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Seixas, Peter. “Popular Film and Young People's Understanding of the History of Native American-White Relations.” In Celluloid Blackboard: Teaching History with Film, edited by Alan S. Marcus, 99-120. Greenwich CT: Information Age Publishing, 2007.


In this chapter Seixas aims to explore whether students make the same assumptions about films as they do about textbooks in their history learning. Specifically, he uses the films “Dances with Wolves” (1990) and “The Searchers” (1956) to examine the kinds of judgements that ten high school students made about the films such as when and if they choose to question the accuracy of the narrative. Students were shown segments of each of the films and, after each segment, asked to say what the segment was about. They then were asked to complete questionnaires about basic demographic information and their film-viewing habits.

Seixas found that, in contrast to students’ conception of “The Searchers,” most students viewed “Dances with Wolves” as an accurate representation of the past. This may have been because the cinematic and social conventions employed in the latter made the film much more “believable.” Additionally, students may have favoured “Dances with Wolves” because they agreed with its interpretive stance of the past – a story of Aboriginal historical decline rather than a celebratory narrative of historical development as in “The Searchers.” While it is clear that films such as “Dances with Wolves,” which are part of the popular culture, help students understand that “the past can be a source of meaning in the present,” Seixas warns that students’ willingness to accept the media’s representation of the past without critique should be a concern for all history educators.

Ana Laura Pauchulo