decisive in American society’s formation, and the understanding of memories demonstrates what this influence was. Moreover, the Burns vision presented in the film indicates that the problem of slavery is still underestimated by a broad audience. Thus, although the film has educational significance, it should be watched and evaluated critically.


Burns, K. (1990). The Civil War [TV series]. PBS.

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