Cover image for The Columbia companion to American history on film : how the movies have portrayed the American past
The Columbia companion to American history on film : how the movies have portrayed the American past
Rollins, Peter C.
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxi, 671 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
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PN1995.9.U64 C65 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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American history has always been an irresistible source of inspiration for filmmakers, and today, for good or ill, most Americans'sense of the past likely comes more from Hollywood than from the works of historians. In important films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Roots (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), how much is entertainment and how much is rooted in historical fact? In The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, more than seventy scholars consider the gap between history and Hollywood. They examine how filmmakers have presented and interpreted the most important events, topics, eras, and figures in the American past, often comparing the film versions of events with the interpretations of the best historians who have explored the topic.

Divided into eight broad categories--Eras; Wars and Other Major Events; Notable People; Groups; Institutions and Movements; Places; Themes and Topics; and Myths and Heroes--the volume features extensive cross-references, a filmography (of discussed and relevant films), notes, and a bibliography of selected historical works on each subject. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film is also an important resource for teachers, with extensive information for research or for course development appropriate for both high school and college students.

Though each essay reflects the unique body of film and print works covering the subject at hand, every essay addresses several fundamental questions:

* What are the key films on this topic?

* What sources did the filmmaker use, and how did the film deviate (or remain true to) its sources?

* How have film interpretations of a particular historical topic changed, and what sorts of factors--technological, social, political, historiographical--have affected their evolution?

* Have filmmakers altered the historical record with a view to enhancing drama or to enhance the "truth" of their putative message?

Author Notes

Peter C. Rollins is Regents Professor of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma State University.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The average person in the industrial world will spend nine years watching film and television, says Rollins, an American film studies professor at Oklahoma University and editor in chief of Film & History. He claims the sense of "popular memory" people get from watching movies provides a skewed sense of history, but what film and documentaries do illustrate, he says, are the attitudes of the director and the society at the time of production. Rollins organizes his book into eight chapters, on historical eras, famous personalities, movements, places and other prisms through which we can view history. He charges his contributors (scholars of history, communications, politics and other disciplines) with finding the messages behind the medium, be it the legend of Abraham Lincoln or John Kennedy or the mythology of small towns. All reveal the social expectations embedded in pop culture. Concise historical summaries precede examples of films to illustrate the shifting views of women, politics, race, etc. Although the book is structured by themes, the index allows readers to explore particular films from different perspectives: e.g., Hester Street is not only about Jewish immigration and assimilation, but its heroine may also be seen as an archetype of the modern woman. Rollins's reference allows readers to appreciate films in context, enhancing the experience. Film buffs will find the mix of history and cinematic analysis captivating, while historians will be intrigued by the book's analysis of popular culture. Photos. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Historical films from The Birth of a Nation to the recent Titanic reflect the prejudices of the era in which they were made. In this compilation of essays, 70 scholars analyze American history as it is revealed (or not revealed) in film. Organized around eight historical categories rather than by film discussed, the book examines important eras from the Puritan period through the bull market of the1980s. Wars are depicted, important people portrayed, and various ethnic groups and American institutions included; the text visits every area of the country and discusses a range of special topics (e.g. crime, drugs, politics, feminism, railroads, sexuality, and slavery). Each essay provides an overview of the topic, citing major trends and movements, and concludes with a filmography and a bibliography. The essays themselves are uneven; some require extensive background to understand, while others require only a basic sense of history. Editor Rollins (English & American film studies, Oklahoma State Univ.; Hollywood's Indian: Images of the Native American on Film) emphasizes that this book is not comprehensive but instead offers a substantial foundation for deeper study. The extensive cross-referencing advertised in the introduction was not seen. Given the substantial price, this work is recommended mainly for large public or academic libraries; for a narrative assessment, consider Robert Brent Toplin's History by Hollywood.-Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-This scholarly work focuses on how Hollywood films have dealt with historical figures, places, and events from the silent era to the present day. Each section is filled with filmographies, lists of pertinent films, discussions by noted film critics, cross-references, and bibliographies of relevant materials in both print and nonprint formats. Each section also tries to ascertain what the key films on the topic are; if filmmakers have altered the facts to enhance the story; and if social, political, or technical factors have influenced the production. This work flows well and would make a wonderful addition to any YA collection. It would benefit students interested in film production, history, or political science. For film aficionados, it's just plain fun to thumb through, analyzing films that they've seen or building a list of must-sees.-John Kiefman, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This handy collection of 79 essays examines how American film has treated various historical topics and themes over time. Most of the 60 contributors are historians and film scholars. Rollins (Oklahoma State Univ.) has arranged the essays into eight broad categories--institutions and movements, wars, prominent people, groups (based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, class, and gender), geographical places, and historical eras. However, users may prefer to delve first into the comprehensive 65-page index, because many topics--for example, the environment, Manifest Destiny--are covered in several essays. In each section, the first essays provide a historical overview of the subject and the rest assess the most significant films (primarily features, but also some documentaries and television productions). Each essay concludes with both a filmography and a bibliography. In all, the book cites approximately 3,000 films; 77 film stills illustrate the book. The volume should be most helpful as a reference guide for newcomers to film studies, but advanced scholars will also benefit from the historical analyses and interpretations of film texts. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. High school students; lower/upper-division undergraduates; graduate students; faculty; general readers. J. I. Deutsch George Washington University

Table of Contents

I Eras
The Puritan Era and the Puritan Mind
The 1890s
The 1920s
The 1930s
The 1960s
The 1970s
The 1980s
II Wars and Other Major Events
The American Revolution
The Civil War and Reconstruction
The Cold War
The Korean War
The Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War
The Vietnam War
Westward Expansion and the Indian Wars
World War I
World War II: Documentaries
World War II: Feature Films
III Notable People
The Antebellum Frontier Hero
Christopher Columbus
The Founding Fathers
Indian Leaders
The Kennedys
Abraham Lincoln
Richard Nixon
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Harry S. Truman
George Washington
IV Groups
African Americans After World War II
Arab Americans
Asian Americans
Catholic Americans
Children and Teenages in the Twentieth Century
Irish Americans
Italian Americans
Jewish Americans
Mexican Americans
Native Americans
Radicals and Radicalism
Robber Barons, Media Moguls, and Power Elites
Women from the Colonial Era to 1900
Women in the Twentieth Century
V Institutions and Movements
City and State Government
Civil Rights
The Family
Journalism and the Media
The Labor Movement and the Working Class
Militias and Extremist Political Movements
The Political Machine
The Presidency After World War II
Private Schools
Public High Schools
VI Places
The Midwest
The "New" West and the New Western
New York City
The Sea
The Small Town
The South
Texas and the Southwest
The Trans-Appalachian West
VII Themes and Topics
Crime and the Mafia
Drugs, Tobacco, and Alcohol
Elections and Party Politics
Feminism and Feminist Films
VIII Myths and Heroes
The American Adam
The American Fighting Man
Democracy and Equality
The Frontier and the West
Hollywood's Detective
The Machine in the Garden
Success and the Self-Made Man
List of Contributors