Historical Film and Historical Thinking

For a previous assignment on using historical feature films to teach, I considered a hypothetical exhibit on The Age of Imperialism (1870 – 1914) using the feature film The Last Samurai. The themes for this exhibit would show the mindset of Europeans to other cultures, how foreign governments paid Western experts to teach them (ex: military experts on combat training and weaponry), and the rapid affects and change in local clothing, laws, and culture. These themes were highlighted by examples in the movie itself. However, this one cinematic feature should not be the only example to teach this aspect of history.

There are many aspects of the movie that were inflated, changed, or completely wrong as a way to get more audience appeal. This can be difficult for students to think about and analyze critical. Because of this, the article What do Students Learn from Historical Feature Films emphasizes that more than just one film should be used if possible so that they can be compared. Using a film from a different time period is probably best in order to illustrate how film resources and technology can affect how one thinks about the story and its accuracy. Additionally, historical documents can be used alongside the films to help teach about the subject or theme.

In regards to this exhibit, there are other movies that could illustrate this theme of imperialism from several different decades. They focus on several cultures and regions (Japan, India, Africa, the Caribbean, etc.) and could help to formulate a more complete picture. Additionally using written primary source documents could show firsthand accounts that emphasize mindsets and thoughts on what people thought about the changes and how they viewed one another. This aspect could also be coupled with art. A lot of British art from this time period focused on imperialism and the “modernization” of other cultures. This artwork is often from the viewpoint of Europeans and could be compared to the work of individuals from a particular culture or region.

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