Film & Cultural Memory I

Welcome to the Labragirl Film Project’s weekly film literacy discussion. Every Monday morning Labragirl provides a resource, activity, or methodological discussion to help incorporate film analysis into your classroom.

Last week we recommended Film Education and their materials for helping teachers incorporate film into both primary and secondary education.

This week we discuss cultural memory and the role moving images playing in shaping our collective understanding of the past.

Please comment below or discuss with us on 



Classroom Discussion Synopsis: 

This week’s Moving Images-Moving Forward conversation explores the idea of cultural memory and how moving images shape the way we understand the past.

Grade Level: High School & College

Educational Goals:

  • Help students apply classroom skills to the real world and vice versa
  • Incorporate film analysis into popular culture discussions
  • Help students think critically about their interactions with moving images
  • Enable students to participate in discussions about the fluidity of history
  • Encourage students to navigate critical thinking discussions about moving images & historical images
Exercise Philosophy:

The main goal of this exercise is to help bridge the gap between the classroom and the ‘real world.’ Oftentimes, film is left out of  history classrooms because movies are fictional accounts of the past. Although this approach is valid, keeping film out of history discussions altogether leaves students without the critical analysis and film reading skills to understand how films shape the way we understand the past—collectively speaking.

Although Labragirl does not advocate the use of historical films to teach historical “facts” or “truth,” we do believe that it is necessary for students to be able to dissect, analyze, and discuss how historical films shape our popular culture understanding and view of the past.

Exercise Activity & Process:

1. Discuss the idea of cultural memory and collective memory.

Although we can clearly get into very complex and detailed conversations about cultural memory and collective memory, for this introductory conversation simply discuss with students the idea that there is a common and collective understanding of our past.  Also, I suggest engaging in a discussion about how this collective understanding of the past is shaped, in large part, by moving images.

2. Why is it important to understand cultural memory and collective memory?

Certainly the history classroom is a place to examine primary sources to learn about what happened in the past, however we here at Labragirl believe that it’s also important to help students navigate the abstract terrain that is our popular culture understanding of the past.

We believe that it is important to understand how our collective memory is created because we make individual and collective decisions based on our understanding of the past.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

How is cultural memory created? Shaped? Perpetuated?

3. Examples of our cultural memory.

An example of a common image of our history is Thanksgiving and the relationship between European settlers and Native Americans.

In the classroom, we know that Thanksgiving likely looked more like this. . .

{Click on image for source info.}

. . .rather than this. . .

{Click on image for source info.}

Despite the academic and educational knowledge that the image of a happy and iconic Thanksgiving is not historically accurate, this idyllic image and understanding of the past persists in popular culture.


3. Apply the concept of cultural memory to a particular concept, time period, person, or issue. This Film & Cultural Memory conversation can be applied to any historical topic, issue, person, or time period.


Today our conversation centers around World War II.

Because WWII is a very popular topic and the subject of many movies and tv shows students have a firm image of what the war was like.

Note: At this point, I do not suggest talking about the historical accuracy of the clips below. The goal of this exercise is to determine how our collective understanding of the past was shaped. It’s important for students to be able to explore the abstract and complex ides of how films create a popular culture image of the past—in this case World War II.

I. Watch and discuss each clip individually.

Below you will find several clips from popular WWII movies.

Some suggested discussion questions include:

  • How is WWII portrayed in each clip?
  • How is war portrayed in each clip?
  • How is the military portrayed in each clip?
  • How are the enemies and allies portrayed?
  • How do cinematic elements such as music, editing, film shots, and lighting shape the images?
  • How do these images shape the way we understand the past, collectively?

*Note: Many of the clips show images of war and are graphic. Make certain to preview the clips to determine whether or not they are appropriate for viewing in your class.

Saving Private Ryan

Letters of Iwo Jima

Schindler’s List

The Thin Red Line

Pearl Harbor

II. Discuss the group of clips.

How do these clips work together to shape our visual understanding of the past?

Do some of the more recent movies perpetuate ideas from earlier movies?

III. Add in additional clips that either you or your students suggest. Discuss.

Did you use any of these discussions or activities in your classroom? How did it go?

Do you teach film reading and film analysis?

What are some exercises you use?

We’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below or discuss with us on .

*Disclaimer: All movie clips are suggestions for class use, only. All instructors should screen clips to determine if they are appropriate to use in their classrooms. 


UP NEXT 5/13: Lost Voices—The Stoning of Soraya M.

Labragirl FP-logo-color-reverse


Sign up for our e-newsletter for more lesson plans and classroom conversations. Click here. 


Bring Labragirl into your classroom. Contact us at or fill out our Interest & Inquiry Form.


Previous Blog Entries

Film Education

Relevance – the 4th ‘R’

Making Film I

Talking Film I

Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

Reading Film

Fictional Projections of History

Think Globally Using Film

Our Relationship with Movies

Moving Past Historical Accuracy

Images Telling Stories

Film Shaping History

Think Film Images


©2013 Labragirl Film Project. All rights reserved.


Join the Labragirl Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s