Film in History

By Michael Roth

Paul B. Weinstein’s class assignment about having his students review films as part of his history course is a brilliant idea. One of my own undergraduate professors did a similar exercise, and it does help students to question what they see in these types of films. It allows them to start thinking about topics historically, and how they are also a product of the time period it was made just as much as the material being described.

Since I design for exhibits rather than a classroom, my approach to using film has to be slightly different. People going through an exhibit do not have the time to sit and watch a 2 hour movie, so I will need to select specific scenes from the movie to play on monitors. Copyright issues are also an issue with a public exhibit, further complicating which films I could use, so selecting the right film to use is critical. I would play the clips alongside key questions about them. The rest of the exhibit will need to fill in the gaps that are cut from the overall film, but the goal of the clips is to show how the topics in the film have been discussed at different times.

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