PBS’s ‘History Detectives’ Not Half Bad

Last night I popped on the TV to stumble across the obscure PBS series History Detectives. The show features a team of scholars who tackle several historical mysteries in each episode, visiting experts and archives to find answers. Think “Antiques Road Show” on steroids. While I didn’t remember being very impressed when I caught an early episode in 2003, I thought the episode last night (episode 12 from season 2) was quite good. I decided they’d either improved since I’d seen it last, or 6 months of working as a historical research has racheted up my tolerance for this kind of thing. In the show I watched the team investigates a colonial-era skeleton unearthed in a routine archeological excavation in Maryland and checked out whether two brass propellers in Rhode Island are from a German U-Boat. In both cases they personalized the stories nicely – for the first the property owner’s son was the inquiring mind, and the second, two sons of a man who died on a ship sunk by the U-Boat. It turns out the Nazis were working on plans to attack New York City with V2 rockets launched from U-Boats, something I hadn’t heard before. I think the only change I’d like to see would be for the “clients” to be taken along with us to the various libraries and archives with the investigator.

I was also surprised to discover the host of the show is none other than Gwendolyn Wright, author of one of my favorite nonfiction books (no kidding) Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America. I think I’ll try to tune in to some of their 4th season, which starts next week.

Author: Rob Goodspeed