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OU College of Liberal Studies Feaver-MacMinn Seminar

Spring 2013 Seminar

CLS Dust Bowl - Feaver-MacMinn Seminar

"The Fabric of History: Understanding The American Imaginary Through Documentary Film"

March 12 - 15, 2013


"The Fabric of History: Understanding The American Imaginary Through Documentary Film"

This course focuses on how we put together a picture of the world on which we can act. In order to act, we must look forward with some idea of where we are headed as a set of cultures and as a nation. Doing this well requires understanding where we have come from, how our past got us to where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow. Documentaries that focus on history make a significant contribution to understanding the past. But what is the nature of that contribution? How do documentaries work? How do we come to trust what we see and hear in a documentary? If we realize there are several stories, several points of view involved in creating the fabric of history, how do we make sense of them?

We want to talk not so much about definitive answers to such questions, but to gain a better understanding of how to think through them. To do this, we can read about the work of historians, and in particular see the work and hear the words of documentary makers who are interested in either focusing on or creating history. By understanding what they are attempting to do, and seeing to what extent they are successful, we can come away with a way to let our curiosity integrate with thoughtful documentary work, and be better viewers. By being better thinkers and better viewers, we gain what we could call “documentary literacy.” We become aware of the issues of both content and form in documentaries. Their strength lies in the drama that they can bring to historical knowledge, but as viewers we need to consider how to judge and make sense out of the stories they tell.

This class will feature the participation of Dayton Duncan, a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Mr. Duncan’s screening and lectures will include a close look at his work on the recent documentary The Dust Bowl. He has worked extensively with Ken Burns on several documentary projects that tell important stories about the history that brought us to where we are today.

The seminar has no prerequisites.

Host Professor

Ralph Beliveau, Ph.D.
Gaylord College of Journalism
University of Oklahoma