Do Movies Make Good History Teachers?

Movies, Documentaries, YouTube and Network Series Will Be Featured in the Smithsonian and NEH’s History Film Forum
February 14, 2017

The Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will present the second annual History Film Forum, a free four-day exploration of history on the screen, at the National Museum of American History March 9­–12. Featuring screenings and discussions, the forum will bring together experts and audiences to explore how documentaries and feature films can serve as vehicles for teaching and interpreting history. The forum is free and open to the public; a full schedule and ticket information are available at

The forum will include screenings of The Great War, The Chinese Exclusion Act and NBC’s Timeless as well as an advanced screening of the American Masters documentary Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive, slated to premiere this fall on PBS. The forum will also include the Emerging Filmmakers Lab, a workshop for budding filmmakers.

 “Millions of people enter history through movies and other entertainment,” said John Gray, director of the National Museum of American History. “The History Film Forum examines how history filmmaking affects the public understanding of the past and how we as a society view ourselves.”

“Since its founding, NEH has made a vital commitment to fund films that bring together the best in scholarship and storytelling,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “We strongly believe that documentary films have the power to bring Americans closer to the past and provide new perspectives on our present. We are proud to partner with the Smithsonian to explore how films have shaped our nation and ourselves.”

The History Film Forum, the signature public film program focused on history, is designed to explore key questions such as “What does it mean for a film to present ‘good history’?” “What can films uniquely reveal about the nature of historical events?” “How do films reflect the social, political and cultural concerns of the times in which they were made?” and “How do films examine the boundaries of history as entertainment?”

Forum attendees will have the opportunity to see first-run documentaries from producer Ric Burns, the Smithsonian Channel and PBS’ American Experience series, as well as participate in discussions. The forum will include panel discussions looking inside the popular YouTube educational series Crash Course and examining the responsibilities of history filmmakers and women in history filmmaking.

The Emerging Filmmakers Lab will open an unprecedented space for up-and-coming filmmakers working in the historical mode to connect directly with filmmakers, historians and other experts in the field. The workshop, open by application only, will feature activities, master classes and expert speakers.

History Film Forum is a partnership between the Smithsonian and the NEH.

About the National Museum of American History

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at