Film and American Society
History 221; Section 010

Location: KRB 100
Lecture: Tuesday 7:00-10:00 pm

PROFESSOR GARY MAY  office:119 Munroe Hall; phone: 831-0800; e-mail: . Wednesday, 2:00-4:00, or by appointment.    


Ms. Satomi Minowa, office: Munroe 128,office hours, Tuesdays, 3:00-5:00;

Mr. Ben Tomak, office: 128 Munroe Hal ,office hours: Tuesdays,4:00-6:00;      

Course Description

This course consists of weekly films, readings, and class discussion. It explores the relationship between American movies and American life from the 1940s to the end of the 1980s. Specifically, we will focus on these topics: The way that movies can be used as a historical document to examine the period in which they were produced; how movies shape American attitudes, especially during times of national crisis like World War 2 and the Cold War; and how Hollywood’s interpretation of the past has become the chief way that Americans learn their history.

VIEWING THE FILMS: Students are responsible for all the films listed below, and may be watched at a time of their convenience at various online sites such as “Video on Demand” and I-Tunes. The Morris Library also has copies of each film in their Media Center located in the library basement. Students should take notes on the films, record the names of key characters and crucial scenes. Such material must be incorporated in the exams—mere plot summaries are not enough.

COURSE WEB SITE: . Students will find here a copy of the syllabus plus term sheets which contain an outline of each class lecture. Another helpful site is .

Required Books
William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II.
Mark Harris, Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
Gary May, Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of  American Democracy
Robert Brent Toplin, History By Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past
Stephen Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War

Course Schedule

August 27: Course Introduction.

September 3: “A Jap Is A Jap: The films of World War II. Film: Bataan (1943)  Reading: “The Beast in the Jungle” from Hollywood Goes To War by Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black

World War II Term Sheet
"The Beast in the Jungle" reading

September 10: "Hollywood and the Cold War” (1) Film: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Invasion of the Body Snatchers Term Sheet
    Reading:  Whitfield, Chapters 1-4, and especially 6; Chafe, chapters 2; Hollywood and the Cold War, part 1 Term Sheet

September 17: Hollywood and Cold War(2): Film: On The Waterfront (1954) Reading; Chafe, chapter 3 (section:”The Politics of Anti-Communism.”); Whitfield, chapters 5-8; Hollywood and the Cold War, part 2 Term Sheet

Online essays: Billingsley Best Witness; Navasky

September 24: Hollywood and the  Bomb" Film: Dr. Strangelove (1964). Reading: Whitfield, chapter 9, especially pp.218-225.   Term Sheet. Hollywood and the Bomb Term Sheet

October 1: “Camelot,” Film: JFK (1991)-- Reading:  Chafe, Chapter 7: John F. Kennedy; Toplin, chapter 2. JFK Term Sheet. MIDTERM EXAM DISTRIBUTED.

October 8: “Hollywood and Race” Film: In the Heat of the Night (1967); Reading: online; Harris, 51-59,80-84,138-147,177-180,203-206,217-227,332 (last paragraph)—336, 347 (last paragraph)—351, Epilogue, 425 (“Shortly after…)—426. Term Sheet.

MIDTERM DUE. No Extensions except for extraordinary reasons that must be documented.

October 15: “Hollywood and Race”(2). Film: Mississippi Burning (1989)
    Reading: Toplin, chapter 1 (Mississippi Burning;); Chafe, chapter 6, 7 (“The Year of Promise” section), 11 (“From Civil Rights to Black Power—A Paradigm” section). Term Sheet. See also Mississipi Burning Trial on site.

October 22: Hollywood and Race (3). Film: King: From Memphis To Montgomery—The Documentary and History. Film will viewed in class.
  May, Bending Toward Justice, entire book. See also

October 29: “Hollywood and the 60s. Film: The Graduate (1968).Reading: Auster, chapter 4; Toplin, pp.129-153; Chafe, chapters 11,12, Harris, 47-51,69-74,116-122, 269 (last paragraph)-276,290-295,310-320,358—365,380-385,394-397(end at paragraph 2), Epilogue: pp.418-419,422(“Mike Nichols…”)—423 (first two paragraphs). Term Sheet.

November 5: "Hollywood and Vietnam" – Film: Apocalypse Now (1979) Reading: Chafe, Chapter 9, 10,12 (“January and February” section). FILM ESSAY DUE TONIGHT.

Term Sheet. Apocalypse Now (1979) Term Sheet

November 12: America Turns Right- Film: Dirty Harry (1971). Reading, Chafe, chapters 13-14. Dirty Harry Term Sheet

November 19: Hollywood’s Watergate. Film: All The President’s Men (1976)
   reading:  Toplin, chapter 7; Chafe, Chapter 13, (“The Downfall of the Imperial President” section.)  Term Sheet.

November 26: NO CLASS

December 3: Last Class.  “Greed Is Good”—The 1980s. Film: Risky Business (1983)
    reading: Chafe, Chapter 15. Risky Business Term Sheet.

History 221 Essay Assignment

EXAMINATIONS: There will be one take-home midterm exam, a short film essay,  and a take-home final exam. The midterm exam will count 35% and will be passed out in class on October 1 and is due in class on October 8. The film essay—15%-- is due on November 5. Final Exam—50%--date TBA.

CLASS READINGS: Students are REQUIRED to read the assigned books. Questions on the exams cannot be fully answered without drawing on class readings. Repeating lecture material-even perfectly-will not earn a student a passing grade, without evidence that the reading has been done and incorporated into answers.

STUDENT BEHAVIOR: Students have the right to expect that their instructors present organized and-hopefully-interesting lectures. Professors have hopes and expectations too. Students are expected to arrive in class on time and for the rest of the hour to listen attentively and ask lively questions. Reading, chatting with friends, bolting for the door when a film is being shown, or sleeping is NOT acceptable behavior, and will be dealt with according to the STUDENT HANDBOOK ON ACADEMIC DISHONESTY AND BEHAVIOR. Students should obtain a copy and be familiar with its policies on behavior, cheating, and plagiarism because they will be followed in this course.