History, citizenship and Oliver Stone

Teaching History article

By Stephan Klein, published 5th December 2008

Classroom analysis of a key scene in ‘Nixon’

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

When is a work of art a work of history? How can we get our students to appreciate the difference without ignoring the overlap? How should we ask our students to approach the historical film which seeks to play to the emotions rather than to rational truth? Stephan Klein sets out his rationale for doing just this with a scene from Nixon. The work of the controversial director Oliver Stone has featured in this journal before, with an analysis of the techniques used to produce JFK.1 Here, though, Klein shows us two lessons in which a particular scene is analysed as a work of art, as an historical document, and as an interpretation. He examines Oliver Stone's credentials as a historian, and outlines the specific link between teaching students to be media literate and teaching them to be citizens. His activity took place with 16-18 year olds and involved close textual analysis and reading some expert historical scholarship, treating Nixon as an interpretation of the Vietnam War, and suggesting some reasons why Oliver Stone might which to promote a particular interpretation of the USA's role in Vietnam. Klein also suggests how to involve students in the kind of complicated thinking that might normally pass them by in watching a film...

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