I am a World History teacher at Cross Annex in New Haven, CT, a credit retrieval program for students who have been unsuccessful in a traditional school environment for a variety of reasons, such as attendance, behavior, and academics. Students, predominantly African American and Latino ranging from 14 to 18 years old, in my World History classes have a difficult time comprehending what life was like hundreds or thousands of years ago, extending beyond their own experience. Additionally, my students lack the background knowledge that is essential to critically thinking about history and its many facets.
I have found that many of my students rely upon visual representations to foster their understanding of the multitude of abstract concepts that are inevitable within history. Film has been an invaluable teaching tool for me, and learning tool for my students in that it provides a concrete representation that my students struggle to extract from text. Through film, my students are able to see what ancient Greek architecture looked like, how the Chinese Empire became unified under the Qin Dynasty, and what the experience of individuals during the African Slave Trade was like, among many other historical events.
My students indiscriminately embrace the story lines, characters and outcomes of "historical" films; thus posing a significant dilemma. Often times, Hollywood fails to present and preserve historical accuracy in exchange for riveting fight scenes, captivating romance, and the classically oversimplified distinction between the good guy and the bad guy; in effect, my students, who rely upon these visual representations to strengthen their understanding of history, walk away with the understanding that what they have just watched is absolute truth. The cause for this lack of skepticism is generally a result of their unfamiliarity and lack of background knowledge and historical context with the topic presented in the film.
For this unit, my students will analyze how the Crusades has been depicted in film, with the recent release of
Kingdom of Heaven
, by examining primary sources from both European and Islamic perspectives to provide a holistic historical perspective. My students will increase their background knowledge on the Crusades and will be equipped with the historical facts of what actually happened during this time period, allowing them to extract the fictitious bits from the film
Kingdom of Heaven
. Not only will my students be able to discern fact from fiction but also with their understanding of the historical context in which the Crusades took place, they will be able to speculate as to why the film included certain themes or fictitious details/elements in order to convey a certain message or perspective.
I have selected the Crusades to be the topic of determining historical accuracy in film for a number of reasons. First, the Crusades align effectively with Unit 7 of the New Haven Public Schools' World History Curriculum (Rise of Europe) since this is when Europe begins to expand its empire into the East; second, the Crusades are a time of great cross-cultural interaction and exchange between the Western and Islamic worlds in the realms of religion, politics and economics; and third, the issue of religious tension between Islam and Christianity is genuinely relevant in contemporary history and thus learning about the Crusades will help my students understand how this tension has developed throughout history.