Film and Teaching History

I have always found film to be fascinating. I love seeing movies, and I particularly love historical films or historical fiction. Film provides opportunities for us to “look into” the past, in a way that is unique and cannot be replicated. However, it is important to remember that films are not always historically accurate. They, too, provide a specific narrative on the past. The important thing is to be aware of the narrative that the film suggests and to approach the film critically, as we would any other historical document.

I have only taken one film class, but it was a fascinating course. It was titled “Russian and Soviet Cinema” and it was taught by one of the best professor at my undergraduate institution. At the time, I knew almost nothing about film and only slightly more about Russian history. For most of the class, I had to play catch up, learning the basics of film and media studies along with a timeline of modern Russian history. It was a lot. BUT…it was amazing. I thought of this class when reading the “Feature Films?” article because of its suggestion to teach students film concepts and vocabulary so that they can become more thoughtful observers and commentators on films. I am so in love with this suggestion. We so often show films in classrooms, but never teach our students how to comment on these films, or what to look for. Discussions on films would be so much more beneficial if students had a background that they could use to approach the films.

Two years later, I took a course on Historiography at the same undergraduate institution. We had an entire week on film in this course and I took a lot from it. In particular, I loved the notion that film presents a narrative, just as historians present narratives of history in their articles and books. For this reason, I believe that films should definitely be used in someway in the classroom. But films need to be actively used in the classroom, rather than just shown.

Though I am not yet an educator, I would love to use films in any future class I might take. I would want to use them actively, so that students could really understand all that films can show us and tell us about history.

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