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The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past

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Overview

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?

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal

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...it's just plain fun to thumb through.

— John Keifman

FGS Forum<p>Peter C. Rollins is Regents Professor of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma S

The useful background information will greatly enhance one's view of historical movies.

— Paul Milner

Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Journal of American Culture
[Rollins] is to be praised for his splendid accomplishment, and each reader of the essays will congratulate himself or herself for having found the collection.Journal of American Culture

— Ray B. Browne

Screening The Past

It provides a solid introduction to many of the major themes of American history on film, and students will undoubtedly find it a very useful source.

— Michael Paris

FGS Forum
The useful background information will greatly enhance one's view of historical movies.

— Paul Milner

FGS ForumPeter C. Rollins is Regents Professor of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma Stat

The useful background information will greatly enhance one's view of historical movies.

— Paul Milner

Screening the Past
It provides a solid introduction to many of the major themes of American history on film, and students will undoubtedly find it a very useful source.

— Michael Paris

American Reference Books Annual
This is an excellent print source. This Columbia Companion that Rollins has crafted is highly recommended.

— Jim Agee

Literatur in Wissencraft und Unterricht

Rollins' book truly deserves to be called a standard work.... Not only is The Columbia Companion to American History on Film a must-read for students and scholars of film studies but also in other fields like history, English, or American studies.

Journal of Popular Culture
Offers a wealth of significant material that is extremely informative and entertaining for film scholars, teachers, and film buffs alike.

— Carol E. Mitchell

Choice

This handy collection of 79 essays... 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. Highly recommended.

Screening the Past - Michael Paris

It provides a solid introduction to many of the major themes of American history on film, and students will undoubtedly find it a very useful source.

American Reference Books Annual - Jim Agee

This is an excellent print source. This Columbia Companion that Rollins has crafted is highly recommended.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television - Leen Engelen

The Columbia Companion to American History on Film is yet another impressive volume on film and history edited by Peter C. Rollins.

Journal of American Culture - Ray B. Browne

[Rollins] is to be praised for his splendid accomplishment, and each reader of the essays will congratulate himself or herself for having found the collection.Journal of American Culture

Journal of Popular Culture - Carol E. Mitchell

Offers a wealth of significant material that is extremely informative and entertaining for film scholars, teachers, and film buffs alike.

FGS Forum - Paul Milner

The useful background information will greatly enhance one's view of historical movies.

Choice

This handy collection of 79 essays... 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. Highly recommended.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231112222
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/17/2004
  • Pages: 696
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter C. Rollins is Regents Professor of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma State University and editor in chief of the magazine Film & History (www.filmandhistory.org).

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I. Eras The Puritan Era and the Puritan Mind, by Edward IngebretsonThe 1890s, by Joseph MillichapThe 1920s, by John TibbettsThe 1930s, by Carlton JacksonThe 1960s, by Chris LovettThe 1970s, by Zia HasanThe 1980s, by William J. PalmerPart II. Wars and Other Major Events The American Revolution, by Cotten SeilerThe Civil War and Reconstruction, by Alicia BrowneLawrence KreiserThe Cold War, by Phil LandonThe Korean War, by Phil LandonThe Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War, by James YatesThe Vietnam War, by Peter C. RollinsWestward Expansion and the Indian Wars, by James SandosWorld War I, by Peter C. RollinsWorld War II: Documentaries, by Peter C. RollinsWorld War II: Feature Films, by Robert FynePart III. Notable People The Antebellum Frontier Hero, by Mike BirdwellChristopher Columbus, by Anthony ChaseThe Founding Fathers, by Cotten SeilerIndian Leaders, by Robert BairdThe Kennedys, by Harris J. ElderAbraham Lincoln, by Martin JacksonRichard Nixon, by Don WhaleyFranklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, by Michael ShullBabe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, by Douglass NoverrHarry S. Truman, by Martin JacksonGeorge Washington, by John D. ThomasPart IV. Groups African Americans After World War II, by Michael ShullArab Americans, by Jack G. ShaheenAsian Americans, by Terry HongCatholic Americans, by Peter HolloranChildren and Teenagers in the Twentieth Century, by Ron GreenIrish Americans, by Peter HolloranItalian Americans, by Stacey DonahueJewish Americans, by Solomon DavidoffMexican Americans, by Scott BaughNative Americans, by Jacqueline KilpatrickRadicals and Radicalism, by Michael ShullDavid WiltRobber Barons, Media Moguls, and Power Elites, by Michael ShullDavid WiltWomen from the Colonial Era to 1900, by Sarah PearsallWomen in the Twentieth Century, by June SochenPart V. Institutions and Movements Baseball, by Gregory McNameeCity and State Government, by Thomas HalperDouglas MuzzioJessica MuzzioCivil Rights, by Ray ArsenaultCongress, by Anthony ChaseThe Family, by Steve MintzFootball, by Dale HerbeckJournalism and the Media, by Robert BairdThe Labor Movement and the Working Class, by Michael ShullDavid WiltMilitias and Extremist Political Movements, by Michael J. RileyThe Political Machine, by James HanlanThe Presidency After World War II, by Peter C. RollinsPrivate Schools, by Ron BrileyPublic High Schools, by Ron BrileyPart VI. Places The Midwest, by John TibbettsThe "New" West and the New Western, by James HanlanNew York City, by Joe Dorinson George LankevichThe Sea, by Mary MalloyThe Small Town, by John TibbettsThe South, by Owen GilmanSpace, by Michael DenisonSusan OptSuburbia, by David WiltTexas and the Southwest, by Mark BusbyThe Trans-Appalachian West, by Mike BirdwellPart VII. Themes and Topics Crime and the Mafia, by Ron WilsonDrugs, Tobacco, and Alcohol, by Jennifer Tebbe-GrossmanElections and Party Politics, by Anthony ChaseFeminism and Feminist Films, by June SochenRailroads, by Joseph MillichapSexuality, by Bill BrigmanSlavery, by Robert B. ToplinPart VIII. Myths and Heroes The American Adam, by Charles MalandThe American Fighting Man, by Robert DoyleDemocracy and Equality, by Thomas DohertyThe Frontier and the West, by R. Phillip LoyHollywood's Detective, by David WiltThe Machine in the Garden, by John TibbettsSuccess and the Self-Made Man, by Hannu Salmi

Columbia University Press

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2005

    Historical Approach to Film a la Film & History

    This compendium embraces the kind of scholarship produced on film by humanists and historians over the last thirty five years and regularly appearing in the journal entitled 'Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies.'<www.filmandhistory.org> Americans see their history through film and television renderings. Such exposure can often stimulate the imagination, but always needs to be augmented by written materials and the findings of historians less concerned with drama and audience. Some motion pictures are based on existing historical findings, but are misguided--take for example, 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915) by D.W. Griffith. Many historical films are made with one eye toward commenting on contemporary issues. For example, compare the handling of patriotic obligation in two films about the revolutionary war, 'Drums Along the Mohawk'(John Ford, 1939) and 'The Patriot'(Roland Emmerich, 2000). Each reflects its own time while commenting on a heroic chapter in American history. These are some of the nuances explored by The Columbia Companion. 'Film & History' has been in publication for decades and persues these issues on a regular basis. The web site for Film & History is a good place to start exploration of the connections between history and film by those who get a good grounding in this book. All teachers of history and most teachers of film should have this reference work on their shelves. It is NOT a history of film, but a study of how film and history interact. You will find no jargon or methodological 'school' selling a vision. A quick look at the Table of Contents will give a clear notion of the scope and approach of this very useful reference work.

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