Film and American History
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 3, Number 2, May 1973
- pp. 21-24
- Additional Information
HISTORY THROUGH FILM Printed below and on the faollowlng pages Ii another In a serles ofa syllabi ofa "hlstony through falbr" courses cunrently being taught In American universities-. The contributors have been asked to supply an Introductory statement describing their appnoach, the goals they have In view and whatever Insights they might already have Into the "hlstony through faltm" experience. In subsequent Issues o fa Pllrn ê Hlstony the series will be continued w.ith other hlstonlans and other schools contributing. lfa you. teach a similar course on have s+imllan experience that you would ¿ike to shone with others, the éditons Invite you to contribute. Film and American History by Claire Hirshfield Pennsylvania State University Ogontz Campus Ogontz is a branch campus of the Pennsylvania State University. Students spend their freshman and sophomore years at Ogontz before transferring to the main campus at University Park for the completion of their degree requirements. Since our enrollment is composed entirely of freshmen and sophomores, history offerings are confined to basic survey courses . The introductory course in modern American history (History 21: The United States since 1865) has always been popular with students, and enrollments have remained respectable even in an age of lessening enthusiasm for historical study. Despite a generally favorable response from students, however, those instructors who offer History 21 have, in company with many other historians throughout the country, been engaged in an on-going process of self-evaluation during the past year. This has involved a careful analysis of the methods and techniques we have used so that we may determine how effective these have been. It has also involved a rethinking of the aims and goals which we consider important and which should therefore underlie both the organization and the presentation of the course. In the past, most of the instructors who teach History 21 have tended toward the traditional lecture format. Though we have made use of reading assignments which aimed at stimulating class discussion, too often the tyranny of time and the imperatives of coverage have reinforced the tendency to lecture, despite all good intentions to the 21 contrary. Since our term is only ten weeks in duration, students have too often been made to gallop through a century of American history at breakneck pace, with scarcely a pause to question, to reflect, or to express wonder. If indeed the major focus of the course was to be shifted away from the material to be covered and on to the student himself, then it would first be necessary to break free of the bondage of comprehensive coverage which appeared less and less a desirable aim. Since the alternative to a chronological recital of the past seemed to lie in a more topical approach, we set about isolating those key themes which might be adequately explored within a ten week term. It was not difficult to identify the basic strands in the fabric of the course - the role of the immigrant, the rise of a labor movement, the growth of world-consciousness, the revolt against Social Darwinism in the twentieth century. Many of these themes were not only interesting in their historical context but still figure significantly in current American life. Thus eliminating some of the usual historical narrative led us first to a reorganization of content along topical lines. Additionally we found that a thematic approach made it easier to relate historical happenings to current concerns. This was an important bonus, for we had sensed in the students a need to integrate what they learned from lectures and readings with their own perceptions of the world around them; to assimilate the American past as a means of comprehending the American present. Topicality and relevance thus became inextricably linked together as twin components of the reorganized course. But even beyond the need to restructure the curriculum and thus to achieve relevance, we were conscious too of the necessity of humanizing the course. We discerned in the students a desire to respond emotionally as well as to comprehend intellectually - somehow, indeed, to experience directly the larger vistas and meanings of history. This led to the further decision to integrate feature films into the newly revised curriculum. We felt...