The studying of history in the class is often traditional and not as exciting as it is necessary for students to get amazed and impressed. That is why the conception of teaching historic events through the video lessons, like watching documentary movies can be the best alternative with a fundamental educational effect, but everything depends on the effectiveness of presenting the historical events. The audience of the historical movies is much bigger that the readers of the historical books, articles or any other written sources. By watching historical films, students get ready for history lessons much earlier, being psychologically and emotionally ready to absorb new and additional information. Historical movies are interesting and exciting, lively and emotional, full of realistic compositions, impressive episodes, patriotic inspirations, pain, love and hatred towards the enemies of the native land. The historical movies shape the attitude of the people to their past and leave valuable memories for the future generations. Thus, films are more effective in presenting the historical events due to their complex approach, which is based on important visual evidences, depicting the spirit of the epoch, and playing on people's experience and emotions.
The historical films can help effectively teach American history due to the variety of contributing factors. Moreover, it is necessary to admit that watching historical movies helps to study contemporary American history and comprehend the national history better and more effectively than reading books. However, it is necessary to admit that the films can be even more effective that the other historical sources. Their effectiveness is related to the visual evidences, which are based on a variety of factors. By contrast, the books concentrate only on a single idea. For instance, the book reflects single issues like freedom, democracy, civil rights or corruption. The students try to memorize these notions without any understanding of the essence of these complicated phenomena. The film does not explain the definition of these issues but rather explores its essence though the evidences and attitudes. Additionally, the movie reflects the spirit of the epoch by depicting streets, cities, clothes, food, behavior and traditions, which cannot be presented in the written sources. The audience can understand the importance of the events on the example of the main heroes. The films illustrate the history through the experience and emotions of their heroes. Therefore, it is necessary to conclude that the historical movies are effective in the educational process due to the visual evidences that have fundamental persuasive power.
How it works
Persuasive power along with the entertainment aspects are the most essential aspects of presenting the history in the class with the help of documentary films. The documentary movies help to shape the attitude of the students towards the history. Moreover, the films do not force the students to memorize the facts but encourage them to develop their personal attitudes. In comparison with the feature films, the documentary movies do not illustrate the events in such a bright and vivid manner. They do not use any brave heroes to make the demonstrated events more interesting. The documentary films are neutral and absolute in the interpretation of historical events, since they mostly tend to show the history as closest to reality as possible. The heroes of the films are real and are not as brave and perfect as in the feature films. They behave naturally, and it proves to have a positive effect on the audience, as people can develop their personal conceptions and attitudes towards the historic personalities and events. In other words, the documentary movies are very effective for the educational purposes as they encourage the students to think and develop their ideas based on visual evidence. Moreover, it is much easier for the teacher to show the movie instead of forcing the students to listen long and boring lectures. The teacher influences only the audio memory, believing that the students will memorize at least something, while the documentary movies play on not only audio effects, music and sounds, but also visual memory. Evaluative and analytical thinking abilities of the students are always enacted in the process of watching such films. For example, a masterpiece of documentary cinematography The War on Democracy describes the essence of the past events: imperialistic ambitions of American authority and pressure on the other nations within the continent. These issues and a variety of other aspects of the American history presented in the film can help the students to evaluate the background of the formation of contemporary politics in America and the value of democracy for the world at large. However, aside from the variety of advantages for the both students and teachers, the documentary movies have a number of disadvantages. Among others, they can be quite complicated and boring for the audience. Some documentary movies also use some personal comments of famous archeologists and historians, expressing their attitudes to the historical events. Therefore, the students may not be attracted to watching such movies. It also depends on the age group of the audience and the theme of the film. In the majority of cases, the feature films are more appropriate for the comprehension of history.
Persuasive power is also a significant aspect of presenting the feature films in the class. In addition to it, the class presentation can be more exciting and interesting for students than the teacher's speech. For example, the professor can be aware of the historical events and know the history even better than the director of the film does, but the audience feels exciting participation and activity when watching the movie, which are impossible to transfer through the lections of even the most professional teacher. It may be even an advantage for the professor, as he/she has an opportunity to play on emotions and involve students in the educational process. It is advantageous because the students are able to feel their direct relation with valuable and cherished common past, which needs to be honored and respected. However, in some cases it can be disadvantageous, because the directors play on actions and may omit some historical details or exaggerate the events instead of being precise. For example, the films usually have both protagonists and antagonists, which are usually played by famous Hollywood actors, who are already famous and can be even stereotypic. The audience can develop wrong vision having their personal attitude towards the heroes. The children may be focused on the main heroes, which can be too idealized or diminished within the movie. For example, the movie Dances with Wolves is a complicated movie, which involves such themes as the Civil War and the collisions with the Indian tribes. However, the events of the Civil War are quite diminished because of the strong character performed by Kevin Costner. Despite a variety of historical features of the movie, it cannot be appropriate for the class teaching. In addition to this, the disadvantages of historical films are related to the manner of presentation, as different filmmakers can present the same historical facts form different perspectives. For instance, the events of the Civil War are based on a conflict between the South and the North because of the issue of slavery. In this regard, it is evident that the students should realize the evil of the racism and slavery. However, the historical movie Gone with the Wind presents the powers of the Union as the criminals. The presentation of history through the films cannot be absolute, making the movie less effective in the class education.
