In 1964, Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “the medium is the message.” By this, he meant that it is not just access to information that shapes our understanding of the past, present, and future. Just as important, he argued, is the mode of communication—books, films, photographs, etc.—which directs our interpretations and, ultimately, our understanding. Over the past 125 years, few media have been as influential in shaping information, interpretation, and understanding as film.

This course examines how our knowledge of the past has been (and continues to be) shaped through film. As such, this is not a course on the history of film. Rather, it is a course on

  1. how film serves as a medium to convey historical arguments
  2. how film responds to and shapes socio-cultural and political contexts
  3. how filmmakers and audiences interpret history through film
  4. how historians can use film to represent the past
  5. how historians analyze films as historical artifacts

In this course, you will learn about the techniques and genres of historical filmmaking and develop skills in basic film criticism and analysis. By comparing primary documents to cinematic interpretations, you will also become more proficient in comparative historical analysis. Finally, you will learn how to do basic film editing.

The theme that will guide our analysis of History through Film will be “Protest and Resistance.” Among the films that we will watch and analyze this semester are The Life of Brian, Matewan, 1971, Citizenfour, Ghosts of Amistad, Guguletu Seven, Let the Fire Burn, Iron Jawed Angels, Even the Rain, The Mission, and Inherit the Wind.

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