US History in Film (Honors)
Fall 2014           HIST 329         9:30-10:45 TR
ITCC 329

Jeffrey McClurken
Office:  Monroe 219/ITCC 419
Office Hours:  MW, 9-11; T, 1:30-2:30 (by appointment)
Facebook, Twitter (@wheresthechair, @jmcclurken)

Course Description

This course examines historically oriented motion pictures as both primary and secondary sources of information about the past.  It starts from the premise that the content in films, as with written sources, can (and should) be critically analyzed for its perspectives, interpretive choices, biases, and reliability.  The course examines the relative successes or failures that major films have had in portraying the past, and analyzes how present events, cultures and attitudes shape our view of the past.  As historians we typically analyze and use traditional primary and secondary sources (e.g., historical documents and scholarly articles and monographs); it is possible and helpful to apply many of those same skills (and much of the same skepticism) to our approaches to non-traditional sources, such as these films. This course counts in the History major and the American Studies major.

Departmental Learning Objectives

  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation.
  • Appreciation of the diversity of methods and processes.
  • Ability to communicate in a group setting.

Honors Program Objectives

As part of the Honors Program, this course also will help students to formulate an academic argument with appropriate research documentation; articulate the value of the goals of the honors program as it relates to the liberal arts as an multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.


Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, watch all assigned films, and participate in class (including posting to the course wiki).  They are also expected to create a research project and take a midterm and a final.  [Projects are due at the start of class on the day they are due.  Projects are considered late if posted or changed anytime after they are due.  Late projects will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.]



Each week we will be discussing a particular movie.  That movie will be shown in a TBA location in the ITCC starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday nights.  If you cannot make that showing, you will have to make other arrangements to see the movie, including watching it on your own in the Library (they’re on reserve) or renting it from Netflix/video store.  However, be warned that not all of these movies are readily available elsewhere.  Watching these movies is your responsibility, so don’t wait until the last minute to do so!  [Note that there are no movies outside class during weeks 1, 8, or 13.]



Students are expected to attend all Thursday discussion classes having watched the movie for that week, having read the material, and having prepared 2-3 questions, comments, or potential debate topics.  These should be posted to the appropriate week in the class wiki no later than 7 AM on Thursdays. ( The questions/comments/topics should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading and the movies.  [Since the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]  Class participation requires actively participating in these discussions, watching the movies, submitting questions/comments/topics, and co-leading one of those Thursday discussions. Bonus participation points will be available if you Tweet reactions while watching the movies with the hashtag #HIST329 and/or post written reactions to our Thursday class discussions on your own UMW blog (tagged HIST329). 

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on class participation, including leadership of class discussion (30%), on performance on the midterm and final exams (20% each), as well as on the online, research-based historical analysis of a film (30%).  [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D or below on work completed at that time.]  Completion of all assignments is required to pass the class.



Robert Brent Toplin, Reel History.

Many other readings are available as online selections linked to from the course site.

Research Project Assignment

You must create an original online research project analyzing a particular film dealing with a United States History topic.  Much as we will do in class each week, your project should analyze the portrayal of the past in the film, exploring the perspective (including biases or objectives) of the filmmakers, the historical accuracy of the portrayal (in a detailed and a broad sense), and the relative success and reliability of the film as a primary and secondary source of historical information.  You should use a combination of primary and secondary sources for your evidence.  You must cite all images, clips, facts, ideas, paraphrasing, and quotes, in footnotes and bibliography, using either Turabian (7th edition) or the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), including the movies themselves and any reviews of them that you have used.  [For more details on citations, see the history department resource guide at]


1) Your project must be presented online.  The easiest way to do that is as blog pages in a site of your creation (this can be a previously existing blog or a new one created just for this class) or a WordPress site created within your Domain of One’s Own account.  Let me know what you’ll be using and where it is located–in other words, what is its web address?—by the start of class on Thursday, Sept. 4.  For most of you that will simply mean that you need to sign up for a blog and send me the web address.


2) Your historical film choice and bibliographic citations of five or more significant (non-encyclopedic) sources are due by the start of class on Thursday, September 11 for my approval.  Failure to successfully complete this assignment on time will result in a full letter grade off of your research project grade.  [Since I will only approve one person to work on a particular movie, you should probably request approval for your movie via email before September 4.]  There is a list of potential choices at the end of the syllabus and the list of movies already taken will be at the course blog at


3) The research project (1,250-2,000 words, not including citations and bibliography, with at least one video clip with your commentary/critique) is due at the start of class on Tuesday, November 4. [Worth 30% of overall class grade.]  The Honor Pledge and your name should be clearly viewable.  Projects will be graded on content (including originality and the quality and use of evidence), historical analysis and quality of the video clip(s), additional multimedia features, overall site presentation, grammar, and proper formatting for historical writing (including footnotes and bibliography).


4) By Tuesday, November 18 everyone needs to have looked at the other projects.  The class will vote on the top 5-8 projects.  These will join the 15 projects picked from the 2008, 2010, 2012 classes in an online US History in Film site.  More on this later in the semester


Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience.  You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council.  So, do not do it.  On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours).  If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.



