Glory (1990), Directed by Edward Zwick
Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first Black fighting unit of the American Civil War. Recruited in the North and led by white commanders, the 54th Massachusetts launched an attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July of 1863.
Films can be both documents (secondary accounts of a time) and artifacts (products of the time in which they were made). While you watch Glory, it is important to remember that this film is both a document about the era of the Civil War, and an artifact of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pay attention to both ways in which the filmmakers provide markers of authenticity (period details) which make you believe it as an historical document. Pay attention to concerns that grow out of the time the film was made rather than the time the film portrays, which mark the film as an artifact.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) This film presents itself as an historical reconstruction of the past. What clues are we given that this is an historical reproduction? What are the markers of authenticity that appear in the film?
- 2) On what is this film based? Are there historical sources--archives, diaries, published accounts, material culture--one could use to judge the accuracy of the film? What are they, who wrote/made them, and what would be the holes left behind once you were done looking at them?
- 3) If you were going to tell this story and use the elements that are contained in the film, whose story would you put at the center? What would be the most important questions you would want to address?
- 4) Can you recognize the varieties of historical approaches that went into making this film? For example, it is not likely that many women's historians were consulted about the film, while you can imagine that several military historians were. How do the kinds of history that this film reflects shape the story it tells? How might other histories not reflected in the film change the story that it tells?
- 5) Most in the class will be familiar with the film Gone With the Wind (1939) and some may know D.W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1914). Compare Glory with these films, and then think about what these comparisons say about changes in historiography about the conduct of the Civil War from 1914 to 1939 to 1990.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for History 401 (Advanced Seminar in Historical Research), The Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, Spring Semester 1997.
Last modified: Monday, 3 March 1997