Special Report: The Moving-Image Media in the History Classroom
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 16, Number 3, September 1986
- pp. 49-54
- Additional Information
Special Report The Moving-Image Media in the History Classroom For the past two years the Historians Film Committee and Film & History have been involved in a grant project sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Higher Education entitled "The Moving-Image Media and the History Classroom." The grant has subsidized 300 subscriptions to the journal for New Jersey history educators, and it has also funded this special issue of the journal to serve as a report on the project. The broader goals of the project, which dovetails with a larger effort of the American Historical Association, involve the development of curriculum materials to support the teaching of a number of films as historical documents or artifacts, the presentation of a series of in-service workshops at New Jersey schools and colleges, and two intensive week-long summer seminars on "Teaching History With Film and Television." One important reason why many historians have been slow to appreciate the importance of films and television in their research and teaching has to do with methodology available to them. It is not unusual to find historical scholars who can debate for hours on the vagaries of seventeenth-century handwriting, but for whom the tools of analysis common to cinema studies—drawn as they are from the fields of literary criticism, anthropology, linguistics, and psychology—seem to be so much mumbo-jumbo. The challenge at hand is to draw the connections between historical methodology and the study of film and television—including a recognition that semiotics and other means of analysis can and should play a part. The results should include both a new recognition among historians of the importance of visual sources, and a refinement ofthe approaches of communications studies based upon the long-standing methodology of historical research. There are three basic types of questions historians ask of any document before them. (1) First, they ask about the content of the document—what information does it contain? The full analysis ofany document demands a fluency in the language in which it is written, including a sensitivity to patterns of usage and idiom, and a close content analysis of what the document has to say (the order in which points are made and the tone in which they are delivered). Secondly, they ask about the conditions under which the document was written. Was the document written with a specific purpose in mind and how might this have colored its content? Was there information about which the author was unaware? Might the author have had a reason to withhold information from a correspondent, or to stress one or another point to elicit a desired response? Finally, they are concerned with the influence that the document or the information it contained may have had on subsequent events. Regardless of what is known with the benefit of hindsight, how did the document impact upon the people of the times for whom it was written? The clearest way to impress upon traditional historians the value of moving image materials is to demonstrate the ways in which the solid historical analysis of film and television sources can be compared to their tried and true methods for studying manuscripts or other common forms of evidence. There are differences, of course, most 49 important being the need for historians to begin to come to grips with "visual language". But the similarities are more striking than the differences. The New Jersey based project is built upon the idea that the approach to film and television as historical document is a particularly productive way to address media study in the history classroom. The essay to follow on Edward R. Murrow's famous See It Now: Report on Senator McCarthy is an example of the type of background materials that have been developed (or are in the process of development) for five other productions: The Plow That Broke the Plains. Night and Fog (See article by Charles Krantz in Volume XV No. 1, Film & History), Modern Times, The Return of Martin Guerre, and Molders of Troy. In addition to a critical essay, each of the sets of curriculum materials contains a genera] introduction to the concept of studying a film as artifact, a...