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HIST 112: Documentary Film Assignment


We have developed a list of films that cover a range of subjects – sports, music, civil rights, politics, culture and the law – relating to America in the late 1950s and 1960s. The assignment requires that you select one of the films from the list below and write a paper analyzing both its historical content as well as the way in which the film is presented, e.g. sources used, and argument presented about the time period. Specific guidelines follow.


Instructions regarding the length of the paper follow. The paper is due on Saturday, April 17 at 11:59 p.m. EST.


Writing about Documentaries


Contextual analysis: Contextual analysis is analysis of the film as part of a broader context. Think about the culture, time, and place of the film’s creation. What might the film say about the culture and historical moment that created it? What were/are the social and political concerns of the time period? Consider what the documentary is trying to argue about the historic period, people, movements, etc. What sources are they pulling from? What is the documentary’s argument about the subject, time, individual, issue, movement under consideration? What methods (music, narrator, lighting, historic footage vs reenactments) to construct their argument. Your paper must have an argument (i.e. thesis) and be specific in examples and evaluation.


The paper should be 3-4 pages in length, double-spaced, with standard margins (1.25” or 1” top, bottom, and sides). You should use Times-Roman, 12-point font. Your paper should include a heading with your name, date, and class (HIST 112).

The paper is due by Saturday, April 17, 11:59 p.m. EST

ACCESSING THE FILMS: As noted, several of the films can be accessed through PBS link, HBO, or Netflix. If you do not have a Netflix account, you can sign up for a free, one-month trial of viewing. Several (Fog of War, Freedom Riders) are available on Amazon Prime. In some cases, such as The Brooklyn Dodgers, the full film may be available on u-tube



The Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush : (HBO Sports) chronicles the last ten years of the Brooklyn Dodgers tenure in New York, and the community’s identification with the legendary team – from Jackie Robinson’s history making debut with the Dodgers in 1947, through the World Series of 1955, the team’s sudden departure to the west coast in 1957 and the demolition of Ebbets Field in 1960.

Freedom Riders (American Experience, PBS). The film chronicles the dramatic story of the Freedom Rides, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement — the beatings and violence riders endured, the willingness of college students to risk death as they exercised their rights as citizens, and the showdown between defiant local and state governments and the Kennedy Administration.


Bobby Kennedy for President: Parts 2 and 3 (NETFLIX)

Covers the period 1964 to 1968 – Robert Kennedy’s public career after the assassination of President Kennedy during a period marked by increasing racial tensions, white backlash, the rise of Black Power, the escalation of America’s war in Vietnam and the of the anti-war movement.


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (AMAZON PRIME; American Experience, PBS) Founded in Oakland, California in October 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was the vanguard of the Black Power Movement – a movement dedicated to combatting police brutality and empowering Black communities in the struggle against poverty and racial injustice. The Panthers became the target of a violent campaign of government repression. The award winning film is based on archival footage and oral history interviews with former members and other from the era.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara . Robert McNamara was a major architect of America’s war in Vietnam. Here he reflects on critical moments he was involved in, including the firebombing of Japan during World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as well as Vietnam. In a probing series of interviews, McNamara reconstructs this history and reflects on its lessons.

George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire (American Experience, PBS) As governor of Alabama in the early 1960s, George Wallace was a powerful defender of segregation in the South. As racial tensions in the country grew, he became a national spokesman for anti-government sentiment, states rights, and law and order and a leading presidential candidate in 1968. The documentary captures the political tumult and divisions that would shape America for decades to come.

Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre (E-video, USC Libraries) In 1968, African American college students in Orangeburg, S.C. protested racial segregation at the local bowling alley. Over the course of several days, tensions heightened, as political officials stirred fears that Black Power advocates were behind the protests. The Governor called out the National Guard. On the evening of February 8, 1968, guardsman shot into a crowd of 200 protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State College for a nighttime vigil, leaving 3 students dead and more than 20 wounded. This documentary tells what happened then and explores why this history has been largely ignored.

Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music. The definitive documentary film of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, the culminating counter-culture event of the 1960s which featured major musical artists of that time. (THERE are several documentary films on Woodstock; be sure it is the one with this exact title. Available on Amazon Prime)

The Loving Story: (HBO) Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were married in Washington, D.C. on June 2, 1958, and then returned home to Caroline County, Virginia. They could not marry in Virginia because interracial marriages were illegal. Richard Loving was White, Mildred Jeter was African American. After returning home, they were arrested, tried and convicted of “miscegenation.” They left the state in order to avoid jail. Wanting to return home, Mildred Loving sought out help from ACLU lawyers. They brought a suit that culminated in a 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning the ban on interracial marriages. (Be sure it is the documentary, not the feature film. If you have any questions about this, check with Prof. Sullivan or your TA.)

The Stonewall Uprising (American Experience, PBS). When police raided Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City on June 28, 1969, the street erupted into violent protests that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.