Masters and the Movies, Take 8: Introduction

Robert Brent Toplin, January 2009

Under the rubric “Masters at the Movies,” this column features a variety of articles about film crafted by some of the most accomplished teachers and scholars in the profession. Most of the authors are familiar to AHA members principally in connection with their general contributions to scholarship rather than because of their specific work on film. Our readers rarely encounter these authors’ observations about movies and television programs. The “Masters” series invites these historians to consider how cinema can present exciting opportunities and challenges for interpreting the past.

In this issue John Bodnar of Indiana University challenges a familiar assumption that Hollywood’s portrayals of the Second World War have been almost uniformly positive. By focusing especially on movies released from the 1950s to the 2000s, Bodnar discovers that several productions raised important questions about the war and its impact on soldiers and civilians. These films contested popular impressions about “The Good War.”

John Bodnar is Chancellor’s Professor at Indiana University and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies and Co-director of the Center for Study of History and Memory. His books include Lives of Their Own: Blacks, Italians, and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900–1960, The Transplanted: A History of Immigration in Urban America (1985), Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (1992), Bonds of Affection: Americans Define Their Patriotism (1996), Our Towns: Remembering Community in Indiana (2001), and Blue-Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy, and Working People in American Film (2003). His forthcoming book is Virtue and Violence: Remembering World War II in American Culture.

—Robert Brent Toplin (University of North Carolina at Wilmington, emeritus) is a member of the Perspectives on History editorial advisory board and edits the essays in the Masters at the Movies series, which he conceptualized.