Syllabus 2020

US History in Film (Honors)
Fall 2020
HIST 329
9:30-10:45 TR
Online and James Monroe Hall 116

Jeffrey McClurken
Office: GW 105
Office Hours:  By appointment (x1475 or through Canvas message)

Course Description

This course examines historically oriented motion pictures as both primary and secondary sources of information about the past.  It starts from the premise that the content in films, as with written sources, can (and should) be critically analyzed for its perspectives, interpretive choices, biases, and reliability.  The course examines the relative successes or failures that major films have had in portraying the past, and analyzes how present events, cultures and attitudes shape our view of the past.  As historians we typically analyze and use traditional primary and secondary sources (e.g., historical documents and scholarly articles and monographs); it is possible and helpful to apply many of those same skills (and much of the same skepticism) to our approaches to non-traditional sources, such as these films. This course counts in the History major and the American Studies major, as well as the Honors Program. It also counts for the Digital Intensive General Education requirement.

Departmental Learning Objectives

  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation.
  • Appreciation of the diversity of methods and processes.
  • Ability to communicate in a group setting.

Honors Program Objectives

As part of the Honors Program, this course also will help students to formulate an academic argument with appropriate research documentation; articulate the value of the goals of the honors program as it relates to the liberal arts as an multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.


Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend classes (virtual or otherwise), read all assigned texts, watch all assigned films, and participate in class (including posting to the course wiki).  They are also expected to create a digital research project and complete mid-semester and end-of-semester assignments.  Projects and other assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due.  [Note that learning in a pandemic means that there may be times when you are feeling ill.  Stay away from class on those days and let me know what is going on so we can talk through options.]



Each week we will be discussing a particular movie.  The movies are available to rent from various streaming services ( is a good place to find where they are available currently since they shift from one service to another). They will also be on reserve at the library as DVDs that can be checked out.  Streaming will likely be your most convenient option. Regardless, you will have to make arrangements to see the movie somehow, including borrowing my copy as a last resort if we are in person.  Watching these movies is your responsibility, so don’t wait until the last minute to figure out how you will watch it!   Even if you have seen one of these movies before, you should watch it again. You will see new things about it when you are watching with a critical eye. 

Discussions, Wiki, and Class Participation

Students are expected to participate in all discussion classes (Tuesdays in start of the semester, Thursdays later on) having watched the movie for that week, having read the material, and having prepared 2-3 questions, comments, links to sources or clips, or potential debate topics.  These should be posted to the appropriate week in the class wiki no later than 5 AM on the day of the discussion ( The questions/comments/topics should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading and the movies.  [Since the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late postings will not be accepted.]  Class participation requires actively participating in these discussions, watching the movies, submitting questions/comments/topics, and co-leading one of those discussions. Bonus participation points will be available if you Tweet reactions while watching the movies with the hashtag #HIST329.

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on class participation, including wiki posts, discussion participation, and leadership of class discussion (35%), on performance on the mid-semester and end-of-semester assignments (15% each), as well as on the WordPress-based, research-sourced historical analysis of a film (35%).  [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D or below on work completed at that time as a way to let you know that you need to reach out and talk to me to help you figure out how to succeed in the class.]

A note about this semester and this class

This class is not the most important thing in your life.  It’s not the most important thing in mine. Don’t get me wrong, there’s much to learn here and I love and have so much fun exploring these topics with you and your classmates.  But take care of yourself.  Reach out to me if there are things in your life that end up taking precedence over this class.  Let’s talk about them.


Our written texts will be available via the readings page linked to from here. No cost for those readings.

Of course, our texts are also the films we are examining each week.  If we are entirely online this semester, that becomes much more complicated.  These films are available for streaming, but often with a rental fee, and not from any single streaming service.  I’ll provide a list of places that you can rent them, though is a good place to see the current options that exist.  When we are in person, then DVD copies of the films will also be on reserve at the library.

Research Project Assignment

You must create an original online research project analyzing a particular film dealing with a United States History topic.  Much as we will do in class each week, your project should analyze the portrayal of the past in the film, exploring the perspective (including biases or objectives) of the filmmakers, the historical accuracy of the portrayal (in a detailed and a broad sense), and the relative success and reliability of the film as a primary and secondary source of historical information.  You should use a combination of primary and secondary sources for your evidence.  You must cite all images, clips, facts, ideas, paraphrasing, and quotes, in footnotes and bibliography, using either Turabian (9th edition) or the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition), including the movies themselves and any reviews of them that you have used.  [For more details on citations, see the resource page created by Jack Bales, our amazing and recently retired Reference Librarian. Or you could just use Zotero.]

1) Your project must be presented online as blog pages in a WordPress site created within your Domain of One’s Own account.  Let me know where it is located–in other words, what is its URL/web address?—by the start of class on Thursday, Sept. 3.  [Don’t have a Domain of One’s Own account or need a refresher? See here.  Or the Digital Knowledge Center can help you get started.]

