Sophomore Seminar: Concept, Image, and Symbol: Movies as Historical Documents for the Study of the United States, 1920-1945

History 84

Fall 2011
214 Haviland
Day & Time: 
W 2-5P

This seminar will meet the entire semester. For eight of those weeks we will meet from 2:00-5:00 p.m. to view and discuss eight movies. During the alternate weeks the seminar will meet for approximately an hour and a half to further examine the issues raised by the movies and those presented by the course reader. The movie schedule will be available at the first class meeting. Participation in "Food for Thought" voluntary dinner meetings will be discussed in class. We will be studying the history of this country over a brief period of twenty-five years. Yet during those years the nation entered into and responded to three drastically different eras--those of prosperity, depression, and war. Movies provide invaluable evidence of what it was like to be alive in these eras. Movies have great advantages and great shortcomings as historical documents. We will examine both. What are the advantages and shortcomings of images and concepts as ways of knowing? Can movies adequately cope with a complex historical event? In what sense can movies tell the truth? In what way do movies help define the values of their audiences and in what way are the movies themselves shaped by existing values of their audiences? These are some of the questions that we will try to answer. In addition to viewing the movies, each student must purchase and study closely a reader providing information and background for the course. At the end of the semester, each student must submit a ten-page typewritten critical summary paper tying the course together in his/her own way. No additional reading is required for this paper, only additional thinking. This seminar is open to freshmen and sophomores. Enrollment is limited to fifteen students. At the first and second meeting of class, a few students may be admitted, with the permission of the instructor, to replace those enrollees who have decided to go elsewhere. This seminar may be used to satisfy the Historical Studies or Social and Behavioral Sciences requirement in Letters and Science. Samuel Haber is an Emeritus Professor in the History Department who is writing a book on American History during the era 1920-1945.


This seminar is only open to freshmen and sophomores.