ERIC Identifier: ED415177
Publication Date: 1997-11-00
Author: Paris, Matthew J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Integrating Film and Television into Social Studies
Instruction. ERIC Digest.
By their own accounts and those of their critics, the current generation of
students is a video generation. They learned to read with Big Bird on "Sesame
Street" and their view of the world has been largely formed and shaped through
visual culture. This familiarity can make film and video a powerful pedagogical
tool. Visual media also address different learning modalities, making material
more accessible to visual and aural learners. Add to this the rich array of
diverse videos and documentaries available and it's easy to see why these
formats represent the second most popular source used in social studies classes.
However, the very qualities that make film and video so popular present
problems as well. For students raised on a steady diet of media consumption,
film and documentary footage used in the classroom often becomes "edutainment."
This does more than simply distort historical and social issues. It reinforces
the passive viewing and unquestioning acceptance of received material that
accompanies growing up in a video environment.
That passivity and lack of critical awareness is anathema to a democracy. An
essential aspect of social studies education is the teaching of information and
skills needed by people who are to participate actively as citizens in a
democratic society. Thirty years ago this meant teaching students to read the
newspaper critically, to identify bias there, and to distinguish between factual
reporting and editorializing. Critical viewing skills must be added to this
effort. One solution to the omnipotence of visual culture is to develop a
critical awareness of that culture.
The last ten years have witnessed many efforts combining media literacy and
pedagogy. For social studies teachers, an excellent starting point is John E.
O'Connor's IMAGE AS ARTIFACT: THE HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF FILM AND TELEVISION.
O'Connor's work discusses pedagogical approaches to film and video that have
their antecedents in the philosophy of historical and social studies inquiry. He
defines three basic types of questions that historians ask of any document and
applies these to film and video. This is followed by an explication of four
frameworks for historical inquiry concerning visual material. These approaches
and techniques are neither sequential nor separate; rather they are
complementary, designed to be combined and applied throughout the learning
THREE TYPES OF QUESTIONS
(1) Questions about Content. How
is the information determined by the visual and aural mechanics of the film?
This requires a basic knowledge of the language of film and narrative structure.
Teachers should be familiar with editing techniques, camera angles, the uses of
sound, and other aspects of the presentation. Similarly, they need some
knowledge of film structure. Any number of introductory texts on film production
can provide this. A good example is THE ART OF WATCHING FILMS (1996) by Joseph
(2) Questions about Production. Beyond the cultural and social aspects of the
film, what influences were at work in shaping the document? How might the
background (personal, political, professional) of the producer, director,
writer, actors have influenced the presentation? Interviews, trade magazines,
and the national press provide good coverage for recent productions. Press kits
and promotional materials are also an excellent, albeit biased, primary source.
For older films, memoirs and biographies often provide insight.
(3) Questions about Reception. How was the document received at the time of
its production? What factors influenced this reception? Has the critical
reception changed over the years? Did this production influence other works?
social movements? trends? This approach lends itself well to student projects
researching historical reviews and other related stories. Journals and magazines
covering mass media history are a particularly rich source.
FOUR FRAMEWORKS FOR HISTORICAL INQUIRY
(1) The Moving
Image as Representation of History. This approach is often useful simply for
acquainting students with a sense of time, place, and material culture. The
judicious use of clips from one or several films can introduce students to such
issues as living conditions, family relations, social customs, and commerce. For
instance, a recent exhibit at the National Institute of Medicine showed scenes
from Kenneth Branagh's "Frankenstein" to illustrate early medical practices.
Recent studies reveal that many teachers use video clips in this or similar
(2) The Moving Image as Evidence for Social and Cultural History. This
approach represents a virtual gold mine for social studies and history teachers.
Popular culture often reflects the social and cultural environment of its times
more accurately than it reveals its subject. Laurence Oliver's "Henry V" (1945),
made in England during the dark days of World War II, was a stirring paean to
patriotism. Later versions stressed the horrors of war. Films involving national
and folk heroes, in particular, often act as ritual myths illuminating
contemporary conflicts as they reenact a familiar story. The classic American
conflict between Wyatt Earp, the Clanton gang, and Doc Holliday has been told as
a mythic western, "My Darling Clementine" (1946), a psychological drama,
"Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957), and a revisionist put-down, "Doc" (1971).
While film can serve as an engaging introduction to a subject, students should
be aware of the constant shading and biases, why these occur, and what they
accomplish. Filmmakers involved in recent biographies of George Wallace and
Larry Flynt admitted to seriously sanitizing their subjects to fit narrative
formats and audience expectations.
(3) Actuality Footage as Evidence for Historical Fact. A filmed record
appears indisputable. Indeed, our very language supports this notion with
phrases such as "seeing is believing" and "with your own two eyes." This
suggests that footage of a real-life event possess an unvarnished veracity.
