“Films as History; Exploring Historiophoty”, the First of Illuminating Webinar Series

A webinar aimed to discuss the use of films in particular and visual images in general as sources for the reconstruction of History was organized by the Department of History on May 18, 2021. Films as History; Exploring Historiophoty, the first of the monthly Webinar series on new and exploratory themes in History, dealt with the promises and challenges of Historiophoty as a sub-stream of history. Following Hayden White’s pathbreaking analysis of visual imagery and its location in historiography, historiophoty has emerged as a most promising pathway for historians particularly as we move towards a rapidly digitizing world.

Dr Sebastian Joseph, a Historian and Film Critic and recipient of the State Award for Best work on Film History 2020, and the author of Cochin Forests and British Techno-ecological Imperialism in India addressed the first part of the webinar. He compared the textual and cinematic representations of history through the lens of the Historian Robert Rosenstone, who divided the plot of a film into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. Dr Joseph conveyed his knowledge of history and cinema through six distinct characteristics put forth by Rosenstone.

(i) A distinction was made between textual and cinematic representations of history, with the latter presenting problematic and conceptual history in a narrative format for better comprehension. (ii) Cinematic representations of history resemble personal narratives more than historical narratives. The straightforward narrative representation aims to communicate and establish an immediate connection with the audiences behind the cinema screens. (iii) The storyline narrated in historical cinematic representations must have a satisfactory conclusion. Historical representations of films dramatize, personalize, and emotionalize, whereas textual history critiques the emotional aspects, as they can invalidate the credibility of the sources. (iv) Film adds to the overall emotional experience of viewers by using music, sound effects, dialogue, and so on. Dr Joseph deduced from Rosenstone’s fifth and sixth characteristics that the historical depictions in cinema are fictional and reflect the socioeconomic and political conditions of society. At the end of the session, he postulated that “there is a tale behind every story, and there is no way that we can look at films as secondary sources of history, but as the primary source for history and historical explanations.”

Dr Nandita Banerjee, Associate Professor at Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, West Bengal delivered the keynote address during the second half of the webinar. Dr Banerjee provided a critical analysis of the evolution of traditional art and visual images into digitised form. Historians observed the live depiction of civil wars, conflicts, and protests through the documentation captured on camera footage. Visual evidence such as photographs and records are authentic sources and history would be incomplete without them. She further added that “Learning from history is never a one-way street, and learning about the present in light of the past entails learning about the past in light of the present. History is the in-depth study of the past and present. Images, according to some world historians, are the established method of remembering the past. Since the dawn of human evolution, the visual image has served as a representation of social memories in art. ” She validated her perspective by citing the German war and the Vietnamese conflict, both of which are visible in world history because of visual and oral footage. Dr Banerjee also discussed the enormous influence visual images on audiences and the place it marks in the worlds of film and history.

The webinar came to an apprising close with a panel discussion followed by a Q&A session.

Pre-Event Release: https://srmap.edu.in/events/films-as-history-exploring-historiophoty/

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