A Public Historian’s Participation in Historians At The Movies

June 20, 2019

I first became aware of history depicted in movies was when I was about nine years old and I heard about the movie Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet being released in theaters. I read books about the history of Titanic with a classmate of mine, and I began to become more and more interested in learning about the ship itself and the tragedy that occurred in her maiden voyage.  When I approached my mother about going to see the film, especially since a number of my peers were going to see it, she said no pointing out that it was not going to be historically accurate since it is focused on a love story (and of course she also told me that she did not approve of taking a nine year old to see a PG-13 rated film). The fact that it would not entirely be a historically accurate film was enough for me to not ask to see it again. Almost a decade later, I watched the film and while yes it was more focused on a love story between two fictitious Titanic passengers I was impressed with so much detail that was put in to make the ship as accurate as possible. I may revisit the film in a future blog post to go in depth of how the filmmakers approached historical depiction. Since then, I have always enjoyed watching films depicting historical events or stories taking place in specific time periods.

The reason why I bring up my childhood memory is because this past weekend I participated in a live tweeting discussion called Historians at the Movies. Hosted by Jason Herbert, a Doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota focusing on Indigenous and Atlantic History, Historians at the Movies is an online community for everyone interested in history and films and historians on Twitter that live-tweet films every week using the hashtag #HATM. On Saturday June 15th, I participated in Historians at the Movies live-tweet of the film Carol which is about an aspiring photographer who develops an intimate relationship with an older woman named Carol in 1950s New York starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Participants are asked to use Netflix to get access to the film. If people do not have a Netflix subscription, I think it is possible to still watch the film using other ways including owning or borrowing the DVD/Blu-ray and watching it on demand.

Without revealing any spoilers, I will share a few of my tweets reacting to the film. The following tweets are reactions to the details made in helping make the film set in the 1950s.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

It does a really wonderful job in setting up the time period the story takes place in, and it doesn’t need to have font telling us when it takes place #HATM

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

My grandmother had a beautiful collection of clothing she saved and as kids my cousins, sisters, and I would play dress up and put on plays in Nana’s old furs, hats, gloves, scarves, etc. #HATM

In response to a tweet on happiness in 1950s families: It was definitely the perception people in the 1950’s we’re expected to strive for especially from the media but does not exactly reflect the reality of people’s lives in this point in time.  #HATM

Reaction to a department store depicted in the film: It must have taken a lot of research time to not only find out what dolls were sold in that time but finding the dolls or even creating their own dolls using the parts that were used creating them in the doll factories back then. #HATM

If interested in participating in future live-tweets with Historians At The Movies, join them throughout the rest of this month on Saturdays at 9pm using the hashtag #HATM. In July, Historians At The Movies will move to Sundays at 9pm.

As a public historian, I thought the concept of historical depiction in films is interesting and curious about the work filmmakers put into these type of movies. I included a link to the National Council on Public History’s definition of public history in the resources section for those new to the public history field. Now that I have a Master’s degree in Public History I wonder how much involvement did historians have in depicting historical events and stories taking place in a specific time period. I watch films keeping in mind that there are decisions all involved in making them they need to consider to make visual and technical sense to entertain the intended audiences. This past weekend’s live-tweet of Carol was an example of that. I see films and television shows that are set in time periods or depict moments in history are ways to bring attention to history and hopefully inspire viewers to learn more by visiting museums, reading books, watching documentaries, and other accurate resources available.

How do you feel about history being depicted in films and televisions? Do you believe it has an impact on the history that is being portrayed in these mediums?

Resources:

https://ncph.org/what-is-public-history/about-the-field/ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2402927/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

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