Toplin, Robert Brent 1940-
TOPLIN, Robert Brent 1940-
PERSONAL: Born September 26, 1940, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Maurice C. (a businessman) and Janet (a commodities manager) Toplin; married Aida Zukowski (a college instructor in Spanish), September 3, 1962; children: Cassandra, Jennifer. Education: Pennsylvania State University, B.S., 1962; Rutgers University, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1968.
ADDRESSES: Home—6324 Marywood Dr., Wilmington, NC 28403. Office—Department of History, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Morton 224, 601 South College Rd., Wilmington, NC 28403-3297. Agent—Scott Meredith Literary Agency, 845 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Denison University, Granville, OH, assistant professor of history, 1968-74; University of Houston, Clear Lake City, TX, associate professor of history, 1974-75; Denison University, associate professor of history, 1976-78; University of North Carolina at Wilmington, professor of history, 1978—. Project director for several Public Broadcasting system dramatic films, 1982-85. Organization of American Historians Lecturer in Japan, 1999.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Southern Historical Association, Conference on Latin American Historians.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation fellow, 1967, 1971; Organization of American States fellow, 1967, 1970; National Endowment for the Humanities younger humanist fellow, 1970, production grant, 1991; American Philosophical Society fellow, 1970; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1970, 1991; Denison University Research Foundation fellow, 1972; Mellon Foundation Award for teaching merit, Denison University, 1972; grants from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1977, 1978, 1979-80, 1982-83, American Philosophical Society, 1981, and Annenberg Foundation and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 1983-84; Virginia Center for the Humanities fellow, 1994; University of North Carolina-Wilmington summer research initiative, 1996.
The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1972.
(Editor) Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1974.
Unchallenged Violence: An American Ordeal, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1975.
Freedom and Prejudice: The Legacy of Slavery in the United States and Brazil, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1982.
(Editor) American History through Film (articles previously published in OAH Newsletter), Organization of American Historians, 1983.
(Editor) Hollywood As Mirror: Changing Views of "Outsiders" and "Enemies" in American Movies, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1993.
(Editor) Ken Burns's "The Civil War": Historians Respond, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1996.
(Editor) Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2000.
Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2002.
Contributor of articles and book reviews to history and Latin American studies journals, including American Historical Review, New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of Southern History, Journal of Black Studies, Hispanic American Historical Review, Civil War History, and Societus. Film review editor, Journal of American History; former film and media editor, Perspectives.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Brent Toplin has written several books examining how history is presented in film: History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past, Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy, and Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood.
In History by Hollywood Toplin looks at how Hollywood filmmakers have presented stories about real historical events, asking particularly if they strayed too far from the truth in order to create an entertaining work of art. Although a filmmaker must be concerned with the artistic side of his craft, Toplin argues that "artistic interpretation is not synonymous with fabrication—that the film artist can use the devices at his or her disposal to penetrate below the surfaces of history, thereby bringing history to life," according to Peter C. Rollins in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. Thomas Winter in the Historian found that "Toplin's book challenges historians to see their field and the profession in new and potentially exciting ways."
In Oliver Stone's USA Toplin gathers essays written by a number of historians and other interested parties about controversial film director Oliver Stone. Stone himself is among the contributors, as are former Democrat Party presidential candidate George McGovern and esteemed historian Stephen Ambrose. As Peter Augustine Lawler noted in American Enterprise, "Stone's films are full of obvious and overwhelming errors of fact and interpretation." Toplin's book, Lawler continued, "presents a showdown between Stone and some leading historians. They evaluate his films, and he responds."
Toplin calls for restraint when criticizing Hollywood's portrayal of historical events in his 2002 book Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood. While acknowledging the distortions of historical personalities, timelines, and events which are often found in films, Toplin argues that such changes are inevitable in filmmaking and that Hollywood nonetheless creates dramas which accurately give the feel of a period. Andrea Slonosky, reviewing the book for Library Journal, found that "Toplin makes his point eloquently, if somewhat repetitively, and builds a strong case for Hollywood's overall success in bringing certain aspects of history to life."
Toplin once told CA: "In recent years I have been exploring ways to communicate ideas about American history through the media of film and television. My work led to the creation of a docu-drama series about slavery in America called 'A House Divided' and a documentary series entitled 'USA,' which covers American history from 1865 to the present. Both of these series were designed for broadcast nationally on the PBS television network."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Enterprise, January, 2001, Peter Augustine Lawler, review of Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy, p. 56.
American Quarterly, March, 1998, J. David Slocum, review of History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past, p. 175.
American Studies International, October, 2001, James Deutsch, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 98.
Choice, December, 2000, R. C. Cottrell, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 766.
Chronicle of Higher Education, October 4, 2002, Nina C. Ayoub, review of Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood, p. A22.
Film Quarterly, winter, 1997, Richard Maltby, review of History by Hollywood, p. 60.
Historian, summer, 1998, Thomas Winter, review of History by Hollywood, p. 879.
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, March, 1998, Peter C. Rollins, review of History by Hollywood, p. 147.
Journalism History, autumn, 2000, Douglass K. Daniel, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 131.
Journal of American History, September, 1998, review of History by Hollywood, p. 765; September, 2001, Paul Ruhle, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 747.
Journal of Southern History, February, 1998, Daniel Blake Smith, review of History by Hollywood, p. 175.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Andrea Slonosky, review of Reel History, p. 99.
Literature-Film Quarterly, January, 2001, Don Kunz, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 71.
New Republic, July 24, 2000, Stanley Kauffmann, "On Films—Telling One's Truth," p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2000, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 214.
Reviews in American History, September, 2002, John Bodnar, review of Reel History, p. 492.
Southern Communication Journal, summer, 1999, Rise Jane Samra, review of History by Hollywood, p. 357.
Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, spring, 2001, Tom Pynn, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 45.
Variety, July 17, 2000, Dade Hayes, review of Oliver Stone's USA, p. 34.
Robert Brent Toplin's Home Page,http://www.uncwil.edu/hst/homepage/faculty/Toplin.htm (December 11, 2002).*