We come to the third and final of the three original essays you are to write (the encyclopedia essay and the scene analysis being the other two), one that engages the research questions and broader issues of the course in some significant way. You have written about history; you have written about a film; now write about the relation between history and film. This essay should use your film to discuss cinematic history in the general context of issues raised by the function of history itself in the culture at large. The issue essay is, in many ways, the capstone of your project.
Perspective: In the historical context essay, you assumed the role of historian recording real facts. In the scene analysis essay you were asked to be a literary scholar analyzing what you see as the structure of a scene. Your identity in this essay is more that of a public intellectual reflecting on the role this film as a whole plays in the dynamics of culture:
- You should be a philosopher reflecting on the actions and behaviors of men and women in the present and in the past, and engaged in the search for truth and the quest for the good life (you should have wisdom)
- You should be a concerned citizen, one who is aware of the role of history in national life, aware of the significance for good or for ill of the stories we tell about the past, and one who cares, in particular, about the education of children (you should have passion)
- You should be a politician, one who realizes that we live in a fallen world, a world in which truth is dim and subject to competing definitions, in which the forces of evil roam, in which self-interest thrives, in which community is vulnerable, in which the future is not assured -- a world in which people must act individually and in groups to foster their vision of the common good (you should be practical)
- You should be introspective, a person who realizes how the telling of history and the forces of history have formed you and your values, a person who is a living embodiment of what it means to be subject to a history, a person struggling to live a life in the best way possible (you should show you have experience)
- You should be expert: if you have done your job with some vigor, few people in the country have studied these films or thought about their nature and impact as deeply as you (you should have knowledge)
- Therefore, perhaps a ripe capsule way to capture your identity and role in this essay is to say that you should be a public intellectual.
Approach: What to write about? The topics should be yours, should come from the inside out. You must decide; you must choose what to write about. For our site to be successful as an academic resource, however, you must as much as possible address issues current in the academic community. We recommend five resources designed to familiarize you with the cultural conversation and contest over the nature and role of history in general and the value and role of history on film in particular:
- James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, which
sees heroification as a major villain and which focuses on the "lies"
told in the name of History (could your film be used as a specific
example in one of his chapters or in a similar one?)
- Robert Brent Toplin's History by Hollywood, with its four rubrics for cinematic histories (13) and its eight case studies as models for your essays (does your film fit one of his types, or could you create another one?)
- The research questions -- a battery of questions taken from major scholars in the field that is designed to open up fertile areas of thought (which questions resonate with your film?)
- The sound bites -- over 500 selections from about 100 of the main and diverse voices engaged in the controversy over the place of history in our culture and the nature and value of cinematic history (which ones capture your attention?)
- The selected and general bibliographies -- a collection of examples of the various material most closely related to our project (do you see something in this compendium of information that suggests a structure or a starting point?)
Some general points to consider:
- You should have a definition of history and a sense of how it operates in our culture -- you should have a definition of cinematic history and how it relates to traditional history
- You should have a sense of the conflict between traditional and cinematic historians
- You should have a sense of what cinematic history is good and not good for
- You should have a sense of what's at stake in the way your history subject is portrayed
- If your subject is a familiar one, why is it told and retold?
- If your subject is a familiar one, why is it retold now?
- If your subject is an unfamiliar one, why has it not been told and retold?
- If your subject is an unfamiliar one, why is it retold now?
- What viewpoint does your film take on the subject?
- If there is controversy or if there are multiple perspectives on your subject, where does the film stand?
- What verb would you use to describe what your film does with history? does your film narrate history, mold it, shape it, manipulate it, revise it, fabricate it . . . .?
- What noun would you use to describe what your film does with history? Is it history as therapy, as glorification, as weapon, as sermon, as . . . .?
- How does the film relate to the time in which it was made? What were the 20s like? the 40s? the 60s . . . .? why was it made then, and why was it made in a specific way then?
- What is our time like? and how does the film relate to it?
- How would you describe the "speaker" of the film?
- What specific response does the film want from its audience?
- Can you be a "phrase-maker"? can you coin a term, create a label, construct a category that nobody else has and that represents your unique vision?
- Because of the nature of our web site and the audience that we envision, it's ok to write an open-ended essay, one that opens questions rather than nailing conclusions, one that invites others to explore.
For the scene analysis and issue essay we will want to think about what adjustments we need to make in both structure and form when we write essays for the web as opposed to writing on paper:
- "Chunk": this will not apply so much to short papers like the scene analysis; but reading long texts on the web is enormously improved if you have a clear outline and are able to break your essay into subsections with titles; so, especially for the issue essay, think of writing in "chunks," even with sub-titles
- Length of paragraphs; scrolling while reading is still awk for
most of us; try not to go longer than about 250 words
- Number paragraphs [place the number within brackets at the margin at the beginning of the paragraph -- indent after the bracketed number]: unless paragraphs are numbered or some other system is used, it is very hard to direct a reader to a specific spot in an online essay; thus, number your paragraphs so that you and others can cite parts of your work (like footnotes in a print text)
- The essay should be approx 2500-4000 words.