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of Dr. Steven L. Berg

Mayans and Movies

When I read the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, I came across a slide show that would have been perfect for yesterday’s early American history class which focused on the Mayans:  “Exhibit at U. of Pennsylvania Explores Maya Ruins and Relics.”

During class, students had planned to show excerpts from Apocalypto.  However, when they went to fast forward through the film, the students in the class stopped them from doing do.  They wanted to watch more.  Later, after the scenes at the Mayan temple, the presenters planned to stop the film.  But again, students objected and we finished the entire movie.

This is the same class that did not appreciate 1776 a week earlier.  My concern after last week was that basis a class around film might be more difficult than I thought; that some classes might like film and that others would not.  Because I am seriously considering using film as a basis for my fall history courses, I feared that I might have to rethink this idea and/or come up with contingency plans.  However, what Apocalypto suggested is that the issue was not so much film but rather the type of film.

One thing that was interesting is that students tended to find Apocalypto very violent and disturbing.  I was not the only person looking away from the screen during certain scenes.  But even the students most disturbed by the movie wanted to watch it until the end.

Maybe my idea of building fall courses around film might not be as risky as I thought.

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One thought on “Mayans and Movies

  1. Alexa on said:

    ~ One factor that might be in play is how old the films are. I don’t know either film, but I’ve noticed in some older media that they will reference something that is culturally relevant at the time but isn’t any more. For instance, students may not understand in an older film why someone gave a phone number with an alphabetical prefix. On the other hand, my grandparents didn’t understand a recent commercial about cell phones, texting and flash mobs.

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