HIST 227 : HISTORY GOES TO THE MOVIES
Office Hours : Wednesdays, 15:00-16:00
Lectures : Thursdays, 11:40-14:30 (IC G011)
This course deals with cinema’s challenge to our understanding of history. A set of
fourteen films that claim to represent the past are going to be analyzed at two levels : as
film, and as history. We shall be focusing on the positions of the producer, the director,
the screenplay, the viewer, and, last but not least, the historian, with regard to
conceptions of history in historical movies.
Students will be expected to evaluate critically a set of issues regarding film and history,
such as : What is historical truth ? How reliable are films for narrating the past ? What
light, if any, do they shed on that past ? What qualities, other than -- or in addition to --
accuracy or faithfulness to reality, go to make a film into a good piece of historical
representation ? What are the similarities and differences in our criteria for evaluating
historians’ and historical films’ accounts of the past ? As public memory comes to be
shaped more and more through films or other visual, popular media, how can historians
engage with this medium, not only to criticise or repudiate it but also to develop and to
learn from it ?
The films to be viewed in this course provide a range of representative examples for
dealing with these and other questions. Students are expected to come to class having
carefully read the materials assigned for that day and prepared to engage in serious
discussion. Collective viewings have been set for every Wednesday evening at 20:30 (in
IC 2011). A primary set of fourteen films should preferably be viewed together on
Wednesday evenings. In addition, another set of films, useful for comparative purposes,
will be made available on Thursday evenings (also at 20:30, in IC 2011) but may also
be viewed individually or in small groups.
Each Wednesday viewing starts an analysis and work submission cycle. The very next
Thursday, the students will be expected to submit a maximum three-page paper
(consisting of a comparative review of the films in question in the light of the readings).
This will have to be submitted as hard copy. Each such review will be graded on a scale
of one to ten points. There will be a workshop towards “film review writing” to be
organized by the Writing Center (TBA).