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Unit Overview


Historians do not have a monopoly on the telling of history. Since its birth, cinema has been deeply involved in narrating and communicating the past. Indeed, it is perhaps the primary focus through which people of the last four or five generations have engaged with the past. The heroes and villains, the tragedies and the comedies, the unexpected and the clichéd, which have gone into the restaging of history on the silver screen, are a fundamental part of how society through the twentieth century has talked about and imagined what has gone before.

Engaging with cinema gives students the chance to explore history, not only as a discipline but as social practice, while enhancing an awareness of representations of the past in everyday life. Students explore the extent to which films increase or decrease our understanding of historical issues, events and personalities. They consider how seriously on-screen accounts of the past should be taken, how historical films compare to academic accounts and what to make of the immediacy with which cinema projects interpretations of the past.

Cinema is not just a didactic tool; the ways in which film directors or newsreel producers choose their subject and how to portray it, or how these cultural products are used, hands back to the historian traces of the past itself. In other words, while cinema attempts to tell the past, it becomes itself a valuable source for investigating history. The moving images of history films are themselves historical documents which reveal the cultural imperatives of different ages or of different social groups, the projection of historically specific identities, world views forgotten, different constructions of the body and space, or fashion and demeanour.

The intersecting of these two approaches to cinema, that is history as film and film as history, is the focal point of the unit. It primarily examines European but also Hollywood and World Cinema.

6 points
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 2 elective

Students are able to (1) describe and assess the basic historiographical issues characteristic of the discipline of History; (2) identify and evaluate the historiographical approaches for the study of film and history; (3) demonstrate a detailed understanding of the way film has interacted with history; (4) demonstrate the ability to locate appropriate sources for research essays; and (5) present arguments in both written and oral assessments using the conventions of the historical discipline.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) tutorial participation; (2) essay; and (3) assignment. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Dr Giuseppe Finaldi
Unit rules
a Level 1 History unit
or EURO1101 Europe Now: Cultures and Identities
or GEND1901 Gender in Australia
HIST2223 Restaging the Past: Cinema and the Practice of History
Contact hours
lectures: 10 x 2 hours
tutorials: 10 x 1 hour

Ferro, M. Cinema and History: Wayne State University Press 1988

Nichols, B. Movies and Methods: University of California Press 1985

Rosenstone, R. A. Visions of the Past: the Challenge of Film to our Idea of History: Harvard University Press 1995

Sorlin, P. Film in History: Restaging the Past: Barnes and Noble 1980

  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.