History & Documentary module (HY52029)

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Module code


The Module will consist of Seminars following directed readings and viewings relating to Historical Documentaries. Themes addressed in the Module include: Approaches to the Holocaust; Civil Wars; Intellectual History; National Histories; Contested Histories; ‘Amateur’ Historical Documentaries; Designing the Past. Among the possible examples of Historical Documentaries (although this is purely suggestive) are included:

 'Night & Fog', Alain Resnais, Dir. (1956).

 'The Sorrow and the Pity', Marcel Ophuls Dir. (1969).

 'Eyes on the Prize', PBS, Henry Hampton, Exec. Prod., (1990).

 'Ram ke Naam /In the Name of God', Anand Patwardhan Dir. (1992).

 'The Civil War', Ken Burns Dir. (1990), 'The West', Stephen Ives Dir. (1996).

 'The Madness Within - the Irish Civil War', Colm Magee Dir. (1998).

 'A Century of Self', BBC, Adam Curtis Dir. (2002), 'The Power of Nightmares' BBC, Adam Curtis Dir. (2004).

 'Scotland on Screen', BBC, Pauline Law Dir. (2009)

 'A History of Scotland', Neil Oliver (2009).

'Have you Heard from Johannesburg', Connie Field Dir. (2010)

 'The Vietnam War', Ken Burns & Lyn Novic Dirs. (2017)


Essay 70%

Presentation 30%

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding


  1. Students will gain deeper knowledge and understanding of Documentary History, and its relationship to academic historiography.
  2. Students will learn to deconstruct Documentary History examining how its component parts, script, images, music, and editing combine to tell an accessible story encompassing complex historical information.
  3. Students will achieve better understandings of histories in post-civil war societies and role of Documentary History has in understanding contested pasts.
  4. Students will gain insights into Documentary History as a sub-genre of documentary-making and the problem of conveying complex historical information to a general audience.
  5. Students will also have a better appreciation of how different histories, 'intellectual', 'military', 'social', are communicated using different techniques and different designs.



Subject-specific practical and intellectual skills and attributes.

Students undertaking the Documentary History Module will be required to read and view widely from a range of contemporary, historical, and theoretical materials. The literacy skills developed will give them the ability to extract information from a variety of resources, assess the quality and validity of the material, and use it to discover new knowledge. Through examination of a range of Historical Documentary case studies students will develop understanding of the process involved in communicating historical ideas and information to the widest audiences. Students will also develop their critical skills by understanding the importance of narrative and drama in Historical Documentary. They will also appreciate the ability of Documentary History to influence and create a distinct histories contributing to and enhancing local and national identities, foundation-myths, official and unofficial histories. By the end of the Module, students will have gained insights into different approaches to communicating the past through the medium of documentary.

Transferable, employability and enterprise skills and attributes

By interacting effectively with those in the class and with the Module convener through their discussion of the complex relationship existing between academic historiography and Documentary History, students will develop communication skills that enable them to convey information successfully in a variety of formats, including oral and written communications. To get the most from the module students will be encouraged to develop their attentiveness and listening skills, as well as reading and viewing comprehension of a wide range and variety of materials. Directly during group discussions, and more broadly throughout all that they do in this Module, students will develop professional and ethical behaviour in order to accomplish the tasks at hand with competence and insight. The ability for organizational and time management skills will be essential for students to complete the assigned tasks in balance with their other work and leisure commitments.


The Module offers an introduction to the use of History by documentary-makers. The Module aims to achieve:


  1. An understanding of the development, theory, and practise of Historical Documentaries.
  2. An understanding of the different approaches and techniques documentary-makers use when telling the past.
  3. A keener understanding of how the past is represented in historical documentaries and how this relates to academic historical research (historiography).
  4. An enhanced critical appreciation of the problems and limitations, as well as the possibilities, of the historical documentary format.
  5. An ability to evaluate Historical Documentaries in terms of their historicity, accuracy, and influence.


Dr John M Regan


Students attend two-hour seminars. These seminars are divided between discussion of case studies/themes supported by prescribed readings and viewings. In the last weeks of the Module the seminar is given over to scripted oral or video presentations (equally weighted and of equal duration as on Film & History Level 4), followed by question and answer sessions, which are marked by academic staff. The students will complete around 15 to 20 hours of independent study each week in addition to the in class teaching so to attain a high level of knowledge and understanding commensurate with SCQF Level 10 benchmarking.