American History and Politics on Screen
Run by School of Arts, Culture and Language
30.000 Credits or 15.000 ECTS Credits
Organiser: Prof Nathan Abrams
Overall aims and purpose
American cinema, or ‘Hollywood’, has often been dismissed as ‘only entertainment’, geared towards capturing the largest possible audience in order to make money for the big studios. While this is undoubtedly true, it belies the fact that as a medium, American Cinema is profoundly social, and engaged - consciously or not - in the politics and history of the nation it represents.
This module will examine the ways in which American cinema has addressed major historical events, political movements and ideas, as well as key figures from the past and present. In so doing it will teach students how, as a popular medium, cinema has played a critical role not only in reflecting historical and political realities, but in shaping perspectives on them too.
This module offers students a deep and sustained engagement with the historical and political ideas and issues that have shaped the United States as a nation. It will develop the ability of students to interpret, reinterpret and critique these ideas in one of the United States’ most popular artforms.
The topics covered on this module may include an exploration of the American presidency on screen, American cinema's response to The Great Recession, and the way major events in American history have been handled in cinema.
Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways:
- Has originality of exposition with the student's own thinking being readily apparent.
- Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study.
- Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions.
Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates:
- Good structure and logically developed arguments.
- At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student.
- Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and sound reasoning.
- Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.
Very Good (60%+)
Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates:
- Very good structure and logically developed arguments.
- Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student.
- Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning.
- Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.
Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows:
- Generally accurate but with omissions and errors.
- Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning.
- Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions.
- Draws on a relatively narrow range of material.
The student will evaluate the scholarly debates about film as a medium through which historical events and political ideas can be presented.
The student will be able to combine their critical evaluation of scholarship with close textual analysis to articulate the specific historical and political viewpoint/s of particular films.
The student will analyse the effect that cinematic convention can have on the portrayal of history and politics on screen.
The student will be able to critically evaluate and contextualise representations of historical and political events and figures.
The student will be to develop their own perspective on historical and political events and figures on screen by using theory in conjunction with close textual analysis to build and defend their own arguments.
Teaching and Learning Strategy
Discussion and debate of the week's screening and reading material in a formal setting.
The student should spend this time reading and viewing extensively on the topics studied, familiarising themselves with the scholarly debates in this area, developing a broad perspective on the issues with which the module deals, and as preparation for their assessments.
- Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
- Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
- Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
- Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
- Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
- Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
- Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
- Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
- Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
- Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
- Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in
Resource implications for students
Students will not be expected to purchase any of the resources required to take this module.
Abrams, Nathan, et al. Studying Film (London: Arnold, 2001); Approaches to Film History (Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2002); Belton, John. American Cinema/American Culture (New York: McGraw Hill, 1994); Cameron, Kenneth, America on Film: Hollywood and American History (New York: Continuum, 1997); Cripps, Thomas, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Davis, Ronald L., Celluloid Mirrors: Hollywood and American Society Since 1945 (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1997); Dawson, Andrew, “Bring Hollywood Home!” Studio Labour, Nationalism and Internationalism, and Opposition to ‘Runaway Production,’ 1948-2003,” ; Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire, November 2006; Denning, Michael, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1997); Eldridge, David, Hollywood's History Films (London: I B Tauris, 2006); Gabler, Neil, An Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York: Crown, 1988); Hampton, Benjamin B., A History of the Movies (New York: Covici, Friede, 1931); Haskell, Molly, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (Baltimore: Penguin, 1974); Horne, Gerald, Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, and Trade Unionists (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001); Maltby, Richard, Hollywood Cinema (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, second ed., 2003); Nielsen, Mike, Hollywood's Other Blacklist: Union Struggles in the Studio System (London: British Film Institute, 1995) ; Ramsaye, Terry, A Thousand and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926) ; Rosenstone, Robert. “History in Images/History in Words: Reflections on the Possibilities of Really Putting History onto Film,” American Historical Review 93:5 (December 1988), pp. 1173-85; Toplin, Robert Brent, “Introduction,” in History by Hollywood: the use and abuse of the American past, ed. Robert Brent Toplin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996); Toplin, Robert Brent. “The Filmmaker as Historian,” American Historical Review (December 1988), 93:5, pp. 1210-27.
Terry Christensen and Peter J. Haas (2005) Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Film, Armonk: M.E. Sharpe; James E. Combs, ed. (2015) Movies and Politics: The Dynamic Relationship, London: Routledge; Betty Kaklamanidou (2016) The “Disguised” Political Film in Hollywood: A Genre’s Construction, New York: Bloomsbury; Steven J. Ross (2011) Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner (1988) Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, Bloomington: Indiana University Press; Robert Sklar (1994) Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, New York: Vintage; Robert B. Ray (1985) A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema 1930-1980, Princeton: Princeton University Press; Yannis Tzioumakis and Claire Molloy, eds. (2016) The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics, London: Routledge; Trevor Parry-Giles and Shawn J. Parry-Giles (2006) The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism, Urbana: University of Illinois Press; Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor (2005) Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky; Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, eds. (2003) The West Wing: The American Presidency as Television Drama, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press; Ian Scott (2000) American Politics in Hollywood Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Jeff Smith (2009) The Presidents We Imagine: Two Centuries of White House fictions on the page, on the stage, onscreen and online, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press; Gregory Frame (2014) The American President in Film and Television: Myth, Politics and Representation, Oxford: Peter Lang; Geoff King (2005) American Independent Cinema, London: I.B Tauris; Geoff King (2014) Indie 2.0: Change and Continuity in Contemporary American Indie Film, London: I.B. Tauris; Geoff King, Claire Molloy and Yannis Tzioumakis (2013) American Independent Cinema: Indie, Indiewood and Beyond, New York: Routledge; Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker, eds. (2014) Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in an Age of Austerity, Durham: Duke University Press; Brown, Wendy. 2006. ‘American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism and De-Democratization’, Political Theory 34 (6): 690-714; Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books; Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. ‘The Essence of Neoliberalism’. Le Monde Diplomatique. https://mondediplo.com/1998/12/08bourdieu; Breman, Jan. 2003. The Labouring Poor: Patterns of Exploitation, Subordination, and Exclusion. New Delhi: Oxford University Press; Clary, Jonathan. 2014. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London: Verso; Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff (eds.) 2001. Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Durham and London: Duke University Press; Davis, Mike. 2007. Planet of Slums. London: Verso; Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Ropley: Zero Books; Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin Books.
Courses including this module
Optional in courses:
- W6AG: MA Film Studies year 1 (MA/FILM)