Teaching History Through Film

Aside from being a student of history, my other interest also lies in film. I am a sucker for a good period piece or historical drama. Im not sure which really came first, my love of period piece or history. Hence why I like historical drama. However, if given the chance to teach, in a traditional sense, a film for the purpose of a history course I might choose a film such as 12 Years a Slave. Or films that deal with Civil War era like Lincoln or Free State of Jones. It would allow me to educate the students on the period, contextual differences, address social roles, and so many more questions that could come up when using a film to study. I think as a general rule of thumb, movies that claim to be based historical fact are the starting point. In general, these movies can be used a starting point for students to explore other themes within the movie and see how they hold up against other historical accounts. Much of the time extraordinary stories are the ones that get made into films, so how does the fair against the historical record? Ive mentioned in a previous blog post, but historical films always make me question the archival silences that lie with outside the chosen narrative. So if I was to use film to teach something, it might be to address silences within history. I reviewed the film The Last Duel in a blog post prior to this one. And in that post I explain the premise of the film and why I found it interesting. To summarize though, Marguerite the wife of Jean, accuses Jacques of sexual assault. The story is told from 3 different perspectives: 1st the husbands view, 2nd the accusers view, and 3rd the wife/accuser. The Last Duel is based on a book written by English scholar Eric Jager, but what is most interesting is the fact that Marguerite’s narrative is largely excluded from the historical narrative. Jager and the final film use historical records to piece together what might have been Marguerite’s reaction and story, but we will never know for sure her exact reactions. However, this film continues on with my idea of exploring archival silences.

Additionally, digital storytelling provides a new opportunity for students to engage with materials that they study and create new ways to interact with history. Storytelling can also allow us to deconstruct historical narratives that opens up more compelling interactions with the materials. In Prof. Schrum’s article we were walked through how digital storytelling was used by students to create projects that went beyond traditional historical analysis. In one instance, a student used a painting in the style of an exhibit in a trial. In doing so, the student effectively engaged scholars and students on thought process and discourse. So not only do the student obtain technology skills, but also methods to confront their own work. I almost think of digital storytelling, in the context of historical study, as a means of deconstructing the narratives or events. In doing so, this can allow the students to gain a more clear structure of the historical evidence that is supporting their argument. The ability to deconstruct and reconstruct an argument, provides heightened and sharper written skill and the ability to concisely make an argument with support. Overall, digital storytelling opens up multiple avenues for students to grow their skills in analysis and research, or any skill relating to historical thinking.

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