Resources for Educators
Over the past several years, film and media educators have used the Media History Digital Library in highly innovative and effective ways, crafting creative and challenging assignments that go beyond what we could have hoped for when we first developed this project.
We are grateful that so many of these educators have agreed to allow us to share their assignments on this page. Here they are for you to consider adapting and using for your students and classrooms (whether they happen to meet physically or virtually).
If you are a teacher with an assignment utilizing the MHDL that you would be willing to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can add it to this page.
One Film, Five Posts Designed by Paul Monticone (Assistant Professor, Radio-Television-Film, Rowan University)
Course Title and Level: The Hollywood Studio System, 3rd year
Students are split into groups, each of which is assigned one classic from the studio era canon. Over the course of term, five short discussion post assignments task students with finding and describing a pertinent artifact on the MHDL, articulating how it alters their understandings of their assigned film, and, most importantly, connecting the artifact to the sources used and arguments advanced in course readings. While the film at the center of the assignment remains the same, the methodological framework and primary source documents vary as the course unfolds. The post topics are as follows: (1) student’s review and initial reactions, (2) studio-era cinema as group style, (3) promoting the product, (4) the production system, and (5) local cinema cultures. Students are required to read and respond to the posts of their fellow group members.
Beyond the familiarity with the primary source type toward which each post assignment directs students, individual post assignments reinforce particular approaches to and methods of studying studio-era films by requiring the application of course concepts and readings to the assigned film. The cumulative effect of the five posts enables students to not simply see their as a landmark of the Hollywood studio system but to appreciate it as an instance of the Classical style, of the studio era’s industrial system, and of mid-century U.S. popular culture. This scaffolded assignment can students up for a final assessment (whether short paper or exam question) that facilitates comparison of methods and approaches explored in the five posts. For more, see the forthcoming essay on this assignment in JCMS Teaching Media.
Download full assignment materials (.zip 1 MB)
Excavating Historical Debates using Primary Sources Designed by Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece (Associate Professor, Department of English/Program in Film Studies/Plan H, Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Course Title and Level: English 876/Film Studies 876: Media Historiography; Graduate level course, MA/PhD
Use five consecutive issues of a single primary source publication from the Media History Digital Library and deliver a 15 minute presentation on the main debates of the time.
To learn basic archival research skills, as well as a critical understanding of the difference between consulting analog versus digitized primary sources. A secondary goal is to learn how relying solely on search terms limits the breadth of one’s historical understanding.
Download full assignment document (.docx 15 KB)
The Motion Picture Theatre Exhibitor Designed by Liz Clarke (Assistant Professor, Communication, Popular Culture and Film, Brock University)
Course Title and Level: Film History, 2nd year, Popular Cinema, 2nd year
Students are asked to do primary and secondary research about film exhibition in the silent period. The range of years is up to the instructor (I allow the entire silent period, others have chosen to limit to the nickelodeon era). Students must work primarily with exhibitors journals such as Moving Picture World, Motion Picture News, Variety, etc, to design an evening (or afternoon) at the theater. Students choose the location and the year and then make decisions such as size of theater, what films would show, would there be other entertainment, what would the music be, how would the theater/films be advertised, etc. A written report details their research process and a creative component may include an ad or a poster for the theater.
Familiarity with digital archival material of film history beyond the film text itself. An understanding of the rapidly changing norms of exhibition during the silent period, as well as the wide differences between small-town exhibition and large cities. Exposure to the many film titles that did not survive.
Download full assignment document (.docx 20 KB)
Writing in the Silent Era Designed by Liz Clarke (Assistant Professor, Communication, Popular Culture and Film, Brock University)
Course Title and Level: Film History, 2nd year, Popular Cinema, 2nd year
Students are asked to do primary and secondary research about scenario writing and scenario departments in the silent period. The students will produce a section of a scenario or other creative portion of a film (Intertitles, continuity, etc) and a report that details the research and why they made certain creative choices.
Familiarity with digital archival material of film history beyond the film text itself. Understanding of the film industry and different creative roles during the silent period. And a deeper understanding of screenwriting in the studio era.
Download full assignment document (.docx 17 KB)
Exploring World War II-era Periodicals through Annotation Designed by J.D. Connor (Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts)
Course Title and Level: History of the American Film, 1925–1950; 300 level (intermediate)
Annotation of a World War II–era document of the student’s choosing to be included in a course-wide “casebook.""
Experiential: develop a sense of the look and feel of wartime media periodicals through independent search. Research: increasing facility with digital primary research in preparation for a longer final project; application of historical contexts to specific cases. Outputs: improved multimodal presentation skills including both visual annotation and summary expository writing.
Download full assignment document (.pdf 90 KB)
Analysis of a Single Issue of Radio and Television Mirror Designed by Amanda Keeler (Associate Professor, Diederich College of Communications, Department of Digital Media and Performing Arts, Marquette University)
Course Title and Level: Digital Media, DGMD 4810 Radio and Television History
The students are assigned to read an issue of Radio and Television Mirror to analyze the audience of the magazine through the advertisements and the articles, thinking about what shows are written about, what shows are not, etc. Each student reads their own issue.
