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Using Film in History Classrooms. Matt Garrison School of Education, Trinity College Dublin We learn…. 10% what we read; 20% what we hear; 30% what we see; 50% what we see and hear; 70% of what is discussed with others; 80% of what we experience personally;

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Using Film in History Classrooms

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Using film in history classrooms

Using Film in History Classrooms

Matt Garrison

School of Education,

Trinity College Dublin

We learn

We learn…

  • 10% what we read;

  • 20% what we hear;

  • 30% what we see;

  • 50% what we see and hear;

  • 70% of what is discussed with others;

  • 80% of what we experience personally;

  • 90% of what we teach someone else.

Why film

Why film?

  • The impact of personal technology: media at pupils’ finger tips (Ipods, cell phones, internet…)

  • Seixas (1994:281) believes that using popular film in history pedagogy “would productively harness the juxtaposition of interpretations crossing revisionist historical divide.” (see also Seixas, 1993)

  • Pupils would better understand how available historical source contribute to contemporary interpretations (Wineburg, 1991).

Using film in history classrooms

Vidal (1992) suggests that in contemporary culture people’s perceptions of history are shaped by film.

An irish context

An Irish Context…

  • National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE).

  • In Ireland: shift from a singular narrative approach to an analytical approach to teaching history at the second level.

    • Pupils developing their own interpretations of history through available sources (Primary and Secondary)

  • “Paintings, cartoons, photographs and other visual sources play a major role in shaping our image of the people and events of the past” (NCCA, 2003).

An irish context1

An Irish Context…

  • Recent research into pupils connection with movies and TV programs about history:

    • 70% of pupils watched movies/TV programs in the last 12 months.

    • In rank order of responses to the question ‘How connected to the past do you feel?’, watching Movies/TV programs ranked 4th.

    • In rank order of responses to the question ‘How interested in history are you when do the following activities in the classroom?’ watching movies about history ranked 1st.

    • Garrison (forthcoming)

Why film1

Why film?

  • Film, in all its forms (DVD, cinemas, TV, the internet) is a dominant contemporary cultural form.

  • Film and TV are the primary means through which pupils learn about new and current events.

  • Film is a natural medium for narrative, a means for telling stories of the past.

Types of film relating to history

Types of Film Relating to History

  • Observational documentaries

    • Fly-on-the-wall approach, no commentary except the words of the participants and no manipulation of camera shots.

  • Contemporary documentaries

    • Structured with a narrative, scripted commentary, shot selection and editing.

  • Post-the-event

    • Uses film shot at the time of the event, captures real people, imposed structure, scripted commentary, editing, music, recollections from other people.

Types of film relating to history1

Types of Film Relating to History

  • Dramatised documentaries.

    • Based on sources close to the event but uses actors. Uses a mix of archive footage and re-enactment filming. “Docudrama”

  • Fictional film histories

    • Reconstructions of historical events using actors, reconstructed settings, music, scripts.

  • Historical film dramas

    • Told within an authentic historical background and within the context of authentic historical events, but story focuses on historical characters.



  • Styles of clothing, hats, jewellery and hair

  • Colours and textures

  • Types of transport and other machinery

  • Signage that can be read

  • Activities taking place

  • Manners and behaviors of all actors within the frame

  • Décor and objects

  • Locations

  • Events or lifestyle activities.

Believability michael collins 1996

Believability: Michael Collins (1996)

Using film in history classrooms

  • Harry Boland was in America when Michael returned to Ireland with the treaty, not in Dublin as shown in the movie.

  • Eamonn De Valera is shown surrendering with the General Post Office garrison after the Easter Rising. However, he was actually Commandant of the garrison at Bolland's Mills, which surrendered after the GPO upon receiving orders to stand down. He was never at the GPO during the Rising.

  • In the film, it shows Ned Broy (Stephen Rea), a double agent in Dublin Castle being tortured and murdered by the British. While Broy survived the Irish Civil War in real life, the Broy in the film is a composite of both Broy and Dick McKee. Broy's death in the film really happened to McKee.

  • During the Bloody Sunday massacre, the British never rolled an armored car onto the Gaelic football field, as depicted in the film. It remained outside the gates.

Using film in history classrooms

During the Easter Rising scenes, the Volunteers and Citizen Army are shown marching out of the General Post Office to surrender. However, the day before the surrender, they had retreated from the burning GPO to another building down the road, and surrendered from there.

Some questions

Some questions…

  • Are history teachers qualified to analyse history through such a medium?

  • Is there enough time in classroom lessons to accommodate using these forms of media?

  • Is the technology available in schools?

  • What guidelines should teachers follow?



  • The National Centre for History Education. (2002) Making History: A Guide for the Teaching and Learning History in Australian Schools. National History Project, Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training. Found at:

  • National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (2003) Revised Leaving Certificate History Syllabus. Dublin: The Stationary Office.

  • Seixas, Peter. (1993) “Popular Film and Young People’s Understanding of the History of Native-White Relations.” The History Teacher 26, no. 3, May, Pp. 351-70.

Using film in history classrooms

  • Seixas, Peter. (1994) “Confronting the Moral Frames of Popular Film: Young People Respond to Historical Revisionism.” American Journal of Education, 102, May, Pp. 261-282.

  • Vidal, Gore. (1992) Screening History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  • Wineburg, Sam. (1991) “Reading Historical Texts: Notes on the Breach between School and Academy.” American Educational

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