Resources for Educators

Supporting Teaching and Learning

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 so that we can add it to this page.

Sample Assignments

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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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Writing in the Silent Era

Designed by Liz Clarke (Assistant Professor, Communication, Popular Culture and Film, Brock University)

Course Title and Level: Gender and Film, 3rd year (taught as Women in Screenwriting History)

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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)

Assignment Description: Annotation of a World War II–era document of the student’s choosing to be included in a course-wide “casebook.""

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: Practice performing historical research through digitally available materials. Evaluate how scholars use historical materials in research projects.

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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)

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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).

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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

Assignment Description: 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).

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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)

Assignment Description: Each group must research a different aspect of the 1939 film Ninotchka and develop an argument using sources from the MDHL.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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.

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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(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

Assignment Description: 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.

Learning Outcomes: 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.

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