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SR in the Curriculum

(10 March 2017)

In support of the priority to encourage socially responsible graduates, Humanities provides funding to course leaders through the annual Social Responsibility in the Curriculum competition. The aim is for Humanities students to be encouraged to think how their enthusiasm for their subject can communicate, connect or be relevant beyond the immediate demands of their course. 

This week, we introduce you to a project by Dr Molly Geidel, Lecturer in American Cultural History in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. Molly has introduced a new assessed piece of coursework, in the form of a short video, to her final-year module on the topic of social documentary and the history of US imperialism and cultural diplomacy. 

Molly invited historian and filmmaker Seth Fein to hold two events: a screening of his film Our Neighborhood: Washington’s TV Cold War across Latin America in the Sixties, and a workshop with her students on making short films using historical footage. The final films were posted on a YouTube channel which was created to widely share the students’ films. 

Before creating their short films the students debated the power of filmmakers to inform the public about past and present-day injustice and to help us imagine different futures. 

Molly said: “New York-based filmmaker Seth Fein’s visit came as my third-year American Studies students were in the midst of making their own documentaries about US imperialism and visual propaganda. After storyboarding practice, editing tutorials (from Media Services), and their discussions with Seth about the filmmaking process, student teams completed five films, each lasting around 10 minute films on various topics ranging from the war on drugs to the various atomic cultures generated in the US and Japan since 1945. 

“After watching his film in progress, students asked Seth for his thoughts on objectivity, interview etiquette, editing choices, and the degree of didacticism or subtlety desirable in a film. He generously shared his ideas and narrated his journey from more conventional history-writing to filmmaking.” 

Three of Molly’s students have also shared the benefits of their experiences of working with Seth. They said: 

Dan Sweeney-Davis: “I really enjoyed this project, it's a great idea for something different as an assessed piece of work and it really helped me with improving my editing skills.” 

Megan Christopher: “It was incredibly interesting and valuable to be able to hear the viewpoint of somebody who has actually worked with experimental film, and to be able to discuss these films with him…Seth demonstrated a way of using documentary film in order to provoke personal and individual thought, with an emphasis on interpretation rather than answers.” 

Alex Boulding: “Getting to meet Seth was incredible! His experimental film was really eye-opening as to how documentary films can be artistically crafted. Then having the opportunity to have such a close and open discussion with him was a great opportunity…which aside from being interesting in itself, will be really useful as we go on to produce our own documentaries in class.”