Historical Narratives and the Moving Image: Theory and Practice

Course Description: 

A filmmaking course for historians and those in related fields combining theoretical and practical components. The theoretical part of the course surveys classical and experimental documentary films and discusses the mechanisms of constructing and challenging established visual historical narratives. Introduction to the basics of film analysis puts special emphasis on the use of historical arguments, analysis of film structure, editing, use of archival documents, photographs, and found footage, and other means of constructing an argument by visual means. Along with the theoretical part dedicated to film analysis, in the practical component of the course students work in pairs to develop and produce a short film addressing a historical topic or a theme related to memory politics as the final output of the course. Working on film projects, students are introduced to the basics of project development and organization, working with the camera, conducting interviews, using light and sound, and post-production techniques. The course develops analytical, rhetorical, visual, as well as a range of practical skills, including collaboration and communication skills as students work in pairs to produce the final film project, and enhances both students’ visual literacy and their ability to expand their research in new interdisciplinary ways. The course is offered for the history students and other humanities and social sciences students interested in visual imagery. Due to the limited lab space, priority is given to history students.



Learning Outcomes: 

- Advance students' visual literacy skills to recognize and interpret the rhetoric of cinematic texts

- Promote the ability to critically analyze concepts relating to documentary, construction of historical argument, and visual memory politics

- Develop students’ ability to benefit from encountering historical narratives in visual form

- Challenge students to engage in critical thinking about contested historical narratives through working with audio-visual material.

- Develop a set of practical and writing skills for working with historical arguments.

- Develop collaborative skills by working on a shared project

- Apply a deliberate, overall structure, theme, and style to a short, documentary film.

- Work with basic technical proficiency in a range of areas of video production: operate a video camera and tripod, an audio recorder and microphone, and the Adobe Premiere editing system, to produce a short, documentary film.

- Apply aesthetic techniques of cinematography, editing, and sound design to support a deliberate concept and vision in a short, documentary film.

- Refine a short, documentary film through a series of progressively more refined versions, to a finished work.

- Articulate, demonstrate and contribute in the framework of a collaborative, creative project


Assignment 1 (week 3) – make a short piece using found footage (possible topics: private archives, Chernobyl, Soviet TV monitoring, war in Yugoslavia monitoring)

Assignment 2 (week 5) - film and edit a location interview


Final project: 5-10 minutes film and a short director’s statement – 3 page reflection on methodology and sources. Students work in pairs, and are evaluated on their collaboration. Final film projects can be related to students’ primary research. The final paper is written and submitted individually. The project may explore the uses of history in contemporary heritage practices and memory politics – exhibitions, monuments, public debates. Upon agreement with instructors, course assignments could be incorporated to the students’ final project. Students are welcome to request individual consultations with the instructors to clarify their hypothesis, methodology and the structure of the final project (both visual and written parts), seek advice regarding relevant literature, and seek additional technical instruction. Recommended readings in the syllabus might give some orientation but do not substitute individual research. Rules of academic honesty apply.

After the 12th week the picture lock is applied (allowing only changes related to the sound design, titles, color correction, other minor interventions)