Primary source documents serve as the bedrock of all reliable social studies. They provide firsthand facts, descriptions, opinions, and accounts which illuminate the distant world of the past while allowing us to better understand the present. To many students, however, primary source documents are foreign, verbose, and tedious. Because language evolves over time, even historians sometimes struggle with interpreting outdated language and outdated societal mores. Especially when studying ancient historical subjects, such as the Roman Empire, students often struggle with rambling British-English translations and the convoluted word order of Latin syntax.
Adaptation, however, especially through the medium of film, oftentimes helps to “entice reluctant readers [students] to experience a work in a familiar, less intimidating format” and bring history alive.
Once students are able to gain this level of comfort and familiarity with ancient historical documents, connections can then be drawn to other, more contemporary, aspects of history. For example, when viewing a film adaptation of primary-source Roman history, one can analyze both the upfront depiction of Roman history as well as the historical events which were occurring
the film was being conceptualized and created. In other words, were directors, screenwriters, and actors mirroring what was currently happening in their society through their cinematic adaptations of the ancient world? Could the political turmoil of the Roman Empire serve as an allegorical adaptation of, for example, the political chaos of American McCarthyism in the 1940’s and 1950’s? Or could the scourge of slavery in an ancient empire reflect the systematic oppression of an entire race within the post-WWII global “empire” of the United States?
The following curricular unit utilizes the story of Spartacus to explore those very questions.