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In the process of my personal history education, different documentaries and feature films became an essential part of shaping my attitude towards the history. However, it is a part of general knowledge. The history is a specific subject, which is presented in the books as a fact. The facts can be regarded from different perspectives. For example, I have always believed that war against slavery was useful as it made America unique, being based on the institutions of freedom and democracy. I respected the aggression of the Union toward the Confederacy. However, the presentation of the war in the film Gone with the Wind is debatable since the Southern citizens and their slaves did not encourage the events of those times. The African Americans hated the Yankees and their masters as well. It can be explained by the issue of personal attitudes, since Margaret Mitchell was born in the South in Atlanta in 1900. The racial issues were quite acute at that time. The author experienced the consequences and even the destruction of the war coming from the South. It is very useful for me to watch historical movies when learning the national history, since I examine the Civil War from different sides. I consider that the Civil War was not only a great victory, but also a great loss for the millions of Americans. The war has changed the nation and destroyed the country, killing thousands of soldiers in the warfare. The documentary film Battle of Chickamauga has helped me to understand the War on freedom and equality from a different perspective. I now understand its true costs, the value of the national unity and absolute heroism of the patriots. Although it did not destroy racial discrimination, it was a huge step on the way to eradicating it. The feature films about the era of the Civil War help me feel the spirit, pain and hopes of Americans of that time. The books in comparison with the films seem quite colorless and soulless to me. Thus, the feature films are effective in presenting the history because they help feel the importance of the events and experience the emotions and fears of people living during that time.
The issue of slavery and oppression of the African Americans by the white men of the South is also brightly presented in the movie 12 years a Slave. It is one of the most successful historical movies of the contemporary times. It describes the real life of one African American man living in the North who was sold to slavery in the South (Northup, 1855). Solomon describes his plentiful memories and fears in the book, which were also presented in the feature film. The author shortly describes his outraged condition: insane from pain (Northup, 1855). However, the film shows his emotions through different ways. Both the book and the movie are helpful in educating students on the problem of slavery and even racial discrimination, which are still evident in American society. Currently, the case of racial discrimination is only one of million cases, which were normal for America of those times. The film is a successful adaptation of the book, but in comparison with the written text, it omits a range of details, as in some cases they are just presented through some short and almost unrecognizable details. For instance, Solomon loses hope to be free again and becomes part of the faceless slaves, depressed and hopeless, under the pressure of hatred, aggression and outraged attitude of their masters. It is presented through the emotional episode, when the slaves sing the song on the grave of one of their kind. Solomon does not sing at first, but suddenly he starts singing and crying. In this way, the film is more impressive and emotional. Although it omits some details, dialogues and characters, it demonstrates the most important issues and reflects the main idea of the book the evil of slavery. I believe that the film can be more effective in studying history of slavery than the book, as it plays on emotions.
I prefer the film to the book as it produces a greater effect. The film is more advantageous in the presentation of slavery and its spirit, as the written text cannot transfer some visual episodes like tears, blood, the injuries from the terrible scorings and many other aspects. I was deeply impressed and shocked by a variety of contradictions in the movie, which are not as obvious in the book but are quite possible in reality. For instance, this includes the songs of the white men presented as the jokes to make the slaves feel more depressed and humiliated (McQueen, 2013). The songs are accompanied by the readings of the Bible. It is hard to understand the level of hatred of the society of those times, which considered themselves the Christians but could be still heartless towards the African Americans. Moreover, it is even more emotional and depressive in the presentation of the Bibles words accompanied by the crying of the woman for her children (McQueen, 2013). The film is an essential source that can be used to observe the traditions of the South. It seems the South was the center of American culture. However, the woman from the South, who easily insults and hurts her slaves comparing them with the animals, cannot be part of the intellectual and cultural elite. The movie is more effective as the book cannot transfer all the dirty sides of slavery like scars, drops of sweat mixed with blood and tears. When watching the movie, the audience can better understand the hard work of people under the southern sun on the cotton and sugarcane fields. The authentic songs, which were the last sources of happiness for the slaves, make the movie rich and influential on the consciousness of the audience. The film is much more effective than the book as it depicts the pain, fear and desperate condition of people through emotions, experience and visual effects. The movie 12 Years a Slave is an autobiography. However, it can be applied as an additional source in educating students on the issues of slavery and political tension between the South and the North.
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Although the films are effective in teaching the history, it is necessary to admit the useful aspect of the books and scholarly articles, since they present data that are more accurate and precise. I believe that they are no better than the documentary or feature movies, but they are still necessary for the investigation of history from different perspectives and in detail. In teaching some abstract concepts like slavery, freedom, democracy and independence, the films are more useful, as they help to feel the true meaning and essence of these notions in the real-life situations. The articles and books are useful for investigating some data and analyzing the chronology of events. For instance, the book The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition describes the period of significant changes in the American history, which were possibly related with the social aspects. The book relates historic changes with alcoholic binge that lasted from 1790 until 1830 (Rorabaugh, 1981). The author of the book considers that the social alcoholic movement reflects the entire American history during that period. It was a single social custom, which could possibly influence the historical events of those times. It is hard to depict it in the movie, as the relation between these issues is debatable, but W.J. Rorabaugh believes that it was true and presents a variety of arguments (1981). By contrast, the book The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 by Edmund S. Morgan does not relate the changes in the Republic with the revolutionary intensions, which were based on social changes. He argues that the pressure of British political power and economics, including taxation, encourages the nation to protect their freedom (Morgan & Ellis, n.d.). The external pressure rather than internal one has made Americans find their national Constitutional principles, which could protect their independence (Morgan & Ellis, n.d.). The book stresses the political and economic tendencies in the historical events. These books are two essential historical sources, but they do not present the events as a wholesome system, while the films can depict the economic and political life on the background of social problems.
Thus, the books and the films, both documentary and feature, are quite effective in teaching the history in general. However, the films are more useful since they shape the knowledge through the visual evidence, feelings of the historical periods, emotions, personal experiences, and developed attitudes and emotions, which have sufficient persuasive power. I believe that the approach towards the history teaching should be complex with the use of documentary films, which investigate the events through the visual effects, the scholarly books and articles, which present the neutral aspects of the historical chronology, and the feature movies, which make the history alive.