Teaching GDR History through Film

May 2008

Introduction Initial Contributions Discussion Links


German history has been well represented in recent years at the Oscars. The last three German-language nominees to make the short list for Best Foreign Film -- _Der Untergang_ (2004), _Sophie Scholl_ (2005), and of course _Das Leben der Anderen_ (2006) -- all focused on historical events. This year's entry from Austria, _The Counterfeiters_, continues the trend. The fact that German-language nominees tend to be historical dramas should hardly comeas a surprise; a quick perusal of the more general "Best Film" category reveals period pieces and historical films to have a larger share of the annual nominations.[1]

For historians, such films, especially when they carry the inevitable descriptors such as "based on the book," or "inspired by actual events," offer a potential nerve-wracking exploration of a historical period. Details may be incorrect, events are amalgamated for cinematic fluidity, and history itself can be interpreted in glib, sometimes provocative ways that simplify or shade the complications and nuances valued by historians. And yet for many, fictional films, along with the occasional documentary, a quick search on the web, and even video games, provide the most common routes to historical knowledge. What is a poor historian to do?

Rather fight the tide, the editors of H-German would like to embrace the medium of film and explore ways in which it can be used in the classroom. In particular, building off a recent, strong run of films on the late GDR, the H-German editors are pleased to announce our Spring Forum, "Teaching GDR History through Film."

We have invited three H-German members -- Thomas Adam, Catherine Plum, and Gregory Witkowski -- to discuss GDR-themed films they use in the classroom as part of the forum. Benita Blessing will offer an initial commentary.  The H-German editors would invite members to contribute to the discussion: What films do you use? What are their benefits? What materials do you assign in conjunction with the films? For those with a background in film or film studies, what questions should historians be asking that seem absent in the discussion?
On behalf of the editors,

Christopher Fischer
Margaret Eleanor Menninger
Jon Berndt Olsen



Initial Contributions (beginning Monday, May 19, 2008)

Solicited Response (Tuesday, May 20, 2008)

Discussion (still to come)



Related Links and References (still to come)