If you receive services through the Office of Disability Services and require accommodations for this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs.  Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment.  I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.  If you need accommodations, (note taking assistance, extended time for tests, etc.), please consult with the Office of Disability Services (x1266) about the appropriate documentation of a disability.




Week 1 – beginning Aug. 25

No movie – Introduction, Discussion of video editing of film clips.

Reading: Reel History, 1-7 (Intro).


Online readings: 

Slaves on Screen, 1-15; Movies and American Society, 1-13 (“Why Movies Matter”); Mintz and Roberts’s Hollywood’s America, 1-27, 79-80


Week 2 – beginning Sept. 1

Pocahontas (1995)

Online Reading:  John Smith (1608) at


Planned location (web address) of online project due by the start of class on Thursday, Sept. 4.


Week 3 – beginning Sept. 8

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Online Readings:  Calloway, World Turned Upside Down, 120-145; Calloway, First Peoples, 168-180; Onandogas & Cayugas, 69-70


Film choice & at least five bibliographic citations due by the start of class on Thursday, Sept. 11.


Week 4 – beginning Sept. 15

The Patriot (2000)

Online readings:  Boisterous Sea of Liberty, 173-201 (top 2 lines); 202-207; Rise of Partisan Warfare in the South primary source accounts, 150-152


Week 5 – beginning Sept. 22

Amistad (1997)

Online Readings:

Equiano, Ch. 2–( (For more information on Equiano, see; Lewis Tappan article, 350-352; David Walker, 346-348; letter from slave (Kali), Slaves on Screen, 129


Week 6 – beginning Sept. 29

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Online Readings:

“A slave experience of being sold south”

n  Intro (

n  Selection (

Assorted readings

n  Fitzhugh on pro-slavery argument, 357-358; Harriet Jacobs, 263-266; Escaped Slaves, 355-356; Sherman on War, 404-406; Schurz on Reconstruction South, 410-411; KKK, 1870, 423-425

Letters from Female Slaves, Writing Women’s Lives (117-119)

Diary of Mary Chesnut, Writing Women’s Lives (129-134)

Diary of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, Secret Eye (260-275, 299-302).


Week 7 – beginning Oct. 6

Glory (1989)

Online Readings:

Letter from African American Soldier, “Retaliation in camp”



Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, ( Introduction, Chapters II-IV, VIII-X

James Henry Gooding, On the Altar of Freedom, 3-4, 9-10, 16-17 (and top few lines on 18), 26-32, 36-43, 114-115; Letter from Gooding to Lincoln


Week 8 – beginning Oct. 13

Fall Break – No class Tuesday, October 14

MIDTERM – Thursday, October 16 – Bring Blue books

Reading:  NONE

Week 9 – beginning Oct. 20

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Online Readings:

New South, Expanding West”—Assorted Documents

Major Problems in History of the American West, 196-206

Writing Women’s History on women settlers in the West


Week 10 – beginning Oct. 27

Matewan (1987)

Online Readings:

Assorted Readings:

n  Coal Mine Children, 500; F.W. Taylor (on efficiency), 516-517; Debs, 519-520; Black protest, 521; Business (1921), 553-554

Tennessee Coal Miners’ Last Words (

The Tyranny of the Company Store (

A Kentucky Coal Miner on the 1933 Revival of the United Mine Workers of America [can also listen to actual interview] (


Week 11 – beginning Nov. 3

Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Online Readings:  Excerpt From Paul Fussell’sbook, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, 143-183, 211-213


The online research project is due at the start of class on Tuesday, November 4.


Week 12 – beginning Nov. 10

Long Walk Home (1990)

Online Readings:

Brown V. Board of Education, 613-614

Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr, 220-226


Testimony in 1954 before House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce,

1)      Thomas Williams (

2)      Alice Brantley (



Week 13 – beginning Nov. 17 

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Online Readings:  Prologue from Philip Caputo’s Rumor of War; Timothy O’Brien, “The Burdens They Carried,” (3-25)


By the start of class on Tuesday, Nov. 18, make selections for best class research projects.



Week 14 – beginning Nov. 24

Reefer Madness (1938)

Thanksgiving—No class Thursday!

Reading:  NONE


Week 15 – beginning Dec. 1

All the President’s Men (1976)

Reading:  Reel History, 8-69, 90-138, 197-205

Lots of reading, start early!


Outside of Class Films — All films start at 6 PM in ITCC room TBA

Week 2 – Pocahontas (1995) – 81 minutes

Week 3 – Last of the Mohicans (1992) – 112 minutes

Week 4 – The Patriot (2000) – 165 minutes

Week 5 – Amistad (1997) – 155 minutes

Week 6 – Gone with the Wind (1939) – 238 minutes

Week 7 – Glory (1989) – 122 minutes

Week 9 – My Darling Clementine (1946) – 97 minutes

Week 10 – Matewan (1987) – 135 minutes

Week 11 – Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – 172 minutes

Week 12 – Long Walk Home (1990) – 97 minutes

Week 14 – Born on the Fourth of July (1989) – 145 minutes

Week 15 – All the President’s Men (1976) – 138 minutes

1 Comment

Comments are closed.