Any research work requires thorough preparation and necessitates the analysis of reliable sources. Scholarly articles and academic books are viewed as the most relevant sources to consult when writing a research paper. However, there is a variety of traditional and non-traditional avenues one may take when looking for materials. Such approaches may include digital databases, quantitative sources, and even works of fiction, including films. The division of resources into primary and secondary is needed when choosing which of them to include in one’s analysis.1 Upon finding sources, it is crucial to analyze and arrange them, and finally, present them in a coherent form for the audience to read.2 The present paper will focus on considering the value and reliability of such resources as a movie and statistical data.
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Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg’s movie Saving Private Ryan is considered one of the best and most accurate portrayals of World War II. The film is set during the Invasion of Normandy of 1944.3 The movie starts with an impressive depiction of the Omaha Beach assault. The main theme in Saving Private Ryan is the search of a soldier whose three brothers died at war. The government has granted relief to Private Ryan and wanted to send him home to his mother. However, before saving Private Ryan, the squad under the command of Captain John H. Miller has to undergo many difficulties to find the young man. Eventually, Ryan is saved, but Miller and most of the squad members die.
The film has several major assets that make it possible to use it as a source for research. First of all, the scenes of battles are depicted with extreme care to detail. The first scene that lasts over twenty minutes shows the tragedy of the war as it was, with minute elements described and all the agony of soldiers revealed. Secondly, the film director has recreated the clothes, machinery, and weapons of wartime so that the audience could get acquainted with them. Thirdly, Saving Private Ryan grants a possibility to analyze the relationships among soldiers of the same and opposing armies, as well as their commanders and the government’s attitude to soldiers’ families. Many facts shown in the film are true, and it may serve as a source for finding out about the war and the people, directly and indirectly, involved in it.
It is not possible to say that the movie’s context is biased. However, it is important to note that it is focused on the US army. Thus, Germans are depicted as enemies, and some cruelties portrayed in the picture may not have taken place in real life. At the same time, it is viable to say that only documentary films and records are without bias. Any dramatic representation is not void of some additional details that the director has included to make a greater impression on the viewers.
In this respect, some details that are not likely to be truthful should be mentioned. The first thing that attracts attention is that soldiers speak very often and rather loudly. Such frequent conversations could not have been possible during the war. Another point to note is that soldiers frequently are shown with their helmets unbuckled, which could not have happened during the war since every military man realizes the significance of self-protection. However, despite some inaccuracies, the movie is regarded as a highly accurate portrayal of World War II. Saving Private Ryan might be used as a source for research when describing the relationships among the soldiers and discussing their patriotism and dedication to their country.
The Patriot: Popularity Based on an Inaccurate Interpretation of Historical Events
Whereas the film industry may be helpful in explaining significant historical events through realistic portrayals, it is necessary to assess the reliability of each concrete movie prior to using it as a source for research. Cinema is primarily the type of art aimed at making an impression rather than representing true facts. Thus, many directors frequently neglect the issue of truthfulness and prefer showing real-life events to creating an exciting story. One of the films that did a horrible job retelling a historical event is The Patriot.4 The main character is loosely based on the revolutionary hero, Francis Marion, who was the militia leader in South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783. The overall impact of this hero on the war was significant since he came up with unique warfare approaches, including ambush tactics and guerilla methods. Marion was harsh and sometimes cruel, but The Patriot went too far in depicting this side of the military leader’s nature.
There are many historical inaccuracies in the film, which aroused a series of critical reviews upon its release. Following the initially successful acceptance by the audiences, The Patriot soon became immersed in “a series of acrimonious debates.”5 The portrayal of Marion was too atrocious since the director ascribed many crimes, such as rape and murder, to the hero. Therefore, while The Patriot remains one of the most popular movies of all time, it cannot be used as a source for historical research.
Comparative Statistics Sources
The use of statistics enables researchers to find out the prevalence of some phenomenon in the past. By comparing party activists in Augusta and Franklin counties in 1859-1860, one can draw several important conclusions.67 First of all, it is possible to see which party dominated in which county. As a result, one can make assumptions as to the further development of events in the neighboring states. Further, it is possible to find out the total number of voters in each region. Finally, one can learn the number of towns belonging to each of the counties during the time in question. A research question for which such data might be particularly helpful could be focused on the political preferences among the citizens of the bordering North and South states. When using this source, there might be a danger of misprints in old records from which the information was taken. To assess and critique this evidence, one could consult other sources from the same period and see whether there are any crucial differences.
When performing research on historical events, one should be cautious and use reliable sources. Undoubtedly, primary sources are more true to fact than secondary ones, but both types of materials may be employed once a researcher has ensured their credibility. The film Saving Private Ryan and statistical data from the Valley of Shadow website may be applied in research when discussing specific events or analyzing concrete time periods. Overall, any source should be included as reference material only upon considerable analysis and verification of its reliability.
Brundage, Anthony. Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
Glancy, Mark. “The War of Independence in Feature Films: The Patriot (2000) and the ‘Special Relationship’ Between Hollywood and Britain.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 25, no. 4 (2005): 523-545.
Marius, Richard, and Melvis E. Page. A Short Guide to Writing about History. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2014.
The Patriot. Directed by Roland Emmerich (Columbia Pictures, 2000), DVD (Sony Pictures, 2000).
Saving Private Ryan. Directed by Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks Distribution, 1998), DVD (DreamWorks video, 1999).
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The Valley of the Shadow. “Augusta County: Party Activists, 1859-60.” 2019. Web.
“Franklin County: Party Activists, 1859-60.” 2019. Web.
- Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, 5th ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 20.
- Richard Marius and Melvis E. Page, A Short Guide to Writing about History, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2014), 48.
- I am saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks Distribution, 1998), DVD (DreamWorks video, 1999).
- The Patriot, directed by Roland Emmerich (Columbia Pictures, 2000), DVD (Sony Pictures, 2000).
- Mark Glancy, “The War of Independence in Feature Films: The Patriot (2000) and the ‘Special Relationship’ Between Hollywood and Britain,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 25, no. 4 (2005): 524.
- “Augusta County: Party Activists, 1859-60,” Web.
- “Franklin County: Party Activists, 1859-60,” Web.