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The general goal of the Reel American History project is to foster critical thinking about a matter of enduring cultural attention, especially where young people are concerned: the formation of our national identity. The specific idea for a student archive project to accomplish this goal was inspired by an American Studies Crossroads Project workshop at Georgetown University directed by Randy Bass in Summer 1998, incubated by a New Media Classroom workshop directed by Tracey Weis and Bret Eynon at Millersville University in Summer 1999, and introduced at the same time as the Georgetown Visible Knowledge Project, co-directed by Bass and Eynon, in Summer 2000. Other patron saints by virtue of their scholarly work include Robert Burgoyne, James W. Loewen, Peter C. Rollins, Robert A. Rosenstone, Cindy Selfe, and Robert Brent Toplin.

Since, in the words of Bass and Eynon, "scholarly knowledge is always communal" (78), Reel American History is designed to be a "Collaborative Shared Resource" (56). It aims at being a large, ongoing, cumulative, collaborative project that involves many students and many faculty over a long period of time (55). We strive to engage students in authentic learning (54-58) – making students partners, even leaders, in researching American culture (71). Not only do we want to host the "novice in the archive" (42-50), but we want to be an archive built by novices. We value pedagogy that is active, hands-on, inquiry-driven, student-centered, dialogic, constructivist, and based on discovery.
Therefore, we invite high school, college, and university teachers to share ownership in the project by not only teaching from the archive but, especially and even more importantly, by adding student work to it.

Specifically, we encourage teachers to consider our suggestions for using our site in these five ways:

  1. as a textbook for your classroom work
  2. as a first-stop resource for research projects by your students on films in the archive
  3. as a publisher of good work by your students
  4. as a stimulant for the creation of other kinds of projects relating to film representation of American history
  5. as a broker for projects that join students from different schools

Thus, we encourage you to contact us via e-mail at to explore ways in which your students can interact with our site.

For a concise introduction to the origin, nature, and history of this project, see:

Edward J. Gallagher, "Reel American History: An Archive Built by Novices." Film & History 32.2 (2002): 82-86.

Work cited

Randy Bass and Bret Eynon, "Teaching Culture, Learning Culture, and New Media Technologies: An Introduction and Framework." Intentional Media: The Crossroads Conversations on Learning and Technology in the American Culture and History Classroom . Edited by Randy Bass, Teresa Derricksen, Bret Eynon, and Mark Sample. Works and Days 16.1-2 (1998): 11-96.