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History on Film/Film on History Paperback – March 17, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0582505841 ISBN-10: 0582505844 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson; 1 edition (March 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0582505844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0582505841
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,509,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


" is timely that a prominent American historian has taken a critical look at history on film..."

" important book that should be read and discussed."

Taylor Downing, History Today, September 2006

From the Back Cover


History films have often been criticised by academics and journalists as inaccurate depictions of the past. Yet there is no escaping the fact that blockbuster history films, documentaries and docudramas are increasingly influential in shaping our understanding of historical people and events. The very controversies that erupt over so many historical films are testament to the central role that films play in making history accessible.


Robert A. Rosenstone argues that to leave history films out of the discussion of the meaning of the past is to ignore a major factor in our understanding of past events. He champions the dramatic feature as a legitimate way of doing history, even though it is largely fictional. He examines what history films convey about the past and how they convey it, demonstrating the need to learn how to read and understand this new visual world. Integrating detailed analysis of individual history films, including Glory, Reds, October and Schindler’s List, Rosenstone examines:

·         different types of films – American, European, Mexican and Soviet – made in different political systems and climates

·         the dramatic feature, the Biofilm, the documentary and the Innovative or Opposition drama.

·         the filmmaker as historian, focusing on Oliver Stone as a brilliant historian of the Vietnam era.

·         how a group of works devoted to a single topic, such as the Holocaust, can engage the larger discourse



Professor Robert A. Rosenstone of the California Institute of Technology is a leading scholar in the controversial and growing field of history and film.  His award winning biography of John Reed, Romantic Revolutionary (1975), was used as the basis of Warren Beatty's multiple Academy Award winner, Reds, on which Rosenstone served as historical consultant. He is author of several works of history, including Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History (1995) Crusade of the Left: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (1969) and Mirror in the Shrine: American Encounters with Japan (1988). He is editor of Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (1995) and Experiments in Rethinking History (2004). He is the Founding Editor of Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice.

More About the Author

Robert A. Rosenstone, Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology, is a leading figure in the field devoted to studying the relationship between film and history. He has written two books on the topic, Visions of the Past: the Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History (Harvard, 1995), and History on Film / Film on History (Pearson, 2006), and has edited a breakthrough collection of essays, Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (Princeton, 1995). Currently he is editing an anthology of original essays by scholars from around the world for a British publisher, to be titled The Blackwell Companion to Historical Film.

Rosenstone has participated in the production of several films, both dramatic features and documentaries. His award winning biography of John Reed was used in part as the basis for the Academy Award winning Reds, on which he worked as consultant. Other film involvements include his writing of the narration for a documentary on the Spanish Civil War entitled The Good Fight (1983), and time spent as consultant and / or Talking Head for several films, including Darrow; Tango of Slaves; Screening Histories: The Filmmaker Strikes Back; Rebels; and Emma Goldman: A Troublesome Presence.

Rosenstone's works of narrative history include Crusade of the Left: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (Pegasus, 1969), Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (Knopf, 1975), and Mirror in the Shrine: American Encounters with Meiji Japan (Harvard, 1988). He has published two works of imaginative writing, a book of stories entitled, The Man Who Swam Into History (Texas, 2005), and a historical novel, King of Odessa (Northwestern, 2003). His second novel, Red Star, Crescent Moon, will be published in September, 2010.

Rosenstone is the Founding Editor of Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, and in 1989 created the first film section for the American Historical Review. He has been a visiting professor at Oxford University, the University of Manchester, the University of Barcelona, the European University Institute (Florence), Kyushu University (Japan), the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands), and Tolima University (Colombia). His fellowships include four from the National Endowment for the Humanities, three from the Fulbright program, and he has been a research fellow at both the East-West Center (Honolulu) and the Getty Research Institute.

May 2010

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sir Lancelot on May 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Rosenstone is a gifted stylist whose desire to take the historical film seriously is certainly welcome. Unlike Natalie Davis (Return of Martin Guerre and Slaves on Screen), Rosenstone also has no desire to prescribe what filmmakers should and should not do when representing the past. Films, need to be judged according to different criteria from historical accuracy, Rosenstone maintains. But Rosenstone so narrows his definition of the historical film, despite the seemingly all encompassing title of his book, attending only to what he calls the serious historical film, that he ends up confirming the negative view of historical films held by most historians (at least as he imagines his audience). Rosenstone too, that is, dismisses films like Gladiator andBraveheart. In this respect, Rosenstone does not move past Pierre Sorlin's view, published in the 1970s, of a handful of film as exceptions to the rule that a filmic writing of history does not exist. Moreover, nearly all the films he discusses where made before 1990. Rosenstone does not beyond positions he first outlined in 1988 and which Haydn White articulated the same year in a trenchant essay on "Historiophoty." Rosenstone pays no attention to video and DVD, and does not differentiate between film and TV. By the end of his book, Rosenstone has even retreated from White's trenchant arguments. The book is frequently repetitive. The conclusion repeats almost verbatim points made and personal anecdotes told in the introduction. At first, I thought that Rosenstone's editor had failed him. But then I saw that Rosenstone is simply spinning his wheels, repeating himself because he has nowhere to go. For example, he never tells us what the different criteria for evaluating film all.Read more ›
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By Klug on May 2, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a fan of movies, and a History student, I've always liked to see how history influences cultural manifestation in movies. If winners write the history, they also produce their movies, right?
I bought this for the provoking title, as it also assess the influence that film has on history, how it guides historical action.
Great purchase!
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on May 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Rosenstone is a respected post-modernist student of history and film whose short book basically argues that since the meaning of written history "lies in its larger symbolic expressions" (68), we should likewise accept the "metaphorical" truth of historical films regardless of their factual accuracy. Rosenstone even defends Sergei Eisenstein's infamous "storming of the Winter Palace" scene in the propaganda film October (1928) on the grounds that it allows us to "share in the ecstasy of revolutionary change."(67)

Rosenstone tends to focus on the sorts of films screened at arts festivals. He does much less with Hollywood and ignores upper-middle class history fare, such as the many films presented on the long-running PBS series American Experience (which does not even appear in the index). One wonders whether Rosenstone would be as sanguine about accepting the metaphorical truth of film, if conservative Republicans, instead of an unending string of fellow leftists, had created all the best metaphors.
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