Lights, Cameras, History: How Documentaries and Hollywood Movies Contribute to Historical Learning

Reggie Lara, Leah A. Nillas

Research output: Faculty Advisor of Undergraduate Research


How can teachers effectively use documentaries and Hollywood movies in the high school history class? How do documentaries and Hollywood movies affect student learning? How do documentaries affect student performance on tests? How do students feel about the use of documentaries and Hollywood movies in the history class? Documentaries and Hollywood Movies are being used by history teachers throughout the country. These films affect student learning in numerous ways (Marcus 2005). In order to address my questions, I conducted a case study in which I observed the ways in which a teacher utilized films in his high school history classes. This study focuses on how the teacher’s use of documentaries affects student performance on tests and how the use Hollywood feature films affects student historical learning. In order to determine the influence of documentaries on test performance, I conduct a test analyses. Interviews and surveys are also utilized in order to gain a better understanding of how the teacher and the students feel about the use of film. In completing my research, I reach several conclusions about the influence of documentaries and Hollywood movies on high school students’ understandings of the past, and I provide several suggestions for the future researchers. The conducted research is significant in that most researchers have focused on how films affect the average to above-average achieving schools, while I examine the effects of films in the classroom of a low-achieving. Additionally, no researcher has conducted test analyses to examine the effects of documentary films.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • history
  • films
  • case-study


  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Education

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