British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

IUHFC: A Short History

be produced and agreed the budget. This arrangement resulted in the production of nine ‘Historical Studies in Film’ – The Munich Crisis (University of Leeds, 1968); The End of Illusions: From Munich to Dunkirk (University of Leeds, 1970); The Spanish Civil War (University of Edinburgh, 1973); The Winter War in its European Context (Universities of Nottingham and Bristol, 1974); The Great Depression (University College, Swansea, 1975); Fascism (London School of Economics and Political Science, ); A Call to Arms (University of Leeds, 1985); Images of the Soviet Union at War 1941-1945 (University of Liverpool, 1990); The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture 1927-1935 (University of Birmingham, 1996) – and seven ‘Archive Series’ on Neville Chamberlain (University of Leeds, 1975); The Origins of the Cold War (University of Nottingham, 1977); Stanley Baldwin (Queen Mary College, London, 1979); Our Great Ally France 1938-1940 (University of Liverpool, 1985); The Korean War 1950-1953 (University of Birmingham, 1992); Images of America 1937-1939 (College of Ripon and York St John, 1996) and The Labour Party 1918-1945 (Edge Hill University College, 1999). The subjects reflected both the availability of archive materials at the time and the interests of historians in the key geopolitical events of the mid-twentieth century. The films on Munich and Chamberlain, for example, exemplified the emergence of a revisionist historical perspective on the foreign policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany.

The IUFHC’s ‘Historical Studies in Film’ represented one of three main types of historical film for the teaching of history: the continuous narrative archive compilation film. They might be compared to long newsreels, with the important caveat that the commentary served to draw attention to the nature of the images themselves and to prompt viewers to consider their provenance and ideological intent. A second type of film, exemplified by the compilations produced for the Open University’s twentieth century history courses such as ‘War and Society’, were those made without a linking commentary and serving the same purpose as collections of printed documents. The third type of film, and the one that will be more familiar to most viewers, is the combination of archive film and on-camera interviews with participants exemplified by television series such as the BBC’s The Great War (1964) and Thames Television’s The World at War (1973). These are made for the general television audience rather than for the classroom, of course, though the production team of The World at War under Jeremy Isaacs undertook extensive research in the archives, preferring actuality footage to newsreel compilations wherever possible. The technique popularized by series like The World at War has become the dominant form of historical programming for television. Today, the ready availability of much documentary and newsreel material on DVD and the World Wide Web has made the type of compilation films produced by the IUHFC redundant as teaching tools. In a sense they have themselves become historical documents – documents that can tell us a great deal about how historians have interpreted the visual image and that provide insights into a period before home video and the Internet made the audio visual archive accessible to the general public.

Further reading

Aldgate, Anthony, ‘Film as a Primary Source’, introduction to Cinema and History: British Newsreels and the Spanish Civil War (London: Scolar Press, 1979), pp.1-16. Film and the Historian (London: British Universities Film Council in association with the University Historians’ Film Committee, 1968)

Grenville, J.A.S., Film as History (Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1971)

Houston, Penelope, Keepers of the Frame: The Film Archives (London: British Film Institute, 1994)

Richards, Jeffrey, Thorold Dickinson: The Man and His Films (London: Croom Helm, 1986)

Smith, Paul (ed.), The Historian and Film (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976)

Short, K.R.M. (ed.), Feature Films as History (London: Croom Helm, 1981)

Sorlin, Pierre, The Film in History: Restaging the Past (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980)