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AIH263 - "History Written with Lightning": Film and the Past

Unit details

Year2015 unit information
Offering information:

Not offered 2015, re-offered 2016.

Enrolment modes:

Trimester 1: Burwood (Melbourne), Cloud (online)

Credit point(s):1
EFTSL value:0.125

This unit was titled American Dreams in 2011.

Unit chair:K Beattie




Incompatible with:

AIH363, AIH463

Contact hours:

Campus mode: 1 x 2 hour Seminar per week.

Cloud (online): Learning experiences are via CloudDeakin.


After watching D.W. Griffith’s cinematic interpretation of the recent American past, Birth of a Nation (1915), the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson commented that the film was ‘like writing history with lightning.’ The electrifying effect of film applied to representations of the past has resulted in an innovative way of ‘writing’ history which extends and informs the so-called visual turn in historical analysis. This unit examines the representation of the past within a range of fiction and nonfiction films from the earliest days of cinema to the present. Historical events analyzed in this way may include, among others aspects, the American frontier, British society in the 1950s, the experience of women in the twentieth century, and the war in Vietnam. Topics studied include narrative or ‘story-telling’ strategies; aspects of film language, including montage; realism; film genre; and film music and the historical event. Within and through an examination of the ways in which film represents the past the unit simultaneously addresses two famous questions from the disciplines of historical studies and film studies: André Bazin’s ‘What is cinema?’ and E.H. Carr’s ‘What is history?’.


Research essay 60%

Analytical exercise 40%

Unit Fee Information

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