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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Economic and Social History

Undergraduate Course: Documenting Britain: The Documentary Film and British Society, 1896-c.1982 (ECSH10105)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThe documentary has been described as 'Britain's outstanding contribution to the film'. From early local topicals which offered audience members the chance to 'see yourselves as others see you', to more structured treatments of contemporary issues, the documentary offers a powerful record of society and social change across the twentieth century.
Course description This course examines the development of the documentary film from the first days of public screenings of moving pictures to the early 1980s. It is concerned with the earliest actualities, often comprising local scenes familiar to audiences, which provided the basis for cinema's initial popularity in the late 1890s. It also examines the role of documentary as a source of propaganda during war, encouraging a united sense of national purpose and giving expression in 1939-45 to the idea of a 'People's War'. In the first semester, particular attention is paid to the emergence of an organised movement of documentary film-making, informed by the ideas of the Scot, John Grierson; while the second semester follows the continued impact of his ideas in the post-war years, along with moves to develop an alternative, less consensual approach to film-making in the Free Cinema movement of the mid 1950s.

The course will introduce students to the work of documentary film-makers, through the films themselves, the thinking behind them, explored in the writings of those active in the industry, the records of the organisations promoting production, as well as, where appropriate, the critical and popular reception of their output. Students will also gain direct access to major archival collections in Stirling (the John Grierson and Lindsay Anderson Collections) and Glasgow (the Moving Image Archive, which holds material detailing the production of the Films of Scotland Committee, and the early films made on Shetland by Jenny Brown). Assessed work will encourage engagement with both cinematic and written materials to shape a rounded appreciation of documentary film and the record it provides of social change across the twentieth century.

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics. In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: the films studied on this course inevitably contain images and language which reflect attitudes of the period in which they were made. While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass in 40 credits of third-level historical courses or equivalent.

Before enrolling students on this course, PTs are asked to contact the History Honours Admission Administrator to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 503780).
Additional Costs Return fares (off peak) to Stirling and Glasgow (one trip in first, two in second semester).
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 348 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework, semester 1: 1,000 word analytical review of a documentary film (10%) and 4,000 word essay (30%)
Coursework, semester 2: 2,000 word analytical review of documentary film or films (20%) and 5,000 word essay (40%)
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the development of documentary film and its place in British culture, society, and politics;
  2. read, analyse and reflect critically upon scholarship relating to documentary film, its practitioners, and its audience in twentieth-century Britain;
  3. understand, evaluate and utilise a variety of primary source material, both filmic and manuscript, relating to documentary film;
  4. develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence;
  5. demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
Reading List
Aitken, I., Film and Reform: John Grierson and the Documentary Film Movement (1990).

Anthony, S., and Mansell, J.G. (eds), The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit (2011).

Blaikie, A., The Scots Imagination and Modern Memory (2010).

Chapman, J., A New History of British Documentary (2015).

Hardy, F., Scotland in Film (1990).

Harper, S., Women in British Cinema: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know (2000).

Logan, P.C., Humphrey Jennings and British Documentary Film: A Re-assessment (2011)

Low, R., The History of the British Film, 1929-1939: Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930s (1979).

McKernan, L., Charles Urban: Pioneering the Non-Fiction Film in Britain and America, 1897-1925 (2013).

Russell, P., and Taylor, J.P. (eds), Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain (2010).

Swann, P., The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926-1946 (1989).

Toulmin, V., Electric Edwardians: The Story of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection (2006).

Toulmin, V., Popple, S., and Russell, P. (eds), The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon Edwardian Britain on Film (2004).

Williams, M., and Hammond, M. (eds), British Silent Cinema and the Great War (2011).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - A curiosity for learning- through engagement with a varied body of primary materials.
- Be creative problems solvers and researchers- by framing and pursuing focused questions in course work.
- Thinking critically and reflectively on the sources used and the questions to which they give rise.
- Be skilled communicators through the construction of clear and cogent arguments in written and oral form.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Trevor Griffiths
Tel: (0131 6)50 6897
Course secretary
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