history 221

The research paper is based on the premise expressed by O’Connor and Jackson in this quotation. In order to complete this assignment you will select a historically and culturally significant film that was produced in the twentieth-century U.S., prior to 1990. After repeatedly viewing the film, prepare a typed, double-spaced, 6“7 page report (in 10- or 12-point font) analyzing the film’s value as a historical document. Your paper should illuminate the era in which the film was produced. Thus, if you are writing about Gone with the Wind, a film produced in the 1930s but set in Civil War times, your topic will be the ways that the film reflects the 1930s rather than the ways that the film reflects the Civil War era.

Your paper should briefly (no more than one page) summarize the plot or story line of the film. The balance of your paper should be devoted to analyzing the film as a historical document. Do so by discussing, in no more than two pages, the circumstances surrounding the production of the film and by discussing how the public and critics regarded the film. There are many good resources that provide background information on films. Two great electronic ones are:


American Film Institute Catalog provides limited background information on a wide array of films.

Film Indexes Onlineprovides historical information on films and directs you to reviews and articles and reviews regarding individual films.

Both databases are available through the BYU Library. Sign in with your NetID and password to gain access. These electronic sources can serve as springboards for your research.

Where they exist and are available to you, either in a library or through interlibrary loan, please also look at biographies of individuals who were involved in the production of the film and/or published histories of the film you choose. You can also look for reviews and articles about films in Readers’ Guide Retrospective, a database available from the BYU library website. This database provides references to articles written in a wide variety of popular magazines about all sorts of subjects, including movies.

Finally, discuss ways in which the film reflects American interests, values, concerns, and conditions at the time that the film was produced. Devote at least 3 pages of your paper to this last area. To address this issue, you will need to become familiar with important developments and trends in American history in the era in which the film was produced. You will also need to be able to relate those developments and trends to the messages and values shown by the film through elements such as dialogue, plot, camera techniques, lighting, characterization, and themes.

In your discussion of the era in which a film was produced, you should use specific examples, statistics, or other evidence from the textbook and from at least one other published scholarly history (consult with me or consult the bibliographies at the end of each chapter in the text for good additional sources regarding the era you are going to write about). You will need to buy the scholarly history book, check it out from a library, or find it online. You should document the sources of your information throughout your paper using footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical references. Your paper will be due before you take your final exam. You are encouraged to broaden your horizons by writing about a film that you haven’t seen yet, but if you want to write about one you have seen that is okay too. Here is a list of some films that lend themselves nicely to this assignment.


Birth of a Nation (silent, 1915)

The Sheik (silent, 1921)

Bright Eyes (1934)

The Grapes of Wrath (1939/1940)

Gone With the Wind (1930s)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946veterans’ return)

Mission to Moscow (WWII)

Since You Went Away (WWII)

The Red Menace (1949)

I Married a Communist (1949)

Shane (1953)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Oklahoma! (1955)

West Side Story (1961)

The Graduate (1967)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Harold and Maude (1971)

Star Wars (1977)

Rocky (1976)

Capricorn One (1978)

War Games (1983)

Tootsie (1982)

ET (1982)

Red Dawn (1984)