Experiential: Practice performing historical research through digitally available materials. Evaluate how scholars use historical materials in research projects.
Download full assignment document (.docx 21 KB)
Early Sound World Cinema Designed by Derek Long (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Course Title and Level: Survey of World Cinema I (200-level film history course)
This assignment aims to give students a basic introduction to primary document research in film history. Students choose an early sound film, then compile a dossier of primary sources about that film that point toward a potential larger historical argument about it.
The primary goal is simply to give students practical experience doing basic primary research, emphasizing digital resources but also pointing out the importance of physical holdings. A secondary goal is to introduce students to historical discourses about cinema, prompting them to ask questions about a source's goal/function within its particular context (in this case, early sound cinema in Hollywood).
Download full assignment document (.docx 24 KB)
Contextualizing a Film with a Broad Media Scan Designed by Alison Patterson and Dana Och (Lecturer II and Senior Lecturer, Film and Media Studies, University of Pittsburgh)
Course Title and Level: Introduction to Film, general education requirement and low-level course in the major
Students are asked to use the MHDL not to search but to scan and read articles and advertisements around the production and release of a target film (in this case, Golddiggers of 1933).
Students will begin to perceive the industrial, technological, and social conditions that provide opportunities and constraints for production, distribution, exhibition and reception of a film. The assignment is especially helpful for novice film students, encouraging them to see film in general and one film in particular as being historically contingent and ideological.
Download full assignment document (.docx 16 KB)
Forming Evidence-Based Arguments at Various Levels of a Film's Division of Labor Designed by Patrick Keating (Professor, Communication, Trinity University)
Course Title and Level: COMM 3326 History of Mass Media (intermediate-level class)
Each group must research a different aspect of the 1939 film Ninotchka and develop an argument using sources from the MDHL.
Practice searching through primary materials in film studies. Learn the difference between "trade journal," "fan magazine," and other types of sources. Use those materials to develop an original argument. Think about issues in historiography —— in particular, about how the same movie might support many different kinds of arguments.
Download full assignment document (.PDF 65 KB)
Preliminary Ventures in Online Archival Research Designed by Marsha Gordon (Professor, Film Studies/Department of English, North Carolina State University)
Course Title and Level: English/Communications 364, Film History to 1940. This is a mid-level class, the first half of a year long cycle that intends to introduce students to global film history and to methods for studying and researching the subject.
This assignment asks students to have an archival research and discovery experience that is focused, limited in scope, and suited to students just learning to think about film history. By investigating a person, company, method, technology, or exhibition practice, it encourages them to put together a few pieces of a puzzle of film history in a preliminary fashion, and it encourages them make some kind of claim about the significance of their discovery.
The goals of the assignment are to expose students to a useful digital resource; to get students to conduct primary research in early film trade publications; to consider how this kind of research is revelatory about some aspect of film history; and to work on developing analytical skills to discuss the nature of their finds.
Download full assignment document (.doc 29 KB)
Introducing Primary Sources in Hollywood History Designed by Chris Yogerst (Assistant Professor of Communication, Department of Arts & Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Course Title and Level: Introduction to Film, First and second year students
This assignment will ask students to analyze a single publication, trade press or fan magazine, that was published during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Students will try to find the interests, likes/dislikes, fears, concerns, (etc.) of the era by looking at articles, features, advertisements, reviews (etc.) that can provide a sense of time and place.
The primary learning goal is to familiarize the student with the process of finding and evaluating a primary source. Students will learn how to use the Lantern search engine and develop a sense of what can be gleaned from past by looking at what was written for a pre-1960 audience.
Download full assignment document (.docx 14 KB)
Developing Search Skills Through the Use of Various Online Archives Designed by Rob Farr (Adjunct Professor, Film and Video Studies, George Mason University)
Course Title and Level: History of World Cinema (FAVS-225), a second year undergraduate course
I call this assignment a film history scavenger hunt. For their mid-term, students are asked to locate 15 specific articles related to film history in academic journals, ProQuest Historic Newspapers, MHDL and IMDb. It is a collaborative effort with the primary rule being that if they get stuck in a blind alley, they can ask for direction from fellow students as long as they don't reveal the answer.
The goal is to give students practical experience in accessing primary and secondary documents related to film history. Most importantly, they learn the value of collaborative effort when researching history.
Download full assignment document (.docx 29 KB)
(1) HoMER Lantern Group Project (2) Project Arclight In-Class Exercise Designed by Jessica Leonora Whitehead (University of Toronto)
Course Title and Level: Used in a variety of undergraduate film and media courses
For the HoMER Lantern group project students are asked to look at the historical production, exhibition, and distribution of specific films through examining film periodicals in the Lantern database. For the Project Arclight in-class exercise students explore the popularity and trends of specific film stars, exhibitors, and distributors using Project Arclight.
My aim for both the group assignment and in-class exercise was to help students understand the importance of the trade press and fan magazines in conducting film history as well as introduce them to archival research and practice.
Download full assignment document (.docx 15 KB)