Film, television, and the pedagogical encounter with historical narratives

Symposium at the Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Adelaide 1-5 December 2013.

Within post-industrial knowledge economies we encounter ‘history’ everywhere. Whether through the medium of the nightly news; in the press; as television docudramas, Hollywood films, or cable TV documentaries; in novels; through museum exhibits; commemoration ceremonies; monuments to the fallen; and increasingly on the internet, through websites, vodcasts and podcasts, we cannot avoid the encounter with history. We are, as Torpey (2004) has observed, being “buried under an avalanche of history” (p. 241); and within this avalanche “most people regard film and television, whether fiction or documentary, as a major source of historical knowledge” (Ashton & Hamilton, 2007, p. 21). Lorenz (2004) even claims that “television and film have replaced the book as the most important media of information” (p. 27); and Rosenstone (2006) concurs, declaring that “visual media is the chief conveyer of public history in our culture” (p. 12). In this symposium, we explore pedagogical issues that arise when encountering celluloid history. The symposium addresses this issue from a number of perspectives, including insights drawn from an empirical study of how teachers use historical film as narrative sources in the classroom; what celebrity encounters with unexpected genealogies in the television program Who Do You Think You Are? tells us about the narrative encounter; and how celluloid conspiracy theory narratives present a challenge to current concepts of historical literacy, and what this might mean for how we think about the components of a critical history education.


  • Ashton, Paul, & Hamilton, Paula. (2007). History at the crossroads. Ultimo, Sydney: Halstead Press.
  • Lorenz, Chris. (2004). Towards a theoretical framework for comparing historiographies: Some preliminary considerations. In P. Seixas (Ed.), Theorizing historical consciousness (pp. 25-48). Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
  • Rosenstone, Robert A. (2006). History on film/Film on history. London: Longman.
  • Torpey, John. (2004). The pursuit of the past: A polemical perspective. In P. Seixas (Ed.), Theorizing historical consciousness (pp. 240-255). Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.