HIS2423 – Reel Reality: Movies in 20th Century History

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

Why should historians study movies? This basic question is at the very heart of this course, which places moving images from the late 19th century to the present in their wider economic, social, political, and cultural contexts. Engaging with a variety of theoretical approaches, the course addresses the four main issues “production”, “regulation”, “meaning” and “consumption”. Firstly, it follows the development of the film business in different countries to understand how technology, law and regulation, industry structure and labor shaped film content to a considerable extent. Secondly, the course highlights the various influences politics, the military, churches, and other social groups exerted on the production of movies, in particular on film contents that were often channeled and censored to fit specific political agendas and moral norms. Thirdly, the course focuses on selected genres and their meaning for our understanding of history. Fourthly, the course raises questions about cinema-going and audiences’ experience. How does movie-goers engage with films and make sense of them in the light of their own needs, expectations, and hopes? In what ways and to what extent does film condition the ways we perceive realities? 

In our course, there will be particular emphasis on the analysis of primary sources which, in this instance, will include visual material such as movie posters and adverts, as well as a selection of films that are exemplary for the wider issues that we want to discuss in class. We will screen these movies at full length and analyze them with you.

Learning outcome

On successful completion of this course, you should be able to

  • recognize the principal developments in the history of film making, including key technological and industrial changes from 1880 until today
  • analyse a wide range of films and related textual and non-textual sources
  • critique relevant scholarly contributions to the field in the light of primary sources
  • develop, implement and finish a small historiographical research project in the form of a term paper


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Recommended previous knowledge

30 credits in humanities or social sciences.

A good ability to read and understand English is required for this course.

Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with HIS4423 – Reel Reality: Movies in 20th Century History


Resources and information in this course will be given in Canvas.

  • The course will be taught in twelve two-hour sessions, the classes will consist of both lectures and seminars. Additionally, there will be a three-hour session each week in which we will screen a movie.
  • The students are expected to attend all seminars and lectures.
  • The seminars will consist of a general introduction to either a theme (for instance: masculinity and femininity in films) or to different methodological and theoretical approaches (for instance: how to analyze a movie after the cultural turn). The screening sessions will be dedicated to screening a film which we will also analyze and assess in the light of what you have heard in the respective seminars.


Compulsory assignments:

  • Participants shall write an obligatory exposé (1.5 to 2 pages) on a topic of their choosing but within the framework of the course. If accepted – subject to possible revision – this will qualify for the final examination. More information will be given in class.
  • Obligatory participation in seminar discussions in 9 out of 12 seminars.


The final examination will take the form of a term paper:

  • 4,000-5,000 words (approx. 8-10 pages).
  • based on the exposé, students will choose their topic and research question with the help of the lecturer.
  • the term paper is to be handed in Inspera.
  • the file must be submitted in pdf-format and we stress that the student is responsible for making sure that the files are readable. If you need assistance in converting your file into pdf, we recommend that you follow these instructions.
  • The file must be named with your candidate number (not your name) and the course code (HIS2423/4423)

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2019


Autumn 2019

Teaching language