Teaching with Historians At The Movies

I’ve had a lot of requests recently to write about how to use Historians At The Movies in history classrooms and I think now is a good time to talk about how we can use public history and film medium as a way of engaging our students.


If you’re unfamiliar with Historians At The Movies, or #HATM, let me back up a bit. Historians At The Movies is a weekly film session in which scholars and the general public all convene to watch a historically-themed movie. The movies are shown every Sunday night at 8:30pm eastern on Netflix and viewers engage by tweeting along using the hashtag #HATM to tag their posts. Via my twitter handle, @herberthistory, I announce each week’s film on Mondays. Some movies are more serious than others, but the general idea is that the general public gets to watch a film with experts in the subject matter, such as in October 2018, when we watched Free State of Jones with Victoria Bynum or in August 2019 when we engaged the documentary 13th alongside contributor Kevin Gannon. The discussions are not always super-serious; comedies have played a large role in our film selections. But the community has proven to be a respite from whatever the week throws at us and has grown tremendously in the past 15 months. 

For more on how #HATM operates, you can see the following links: https://bookandfilmglobe.com/film/national-treasure-historians-hatm/



One of the things driving the success of #HATM is how professors and history teachers are using the platform to engage their students. Doing so allows students to see how historians, educators, and the general public are internalizing film content and then relating to one another. It is real-time public history.

I’d like to share some of those thoughts here.

The easiest way to use Historians At The Movies is to encourage students to join in on their own. They can follow me (@herberthistory) or just use the #HATM hashtag during Sunday night’s film. They can create their own twitter handle and then participate alongside the rest of the community. You can then follow up with students during Monday or Tuesday. The drawbacks are that it is sometimes difficult to gauge the level of engagement and you may risk losing someone’s activities to twitter’s algorithms.

A better way is to marshal your course website (Blackboard, Moodle, Google Classroom, etc.) to create a weekly discussion forum. Have your students watch alongside and offer a prompt of responding to either the events covered in the film (how was the film used to depict the event/people? Was this accurate/successful? What does this tell us? etc.) or how people themselves are responding to the film (who else was watching along? What kind of viewership did the film attract? What did people respond to? What can this tell us about the film’s message? etc.). Doing so allows students to engage history directly via the film or via how film can be used as public history. It’s easy to see if students are thinking critically about the film and its viewership, and even easier to follow up or record the assignment as complete.

An even more fun way to use Historians At The Movies is already being pioneered by professors such as Robert Voss at Northwest Missouri State University or Amber Batura and Jonathan Headford at Texas Tech. In this example, professors are physically hosting watch parties on campus. Here, the film is projected onscreen while the entire class engages together. It’s fun, the students learn, and there’s usually pizza involved. Everyone wins.




Finally, I am just beginning to schedule in-person #HATM talks and movie nights at universities in the United States. I’ll be speaking and hosting an #HATM event at the University of Wyoming this spring, along with several other universities to be announced soon. 

These are just some of the ways in which scholars are using Historians At The Movies, but we are always wanting to learn more about how others are employing film as a teaching tool.

Please comment below or if you have questions about #HATM or would like to schedule an #HATM weekend with me to talk about public history with your students, please email me at herbe195@umn.edu.

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