US History in Film
This course examines historically oriented motion pictures as both primary and secondary sources of information about the past. It starts from the premise that the content in films, as with written sources, can (and should) be critically analyzed for its perspectives, interpretive choices, biases, and reliability. The course examines the relative successes or failures that major films have had in portraying the past, and analyzes how present events, cultures and attitudes shape our view of the past. As historians we typically analyze and use traditional primary and secondary sources (e.g., historical documents and scholarly articles and monographs); it is possible and helpful to apply many of those same skills (and much of the same skepticism) to our approaches to non-traditional sources, such as these films.
Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, watch all assigned films, and participate in class (including posting to the course wiki). They are also expected to create a research project and take a midterm and a final. [Projects are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Projects are considered late if posted or changed anytime after they are due. Late projects will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.]
Each week we will be discussing a particular movie. That movie will be shown in Chandler 102 starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday nights. If you cannot make that showing, you will have to make other arrangements to see the movie, including watching it on your own at the Multimedia Center or renting it from Netflix/video store. However, be warned that not all of these movies are readily available elsewhere. Watching these movies is your responsibility, so don’t wait until the last minute to do so! [Note that there are no movies outside class during weeks 1, 8, or 14.]
Students are expected to attend all Thursday discussion classes having watched the movie for that week, having read the material, and having prepared 2-3 questions, comments, or potential debate topics. These should be posted to the appropriate week in the class wiki no later than 7 AM on Thursdays. (http://mcclurken.umwhistory.org/wiki/index.php?title=HIST_329) The questions/comments/topics should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading and the movies. [Since the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.] Class participation requires actively participating in these discussions, watching the movies, and submitting questions/comments/topics.
Final grades will be determined based on class participation (25%), on performance on the midterm and final exams (25% each), as well as on the online, research-based historical analysis of a film (25%). [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D or below on work completed at that time.] Completion of all assignments is required to pass the class.
Robert Brent Toplin, Reel History.
Many other readings are available as online selections linked to from the course site.
Research Project Assignment
I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience. You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council. So, do not do it. On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours). If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.
TOPICS & MOVIES [See readings page for specific readings for each week]
Week 1 – beginning Aug. 25
No movie – Introduction
Week 2 – beginning Sept. 1
Week 3 – beginning Sept. 8
Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Week 4 – beginning Sept. 15
The Patriot (2000)
Week 5 – beginning Sept. 22
Week 6 – beginning Sept. 29
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Week 7 – beginning Oct. 6
Week 8 – beginning Oct. 13
Fall Break – No class Tuesday, October 14
MIDTERM – Thursday, October 16 – Bring Blue books
Week 9 – beginning Oct. 20
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Week 10 – beginning Oct. 27
Week 11 – beginning Nov. 3
Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Week 12 – beginning Nov. 10
Long Walk Home (1990)
Week 13 – beginning Nov. 17
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Week 14 – beginning Nov. 24
Reefer Madness (1938)
— Thanksgiving—No class Thursday!
Week 15 – beginning Dec. 1
All the President’s Men (1976)
Exam: Thursday, December 11, 8:30-11:00 a.m.
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