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History on film

Cleopatra as seductress served Hollywood's marketing needs, and also perhaps the political needs of ancient historians.

The Department of Humanities' History on Film series uses the silver screen to illustrate history, and speakers to put the movies in context.

The series is presented through Arts and Events Programming, and is organized by Christine Berkowitz, lecturer in history, and Katherine Blouin, professor of classical studies.

“Cinema is a good way to convey the relevance of history to students,” says Blouin.

The film series is open to the public, but is run in conjunction with specific history classes, and students of those classes are required to attend and hand in assignments based on the films.

So far this year the series has screened Satyricon, Good Night and Good Luck, and The Most Dangerous Man in America, and will present Jesus of Montreal on March 5.

Films about historical events often have problems of inaccuracy and anachronism, Blouin says. But those problems actually provide a way to engage important issues, since history always involves interpretation.

“I hope to make students more critical, more aware of the layers of interpretation involved,” she says.

For instance, in movies and television shows Cleopatra is often portrayed as a seductress responsible for the downfall of Marc Antony. That interpretation actually echoes one by the ancient historian Plutarch, who may have had political reasons for wanting to excuse Antony.

“Films are useful and relevant not so much for their reconstruction of history, but for getting students to reflect on how history can be used in certain ways,” Blouin says.




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