Representations of American Culture Assignment

HIST 1103 Fall 2018
Paper Assignment
Representations of American Culture 100 Points
DUE Wednesday November 28, 2018

Your assignment is to write a paper (4-6 pages) examining a movie, miniseries, short subject, or fictional book’s portrayal of a particular time in American history, and with the help of at least two (2) outside sources critically analyze the film. In four to six pages, the paper should attempt to address the following issues of the film:

  1. When was the film made?
  2. What era does it portray?
  3. What themes are present in the movie, and how well does it convey them?
  4. What can the movie tell about the era in which it was made?
  5. What can the film tell us about the popular perception of the era that is being portrayed?
  6. How accurate is the movie, compared with the information obtained in your source material?
  7. How successful is the movie in conveying its chosen subject?
  8. How can history as a backdrop to tell a story, and how can events be used in order to facilitate the telling of a story or push a modern message?

There are any number of ways this assignment can be done. The most straightforward way might be simply selecting one movie and two secondary sources, but, it is also perfectly acceptable (if not encouraged) that students can select an early movie and a later movie about similar events or themes, to discuss changing perceptions. So, for instance, if one were interested in the retelling of the Normandy Landings on June 6, 1944, one might watch The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), and compare how a thirty-six-year difference shapes the telling of a similar story. Another option might be to choose movies such as Mississippi Burning (1988) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) to describe the Civil Rights movement. For fictional movies in the list, such as On the Beach, Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, or Wargames, the objective would be to examine more what these movies tell about Cold War society and fear, and examine how these movies are representative of the time and society that created them – with analysis of their historical accuracy focusing more on analysis of the society of the time. Please note: in all cases, you must use two secondary sources.

Within the paper, students should address the questions presented above, citing numerous examples from the film and contrasting that with similar examples from the relevant sources. The paper should discuss the themes presented in the movie, their historical accuracy, and the effectiveness that the movie conveys them. To some degree, this paper is also a movie review going beyond the historical accuracy of a movie and describing how effectively the movie communicates with an audience. As examples, papers over Lee Daniels’ The Butler should describe the effectiveness that the movie shows the changing nature of the Civil Rights Movement or how effectively it shows white racism during the 1930s-1960s. Please note that the movie selected (should students wish to depart from the provided list) must be about AMERICAN history – hence any movie selected not on the list must be approved by the instructor.

Acceptable sources are scholarly works (they must include footnotes!) and journal articles obtained through the OSU Library system. If a website is to be used, you must obtain permission from the instructor to use a website! Any website used that is not approved will result in an automatic failing grade for the assignment. There will be NO approvals of websites such as Wikipedia,, etc. Websites must be scholarly works to be approved, and only then at the discretion of the instructor.

If a student wishes to use a movie or short subject not on the approved list, they must seek the permission of the instructor. However, there is a good sampling of movies and shorts on the list provided, many of which can be streamed from the internet (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and even YouTube carry full movies), purchased at movie stores, or rented through the OSU or Stillwater Library or Video Rental outlets (Hastings, Red Box, Blockbuster, etc).

Grading Criteria

The paper, beyond addressing the prompt and using citation, must be proofread, follow the rules of academic writing (see the Reading Yesterday, Writing Today handout), and avoid typographical errors, spelling errors, contractions, first person, run on sentences, and use correct grammar and punctuation.  The paper must have a clear thesis statement (an argument, as in [for example] “the Civil War was an irrepressible conflict because…” or “the Civil War could have been avoided if…” Your essay must use paragraphs (three to five sentences) and evidence to support the thesis, and have a strong conclusion. If you need assistance, do not hesitate to see either the instructor, TAs, or go to the OSU Writing Center in Morrill Hall, Room 104.

Your paper must be a minimum of four pages, and should not exceed six full pages (on the rare chance it does, it is perfectly fine). The paper should be in Times New Roman font, 12 point, with 1” margins. You will need to adjust the margins manually by using the Page Layout Tab of Microsoft Word.  The paper must include footnotes, and you must cite all of your information to avoid the appearance of plagiarism. We will discuss this in class, however, the Reading Yesterday, Writing Today: A Student Guide to the Study of History at Oklahoma State University will be helpful in explaining how to properly footnote sources. The rubric lets you know how you will be graded, so before turning in your paper please review the rubric to ensure that your paper successfully meets the criteria.



Possible Movie/Miniseries Choices – This is not a complete list, and was last updated in 2013

1776                                                    The Patriot

Revolution                                           John Adams
The Alamo (1960)                               The Alamo (2004)
Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory           Iron Horse
Union Pacific                                      Gettysburg
Gods and Generals                             Glory
Lincoln                                                Young Mr. Lincoln
North and South                                  Blue and the Gray
Hell on Wheels                                    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington           Wyatt Earp
The Grapes of Wrath                           Truman
The Young Lions                                 Sahara
Sergeant York                                      Company K
All Quiet on the Western Front           Fighting 69th
The Big Red One                                 The Longest Day
Midway                                               John Ford’s The Battle of Midway
Guadalcanal Diary                             Wing and a Prayer
Saving Private Ryan                            A Bridge Too Far
Judgment at Nuremburg                     The Pacific
Pork Chop Hill                                    Band of Brothers
The Right Stuff                                     From the Earth to the Moon
October Sky                                         The Help
Apollo 13                                             Forrest Gump
Mississippi Burning                             Ghosts of Mississippi
The Kennedys                                      JFK
Fail Safe
(either version)                     The Color Purple
On the Beach                                      Goodnight and Good Luck
Thirteen Days                                      Apocalypse Now
Full Metal Jacket                                 Platoon
Dr. Strangelove                                   The Day After
Wargames                                           Charlie Wilson’s War
42                                                        The Conspirator
J. Edgar                                              Gangs of New York
Black Hawk Down                              Public Enemies
Road to Perdition                                The Untouchables
We Were Soldiers                                Red Tails
Milk                                                     Frost/Nixon
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Battle for Haditha                               Chaplin
Aviator                                                Hiroshima
Hyde Park on Hudson                        Argo
The Godfather Part I                           The Godfather Part II
Pearl Harbor                                      Tora Tora Tora
Patton                                                  Malcolm X
Tuskeegee Airmen                               Men of Honor
How the West Was Won                      Great Gatsby
(either version)


Grading Rubric for Term Paper                      Name:__________________________________

Automatic F Penalties

Does not meet minimum four full pages ____

No citations ____

Does not follow prompt ____

Point Deductions (at the Discretion of the TA/Instructor)

Improper Margins or Font ____

Grade Items

____ Thesis (10 Points) – Does the student have a clear, concise thesis?

____ Uses at Least 2 Secondary Sources. (20 Points) – Does the student uses at least two books, with multiple citations from each?

____ Discussion and Critique the Historical Nature and Accuracy of the Movie. (45 Points) – Does the student adequately discuss the themes, tropics, and topics discussed in the movie, what they say both about the events portrayed AND the time the movie was made, as well as discusses the accuracy of the portrayal of events?

____ Academic Writing, Organization, and Polish (25 Points) – Does the student follow the rules of academic writing? Avoid first person, contractions, grammatical errors, etc?