Nebraska team premieres film based on enslaved man's diary

· 3 min read

Nebraska team premieres film based on enslaved man’s diary

'Diary of Michael Shiner' is fourth historical drama by Animating History
Michael Shiner, as depicted in the film, writes in a room by a window
Courtesy | Animating History

There are few known diaries kept by enslaved people, but Michael Shiner, who lived from 1805 to 1880 in the Washington, D.C., area, kept a meticulous and expansive recording of events he witnessed throughout his life.

Shiner labored as an enslaved man at the Naval Yard. Records show he was freed by 1840. Based on his writings — spanning 56 years and covering politics, family and natural phenomena — a new short film from a University of Nebraska–Lincoln team depicts the day Shiner saved his wife from the notorious slave traders Franklin and Armfield.

The film, “The Diary of Michael Shiner,” premiered Feb. 29 during the Omaha Film Festival. The film will also screen at the Phoenix Film Fest in April.

The Diary of Michael Shiner Trailer
Trailer for "The Diary of Michael Shiner"

This is the fourth film produced by Animating History, which was founded by the team of Michael Burton, assistant professor in textiles, merchandising and fashion design; Kwakuitl Dreher, associate professor in English; and William Thomas, professor of history, Angle Chair in the Humanities and associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences. The film was produced with support from an interdisciplinary grant Burton received from the Office of Research and Economic Development in 2022.

“We paged through all 186 pages of Shiner’s diary last summer at the Library of Congress, and we were amazed by his indelible memory of people, dates and locations,” Burton said. “His stories about life at the Naval Yard and politics in Washington paint a clear picture of society at that time.”

A page from Michael Shiner's diary is dated 15th June 1833.
Courtesy | Michael Burton
A page from Michael Shiner's diary is dated the 15th of June, 1833.

Previous films by the team include “Anna,” an animated film based on true events in one woman’s quest for freedom and family; “A Gold Slipper,” an animation based on the short story by Willa Cather first published in 1917 in Harper’s Monthly Magazine; and “The Bell Affair,” a feature-length animated film about the Daniel and Mary Bell family that chronicles the legal fight for Mary’s freedom.

Learn more about all the films from the Animating History team.

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