University Writing Program, The George Washington University, Fall 2015
- Writing Race, Filming History: America’s Past Through the Movies (UW 1020, Sections M27, M65 & M83)
Narratives about America’s past can take many forms. Traditionally, it comes through the written word, whether it is formal history books, works of literature, or primary sources such as speeches and diaries. But popular culture, especially film, is another, arguably more widespread way in which we become familiar with certain stories in our nation’s history. Films such as Platoon and Mississippi Burning have helped shape a generation’s understanding of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement – and the central role of race in those events. A new generation of films including The Help and 12 Years a Slave may do the same thing. But how historically reliable are such accounts? Are movies ever really dependable sources on the subject at hand, or are they more valuable as artifacts of the time in which they were produced? Are the distinctions between Hollywood studio-made films and documentaries as great as we might assume? And, perhaps most importantly for a writing course, are there explicit rhetorical features that distinguish academic history and argument from more popular ones? In this course, students will assess how our culture narrates U.S. racial history through film, using a rich mix of texts – from the movies themselves to film reviews, protest materials, and more traditional histories. In the process, students will be asked to write their own argument-driven narratives, sharpening not just their ability to convey thoughts on paper but also bolstering an array of academic skills, such as critical reading, development of an argument, and substantive revision.