What purpose does film serve in the history classroom or in the telling of history? Blog Post #1

by tombarry2410 on October 6, 2017 - 10:46pm

Film as a younger medium is an odd choice for historical use. With the first films being shown publicly only happening in 1893 there’s only just over a century’s worth of historical film to use which limits its usefulness in teaching history. As well as this film is flawed as a teaching tool in that sometimes historical accuracy takes a backseat to drama in an effort to make a profit. In contrast to these flaws the medium still has a lot of benefits in a classroom setting for many uses ranging from giving a visual representation of the historical events being studied or to provide context about the view of to the events when the film was made. Film therefore has some uses in a classroom setting despite its general flaws as it can work in different ways to textbooks.

One reason films shouldn’t be used to depict historical events is that they are heavily biased by the view of the author. For example, the author of the book Half of a Yellow Sun had both of her grandfathers die as refugees in Biafra being killed by federal troops. This view of the Nigerian troops in the army as being brutal and murderous comes across in the film as Olanna's aunt and uncle are murdered in front of her by Nigerian troops as they try to flee to safety. Alongside this we see Richard watch Igbo people being lined up and shot in the airport by another set of Nigerian troops. This view is shown throughout the film even in the constant bombing of Biafran refugee camps throughout the film continuing this depiction of the Nigerian army as brutal people trying to starve out and kill any Biafrans to win the war. This depiction comes from the author who had both of her grandfathers murdered by Nigerians during the civil war. It shows a depiction of the war in the context of someone with Igbo and Biafran relatives who were killed and have experiences of the war. This makes it a good way of teaching a Biafran perspective of the war and whilst the bias makes it poor as a source of the events themselves as the bias effects its reliability with it taken in context it provides an different perspective on the Nigerian Civil War.

Film can be also be used in the classroom to help visualise learning. Films are able to connect in a different way to traditional book learning they are easier to empathise and relate to as you see other going people going through the events depicted. For example, Waltz with Bashir follows Ari Folman as he tries to re-construct his memories of the Lebanese Civil War and more specifically the Sabra and Shatila massacre. It provides several first-hand accounts of war with multiple soldiers telling stories of their time in the army and how the war affected them. This allows the viewer to engage with the stories told and animated in the film as their hearing and seeing them from the perspective of the people it happened to rather than from a textbook. This means that its useful in a classroom setting as it makes someone more likely to listen and engage with the content as its being told by another human figure who they can empathise with who went through these events.

Overall film provides something in a classroom setting that textbooks and other mediums aren’t. Whether that be through being able to show how people view things in context or a human connection to the events their learning about.





I am impressed with your analysis and how specific you have been in your examples to both show that movies can be helpful for learning in history class while remaining self-aware that many movies are romanticized or favor a particular view and thus cannot be taken as absolute truth. I think one point to be added is that movies can be very long and packed with too much content, which makes it difficult for students to single out specifics. Helping to visualize learning is good, but sometimes there is too much content in one frame for one to notice all the details, which won't happen as much if the medium for learning is text-based. In a movie featuring famous actors, the students may pay more attention to his interactions with others rather than the background setting and historical items the movie added as details. In the end, I find that having a movie be helpful in a history class comes down to how well the teacher prepares his students and how well he chooses his movie to be appropriate to everyone, easy to follow and entertaining to keep everyone’s interest. The source I found suggests that the teacher must also remain active during the movie period, being ready to pause to start discussions or clarify certain points, which I fully agree with.
Fuglei, Monica. “‘Sweet, it’s Movie Day!’ Engaging Strategies for Showing Films in Class.” Lessons Plan Page. http://lessonplanspage.com/engaging-strategies-for-showing-films-in-class/. Accessed October 15th 2017