Using feature films in teaching historical understanding: Research and practice


Donnelly, D. (2014). Using feature films in teaching historical understanding: Research and practice. Agora [Sungraphô], 49(1), 4-12.

Teachers can use film not only as a mechanism of narrative engagement but also as a vehicle for teaching deep understanding about historical knowledge and the nature of the discipline. [From the introduction]: The interplay between history and feature film began during film’s origins as a popular medium in the early 1900s. It is, by nature, a symbiotic relationship since historical narrative provided film-makers with rich sources of material and film appears to capture a slice of time and place in defiance of temporal laws. From its invention, the motion picture has been a powerful vehicle for presenting people and events of the past. The Story of the Kelly Gang, Australia’s first feature film (and arguably the world’s too), is a good illustration of this. It received great acclaim on its release in 1906, and it toured Australia for more than twenty years, inspiring a genre of bushranger films. But even in these early days of cinema, the uneasy relationship between history in film and contemporary society was clear. A string of these Kelly films were banned on the basis that they encouraged disrespect of the police and the law. The history teacher faces this same dilemma using feature films. Teachers appreciate film’s popularity with their students, but then teachers have to deal with the power of a multi-modal historical narrative under no obligation to rely on historical evidence – and whose economic imperative may take precedence over any educative aims.
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