Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Multimedia: Underwater Flicks All Wet? Volume 54 Number 1, November/December 2001
by Barto Arnold

Two video documentaries sink, one swims.

[image] Left, the cutting-edge propeller of a successor to the Civil War ship Monitor. Recovery of the sunken Monitor's propeller is featured in Lincoln's Secret Weapon. (Mariner's Museum Collection) Right, visitors to the Monitor inspect dents inflicted in battle. (National Archives)

The discovery of shipwrecks engenders tremendous public interest. The media can satisfy that fascination in an unfortunate way, uncritically embracing adventure and thereby uncritically embracing projects that destroy the heritage entombed with lost ships. The three video examples considered here contrast markedly. Lincoln's Secret Weapon, from Nova, gets it right. Hitler's Lost Sub, also from Nova, and Submarine I-52: Search for WWII Gold, from National Geographic, don't. Lincoln's Secret Weapon joins the latest expedition to the wreck of the Civil War ship USS Monitor. Hitler's Lost Sub and Submarine I-52 chronicle the discovery of two World War II submarines, one German, the other Japanese. All three offer ripping good yarns. What is in question is the proper or improper treatment of historic shipwrecks.

[image] Dives on sub I-52 have revealed no gold. (© Jonathan Blair)

Lincoln's Secret Weapon
Jonathon Wickham and D.J. Roller, producers
Nova for PBS
First broadcast: October 24, 2000
60 minutes; $19.95

Hitler's Lost Sub
Paula S. Apsell and Rushmore DeNooyer, producers
Nova for PBS
First broadcast: November 14, 2000
120 minutes; $19.95

Submarine I-52: Search for WWII Gold
Nicolas Noxon and Barry Nye, producers
National Geographic Special for NBC
First broadcast: September 11, 1999
60 minutes; $19.98
Catalog number G70052

Barto Arnold is director of Texas Operations for the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America