Documentary footage, however, is never wholly objective. An examination of
filming and editing, circumstances surrounding production and distribution, and
the producer's intentions are essential for studying such material. Students
should be aware that much early newsreel footage was faked. Indeed, this
questionable practice continues today. Another essential question to ask: what
was left out of the documentary?
(4) The History of the Moving Image as Industry and Art Form. The history and
development of modern culture is inextricably intertwined with the growth of
industry. In the twentieth century the growth of the communication and
entertainment industries has been both progenitor and reflector of social
change. Individual films can be treated as emblematic of changes within that
industry. Broader topics could include: changes in distribution, financing, and
ownership. For example, how is the current situation among independent
filmmakers similar or different than the early days of movie making?
A wealth of material is available at
libraries and video stores. Fortunately there is a corresponding boom in books
providing lists, categories, and annotations on this material. Here are a few
that should prove useful: PICTURE THIS!: A GUIDE TO OVER 300 ENVIRONMENTALLY,
SOCIALLY, and POLITICALLY RELEVANT FILMS AND VIDEOS by Sky Hiatt, Chicago, Noble
Press (1992); FILMS BY GENRE: 775 CATEGORIES, STYLES, TRENDS, AND MOVEMENTS
DEFINED WITH A FILMOGRAPHY FOR EACH by Daniel Lopez, McFarland and Co. (1993);
HOLLYWOOD AND AMERICAN HISTORY: A FILMOGRAPHY OF OVER 250 MOTION PICTURES
DEPICTING U.S. HISTORY by Michael R. Pitts, McFarland and Co. (1984); FACETS
AFRICAN-AMERICAN VIDEO GUIDE by Patrick Ogle, Facets Multimedia, Inc. (1994).
Teachers interested in further inquiry and useful background information should
check out BIO-PICS: HOW HOLLYWOOD CONSTRUCTED PUBLIC HISTORY by George F.
Custen, Rutgers University Press (1992) and HISTORY BY HOLLYWOOD: THE USE AND
ABUSE OF THE AMERICAN PAST by Robert Brent Toplin, University of Illinois Press
(1996). Two different perspectives are provided by George Macdonald Frasier's
lively and caustic THE HOLLYWOOD HISTORY OF THE WORLD: FROM ONE MILLION YEARS
B.C. TO APOCALYPSE NOW published by Beech Tree Books, (1988), and the exhibition
catalog HOLLYWOOD AND HISTORY: COSTUME DESIGN IN FILM organized by Edward
Maeder, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1987).
Educators interested in posting historical questions concerning the
production and distribution of films and the industry can subscribe to the Film
History listserv. To subscribe, send the message SUBSCRIBE H-FILM Firstname
Surname, Affiliation (for example, SUBSCRIBE H-FILM Matthew Paris, Indiana
University) to [email protected]
Net surfers may want to look at "Screening the Past: An International
Electronic Journal of Visual Media and History" at
http://www.latrobe.edu.au/www/screeningthepast and "Film & History: An
Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies" at
http://h-net2.msu.edu/~filmhis/. More information on media literacy can be
acquired through the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles, California,
telephone: 213-931-4177; FAX: 213-931-4474; World Wide Web:
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Cortes, Carlos F., and Tom Thompson. "Feature Films and the Teaching of World
History." SOCIAL STUDIES REVIEW 2 (Winter 1989-90): 46-53. EJ 414 080.
Costanzo, William V. READING THE MOVIES: TWELVE GREAT FILMS ON VIDEO AND HOW
TO TEACH THEM. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992. ED 342
Dressel, Paula. "Films that Put Social Problems in Global Context." TEACHING
SOCIOLOGY 2 (April 1990): 226-230. EJ 414 027.
Goldstein, Phyllis. "Teaching 'Schindler's List.'" SOCIAL EDUCATION 6
(October 1995): 362-64. EJ 517 006.
Johnson, Julie, and Colby Vargas. "The Smell of Celluloid in the Classroom:
Five Great Movies that Teach." SOCIAL EDUCATION 2 (February 1994): 109-13. EJ
O'Connor, John E. IMAGE AS ARTIFACT: THE HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF FILM AND
TELEVISION. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing, 1990.
Riet, Fred van. "Teaching Empire of the Sun.'" NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF HISTORY
2 (Autumn 1990): 29-36. EJ 423 741.
Voeltz, Richard A. "'The Return of Martin Guere': Teaching History in Images,
History in Words." TEACHING HISTORY 2 (Fall 1993): 68-72. EJ 493 909.
Wilson, Wendy S., and Gerald H. Herman. AMERICAN HISTORY ON THE SCREEN: A
TEACHER'S RESOURCE BOOK ON FILM AND VIDEO. Portland, ME: J. Weston Walch, 1994.
ED 393 759.