Unfortunately, film–as text, as cultural artifact, as legitimate and rigorous primary source–remains undervalued and looked down upon.
Historians in general remain too wedded to the archive. Archives, however, do not provide unmediated or unbiased reservoirs of untainted, pure knowledge. Archives privilege those papers that have survived and those people who were able to and chose to record their thoughts on paper.
What about those who record their thoughts via other mediums? What about their voice? What about their mark on History? What about all of the valuable History that is never going to be found in the safety of an archive (I’m reminded of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, when, because she is a Woman, she is not allowed to just enter the library.)? What about the historical memory that went into play in creating the archive?
And on the note of film, one film is not equivalent to one primary source per se. Books can be written about one film, while a book could not very easily be written about one letter or one traditional historical document.
The necessity and urgency of greater attention to films (and film studies and cultural studies) by historians and historically-minded people becomes more apparent every day.
Films perpetuate White Savior/Mighty Whitey figures. They perpetuate (and are manifestations of) bell hooks’s notion of the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. They are part of larger historical and cultural forces to which the author is blind, making it necessary to ignore their stated intents.
When my dissertation is finished, a study designed and approved to be a study of films as the primary sources, it might help correct this large gap at some point!
Once the dissertation is finished, be ready for even more blog articles about teaching and film and culture! I sure am fortunate to have the ability to focus on my two loves–teaching and research–virtually all of the time. And on the note of teaching: the use of clips from fictional film results in some wonderful classroom teaching experiences for the students and for me. They are also a wonderful way to introduce notions of historical memory.