2) Your historical film choice and bibliographic citations of ten or more significant (non-encyclopedic) sources are due by the start of class on Thursday, September 17 for my approval.  [Since I will only approve one person to work on a particular movie, you should probably request approval for your movie via email before September 3.]  There is a list of potential choices and the list of movies already taken at the course blog at

3) The research project (1,500-2,500 words, not including citations and bibliography, with at least 3-5 minutes of “green-screened” or otherwise annotated video clip(s) with your commentary/critique) is due at the start of class on Thursday, November 5  November 12. [Worth 35% of overall class grade.]  The Honor Pledge and your name should be clearly visible.  Projects will be graded on content (including originality and the quality and use of evidence), historical analysis and quality of your video clip(s), additional multimedia features (images, GIFs, use of movie clips), overall site presentation, grammar, and proper formatting for historical writing (including footnotes and bibliography).  [Again the DKC can help with technical aspects of these projects, including the video clip.]

4) By Tuesday, November 17 everyone needs to have looked at the other projects.  The class will vote on the top 5-8 projects.  These will join the 20+ projects picked from the 2008-2018 classes in an online US History in Film site.  More on this later in the semester


Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience.  You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council.  So, do not do it.  On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing and projects can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing and work itself remains yours).  If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.

COVID-specific Policies

All students are expected to adhere to the following policies and expectations to mitigate risk and support the health and safety of the UMW community: MMDC–Monitoring, Masking, Distancing, Cleaning.

Self- Monitoring: all UMW students, faculty, and staff must self-monitor their health status and attest daily in Eagle Health Survey. Students should refrain from attending class and other on-campus events if they feel ill and are encouraged to seek appropriate medical attention for treatment of illness. Should you need to be absent from class due to illness, please inform me so that a plan for making up missed work can be developed.

Face Coverings: face coverings which cover both the nose and mouth must be worn by all students, faculty, and staff and are required in all classrooms/lab/studios at all times, as well as inside buildings when in the company of others. If a student does not have a mask or appropriate face covering that student will not be permitted in class. Masks are available at the University Center Information Desk. See UMW’s Face Covering Policy for face covering guidelines. Students unable to wear a face covering for medical reasons should contact the Office of Disability Resources.

Physical distancing: all classrooms, labs, studios and any other instructional areas are configured to provide appropriate physical distancing and have established occupancy limits; students MUST adhere to the physical distancing configuration of the classroom/lab/studio and not exceed the occupancy limits of the space at any time.

Self-Cleaning: students and faculty are expected to wipe down their work/seating areas when entering the instructional space and upon leaving; cleaning and disinfecting products such as sanitizing wipes are present in all classroom and meeting spaces, and throughout UMW buildings to support self-cleaning. The time between classes has been increased to 20 minutes to permit self-cleaning of learning spaces.

No food is permitted in classrooms and other instructional areas; drinks permitted in closed containers only and not in areas where expressly prohibited.

Failure to comply with UMW policies and expectations for face coverings, physical distancing, self-cleaning, and monitoring requirements will result in disciplinary action consistent with the Student Code of Conduct.


The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the university as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please provide me a copy of your accommodation letter via email or during a meeting. I encourage you to follow-up with me about your accommodations and needs within this class. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, their office is located in Lee Hall, Room 401.  They can be reached at The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.

Title IX Statement

Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Under Title IX and this Policy, discrimination based upon sex or gender is prohibited. If you experience an incident of sex or gender based discrimination, we encourage you to report it. While you may talk to me, understand that as a “Responsible Employee” of the University, I MUST report to UMW’s Title IX Coordinator what you share.  If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the below confidential resources.  They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator.  Please visit to view UMW’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence and to find further information on support and resources.

Stefanie Lucas-Waverly, M.S.
Title IX Coordinator
Fairfax House
1301 College Ave.
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-654-5656


Confidential Resources

Talley Center for Counseling Services
Lee Hall 106, 540-654-1053

Student Health Center
Lee Hall 112, 540-654-1040

24-hr hotline: 540-373-9373

Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA)
24-hr hotline: 540-371-1666


Recording Policy Statement

In this class, students may not make audio or video recordings of any course activity unless the student has an approved accommodation from the Office of Disability Resources permitting the recording class meetings. In such cases, the accommodation letter must be presented to the instructor in advance of any recording being done and all students in the course will be notified whenever recording will be taking place. Students who are permitted to record classes are not permitted to redistribute audio or video recordings of statements or comments from the course to individuals who are not students in the course without the express permission of the faculty member and of any students who are recorded. Distribution without permission is a violation of educational privacy law. This policy is consistent with UMW’s Policy on Recording Class and Distribution of Course Materials.

Food and Housing

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Office of Student Life (x1200) for support. Furthermore, please notify me (if you are comfortable in doing so). This will enable me to help connect you to those resources.

Digital Knowledge Center

The Digital Knowledge Center (DKC) provides UMW students with peer tutoring on digital projects and assignments. Any student at the University can take advantage of the Center’s services by scheduling an appointment to work one-one-one or in a group with a student tutor. Tutorials can cover a wide-range of topics related to common digital systems, technologies, new media, and tools used in courses at UMW; the Center also provides training to students interested in learning how to use the Advanced Media Production Studio (HCC 115). DKC tutors adhere to the UMW Honor Code in all tutorials; they are available to provide guidance and advice, but they cannot create, produce, or edit work on a student’s behalf.

Writing Center

The UMW Writing Center offers assistance on all types of writing projects.

Speaking Center

UMW Libraries
Librarians are available to assist you via phone, email, chat message, or face-to-face.

Help Desk
The IT Help Desk provides support for technology-related problems or questions from the UMW Community. If you are having difficulties connecting to online University resources, seek assistance from the Help Desk:


Readings and class schedule