The Columbia Companion to American History on Film
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
Though each essay reflects the unique body of film and print
works covering the subject at hand, every essay addresses several
• 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
Subjects: History, Film Studies
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