- Three Open University Films on History and the Historian: The Neccessity for History; Primary Sources: The Raw Material For History; and The Historian at Work (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 4, December 1974
- pp. 17-18
- View Citation
- Additional Information
FILM REVIEWS Three Open University Films on History and the Historian: The Neccessity for History; Primary Sources : The Raw Material For History; and The Historian at Work (Open University, 1969-70), 25 minutes each, black and white. Britain's Open University has produced an interesting trio of films useful to the teaching historian in introducing his or her discipline to beginning students. The films are part of the general introductory course in the Humanities in which history is given four units out of a total of 36 units. (Note that in the British curriculum history is considered a humanity, not a social science.) The OU courses are designed for adults who are willing to spend considerable time on a combination correspondence course with radio, television and summer campus segments. During the spring of 1973 some of the materials used in the OU courses became available in the United States through Harper & Row. The English historian, Arthur Marwick, a Professor of History at the OU, has put together a package that attempts to introduce the meaning and value of history while at the same time explaining how history is written so that the student will not only be able to write reasonable history but also to be both more critical and more appreciative of an historical work. The films are obviously aimed at a British audience but a careful historian who previews them should be able to pick out references unfamiliar to American students and explain most of them satisfactorily . On the other hand one must not overestimate the knowledge of American students about American history. John Foster Dulles figures briefly in one of the OU films and there were precious few students in my classes who had any inkling of whom he might be. The major message in the first film, "The Neccessity for History," was twofold: "you just can't escape from history" and that without history a society would be disoriented. The film showed newsclips from a series of recent violent conflicts such as Vietnam, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and race riots in Chicago. Marwick as narrator made the point that events such as these have historical bases, that they just don't occur in an historical vacuum. In other words, to be able to understand current events, you need to understand their historical background. The students seem to be impressed with these lessons as taught by Marwick. Their generation is quite visually oriented and they especially liked seeing the film clips of historical events and places. 17 There was one section, however, that seemed to have little impact: a segment approximately 8 minutes long during which Marwick gave a brief overview of Western Civilization from the Greeks through the Industrial Revolution. There didn't seem to be any point to such a brief survey. The second film is "Primary Sources: The Raw Material of History." Its purpose was to show what a primary source is, the many types of primary sources there are, the imperfect nature of these sources, and how the historian can use bits and pieces of evidence to construct a theory of an event or a way of life. Using London as its focus this film was successful in achieving its aims. The students were most impressed with the many types of primary sources that the historian may be able to use ranging from pieces of Roman pottery to a charter of William the Conqueror to a contemporary painting of the great fire of London. Marwick clearly brought across the point that the historian depends on a variety of other professionals such as archeologists and museum curators for help in unraveling the past. The people that he talked with in the film were very enthusiastic about their work and I think this impressed the students also. The third film, "The Historian at Work," is perhaps the best of the three in terms of achieving its purpose: to show how an historian produces a scholarly monograph. Marwick introduces Kenneth Morgan who discusses his book, Wales in British Politics 1868-1922, in terms of the sources used and places visited. My students had little idea of the amount of work that goes into historical research. Morgan did an...