Credit points


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Unit rationale, description and aim

Historians need to engage with films or television series set in the past because they are a major way in which individuals and publics develop their knowledge of history. Dramatic recreations of the past on screen are also frequently the subject of controversy or criticism. Using a range of historical films or series as case studies, this unit allows students to engage with these controversies. The unit will explore the fact that professional historians are often profoundly troubled by historical dramas on screen, arguing that they play fast and loose with the 'facts' - and yet in some cases such screen dramas act as a rich and legitimate form of historical knowledge and discourse. The unit will also use its case studies to investigate the way that the concerns of the present continually reshape tellings of the past.

The aim of this unit is to equip students to critically engage with dramatic recreations of the past on screen as forms of historical knowledge and debate, and to reflect on the fact that understandings of the past are always involved in a dialogue with the present.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe a range of factual knowledge of about the relationship between film and historical understanding (GA1, GA5) . 

LO2 - Communicate clearly in written and/or oral form (GA9) 

LO3 - Use and appropriately reference a variety of sources relevant to representations of the past in film to develop an evidence-based historical narrative or argument (GA3, GA10) 

LO4 - Apply critical reading skills to your understanding of film and history (GA4) 

LO5 - Identify and reflect on key ethical and historical debates relating to case studies of films representing the past (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Content in this unit is designed to assist students to critically engage with dramatic recreations of the past on screen, and in the process to reflect on wider questions about the relationship between history and the present and the very nature of historical ‘truth’. The unit will do this by using a number of case studies to explore:  

  • why many professional historians are troubled by dramatic recreations of the past on screen; 
  • the conditions in which historical films or television series are able to act as a legitimate source of historical knowledge and debate; and 
  • the way that present concerns continually reshape tellings of the past.  


The further themes and issues covered by the unit (as relevant to the selected case studies) may include:  

  • historical film and narratives of nationhood  
  • historical film and gender 
  • historical film and race 
  • historical film and popular memory 
  • historical film and the representation of trauma 
  • historical film and representations of world Indigenous peoples. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This 10 credit-point unit is delivered face-to-face using active, inquiry-based learning. Classes will engage in discussion of filmic case studies and critically examine the debates, concepts and events related to these case studies.  

Students will be asked to develop specific skills in primary and secondary source analysis and to demonstrate an understanding of the key historical debates surrounding historical film. They will be expected to locate, analyse and communicate their research findings on the relationship between historical film and the discipline of history. 

This unit has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, film screenings, skills workshops, private study and assignments etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

In the History discipline, first year units are designed to include a selection of the following assessment tasks: 

  • Primary source document analysis 
  • Analytical reading challenges 
  • In-class debates 
  • Tutorial assignments 
  • Library exercises 
  • Research essay/challenges  
  • Online discussion boards 
  • Short answer responses 
  • Short quizzes/in-class tests 
  • Tutorial-based assignments/presentations 

Assessment in this unit is designed to help students to develop specific skills in reading and understanding historical film. It will also help them to develop their understanding of the nature and purpose of history. This will be achieved progressively throughout the unit. The analytical task, focused on sources, requires students to apply critical and analytical skills fundamental to the discipline of history. This will be followed by a research essay which is designed to develop key skills in locating, assessing and synthesising required knowledge. Finally, the summative task is designed to ensure the students demonstrate knowledge of the breadth of debates and content examined throughout the unit.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Skills Building tasks.  

This assignment will require students to undertake tasks to build their skills in historical research and analysis 


LO1, LO2, LO3. 

GA1, GA3, GA5, GA9, GA10 

Research task.  

This assignment is a research project in which students construct an evidence-based written/digital or oral historical argument or narrative, as designated by the lecturer. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5. 

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA9, GA10 

Summative task  

This purpose of this assignment is for students to demonstrate and reflect on key issues and knowledge covered in the unit. 

The lecturer may designate this task to be in the form of short answer responses, test/s, take-home exam, exam, reflective essay/poster or simulation exercise. 


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5 

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA9, GA10 

Representative texts and references

Burgoyne, R. The Hollywood Historical Film. London: Blackwell, 2008. 

Chopra-Gant, M. Cinema and History: The Telling of Stories. London: Wallflower Press, 2008. 

Francaviglia, R., and Rodnitzky, J. (eds). Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film. Arlington: Texas A&M Press, 2007. 

Hughes-Warrington, M. History goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film. London: Routledge, 2007 

Hughes-Warrington, M. The History on Film Reader. London: Routledge, 2009. 

Landy, M. (ed.). The Historical Film. History and Memory in Media. London: Athlone Press. 2001. 

Mccrisken, T. B., and Pepper, A. American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. 

Rosenstone, R. A. History on Film/Film on History. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2006. 

Rosenstone, R. A. (ed.). A Companion to the Historical Film. Chichester: John Wiley, 2012. 

Salazar, Juan F., and Jennifer Gauthier. Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. 

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