This is the first in a series of posts on AHA Today that will discuss the film Selma. Author Kent Germany is associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina and non-resident research fellow with the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. He is the author of New Orleans After the Promises and editor of four volumes on the Lyndon Johnson recordings, including a digital edition on LBJ and civil rights.
What happens when historians go to the movies? Like everyone else, we kick back and enjoy two hours immersed in a story. However, there are certain tendencies that are difficult to turn off
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the AHA. See also our past movie posts, including AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman’s article, “Historians and The Conspirator: Using Film to Ask Big Questions,” and our roundup of historians’ movie reviews from the “Masters at the Movies” Perspectives on History series.
In a move common to Hollywood movies, Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar downplays the historical significance of this controversial figure for a more in-depth look into the man.
Each month since June, the National History Education Clearinghouse blog has been reposting reviews of “popular films, documentaries, miniseries, and other history-based features” from the Journal of American History. Below we list the movies they’ve featured, with brief quotes from the reviews. We encourage you to head over to the teachinghistory.org site and check out the full reviews and other resources they have there.
You may also be interested in our past blog post, “100 Films Reviewed by Historians,” a roundup of the movies featured in the Perspectives on History “Masters at the Movies” article series.
AHA Today will be on hiatus this week, with no scheduled posts (unscheduled posts, like breaking news, are always a possibility). In the meantime, here are some posts to help keep you entertained:
- 100 Films Reviewed by Historians (April 19, 2011)
- Historians and The Conspirator: Using Film to ask Big Questions (April 13, 2011)
- History Podcasts (December 3, 2008)
- History Podcasts, Take 2 (January 13, 2009)
- History Podcasts, Take 3 (April 7, 2009)
- History Podcasts, Take 4 (February 23, 2011)
- History, There’s an App for That (August 9, 2010)
- History, There’s an Android App for That (February 14, 2011)
- YouTube EDU (April 21, 2009)
- Ask not what YouTube can do for you… (May 26, 2009)
- National Archives on YouTube (September 13, 2010)
- Presidential Libraries on YouTube (April 11, 2011)
- Historical Maps Roundup (April 27, 2010)
- Top 25 Web Sites for Teaching and Learning (July 14, 2010)
- Black, and White, and Read All Over: Digitized Newspaper Resources (August 4, 2010)
Can you learn history through movies?
Just last week on the blog, AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman examined the new film The Conspirator and discussed how movies can be used to generate questions, start discussions, and in the end, teach history.
This idea, that movies can be a teaching tool, has been the theme of the “Masters at the Movies” article series in Perspectives on History since it began in 2006. Over the past 5 years, 17 historians have reviewed or noted over 100 films, applauding some while questioning the accuracy of others.
Is it possible to produce a credible film about the Civil War without mentioning slavery? I’ve now seen The Conspirator (opening this week across the country) twice, and I’m still not sure. This very question provides one of the many elements that make this film such a superb vehicle for teaching and for public conversation on the Civil War. And remember: for the next five years there will be a lot of public conversation about the Civil War.
The Conspirator focuses on the trial of Mary Surratt, a Washington boardinghouse keeper accused of participating in a conspiracy that successfully assassinated President Lincoln, produced an attack on Secretary of State Seward, and failed to implement a planned assassination of Vice President Johnson.
POV, which stands for point-of-view, is “TV’s longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films.” Each year, POV presents “14-16 of the best, boldest & most innovative” documentaries on PBS. One of the films that premiered this year is The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, which has won the AHA’s 2010 John O’Connor film award.
The POV web site has an entire section, named “For Educators,” that is devoted to how teachers can use these films and related lesson plans in the classroom.