Hollywood loves history. At this year’s Academy Awards, three nominees for Best Picture (“Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hidden Figures”) were “historical” to today’s teenagers — set in or about events that occurred before they were born.
History movies, like most movies, have a huge audience in the U.S. Even Disney’s notorious 2004 version of “The Alamo” – a box office “bomb” – was seen by millions. That’s far more people than read most best-selling historians’ books.
A lot of these viewers are kids, watching the movies in theaters, at home and even at school. I’ve observed “The Alamo” used by teachers on more than one occasion.
But are motion pictures like these good for learning about history? As a scholar of social studies education and the use of film to teach history, I offer the response that films can support learning if used to meet specific goals and connected to the proper subject matter.