Gladiator, the Movie - History Film Guide

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In teaching history at the university level, I have found it useful to use historically based films in upper level (junior / senior) courses. Over the years I have experienced substantial disapproval and resistance from some of my colleagues.

The typical assumption is that showing a feature film in class is a waste of valuable class time and will only result in "dumbing down" the course content.

I strongly disagree. Each film I use is preceded by a lecture addressing the society, location, time period, events, culture, and politics covered in the film.

Students are instructed about the “differences” between written history and historically based or connected film, as well as the meaning of bias, agenda, propaganda, motivation, and many other important terms which can be used to evaluate film, public events, political speeches and so forth.

The day before I screen the film, student’s are given a study guide and expected to read it carefully in preparation for the film. Based on the study guide question, they are expected to take notes during the film.

When the film is over we have a class discussion largely directed by student comments and questions. Then…then, they must write a five page esay about the film based on the questions provided.

So, to my mind the “lost” two hours of course time are more than made up for by the 2-4 hours they will spend crafting a grammatically correct, illogically sound, well-written essay about historical events and how they are portrayed in modern cinema.

In most upper-level courses, students end up writing 20 to 30 pages of film essays for me, perhaps equaling 25% of their grade.

Using films builds and maintains student interest, requiring the essays strengthens their analytical, composition, and grammar skills, as well as their understanding of historical events and periods.

Below I have included the study guide I use with the film GLADIATOR and a brief synopsis of the film, courtesy of IMDB.


GLADIATOR - Essay Guidelines

Director – Ridley Scott

Music – Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerard

Background: The Roman Republic endured from 509-264bc. Beginning in 264bc, the Romans conquered most of the Mediterranean world and built an immense empire. At its height the Roman Empire consisted of 3.5 million square miles and ruled one quarter of the world’s population (50 million people).

They regularly maintained an army of 400,000 men and built over 50,000 miles of quality roads. The capital city Rome had a population that at times topped 1,000,000 and the Coliseum, built as an arena for entertainments, could seat 50,000 spectators.

Characters: Marcus Aurelius – (161-180ad) one of the “Five Good Emperors” (Richard Harris); Commodus – emperor’s son, next in line of succession (Joaquin Phoenix); Lucillus – emperor’s politically savvy daughter (her son, Lucius)

Maximus Decimus Meridius – general of the Roman army of the north, greatly beloved by the emperor and by his soldiers, from Spain (Russell Crowe); Quintus – second-in-command to General Maximus ; Cicero – personal servant to General Maximus

Proximo – owner/manager of a troop of slave/gladiators (Oliver Reed); Juba – slave/gladiator who becomes Maximus fighting partner (Djimon Hounsou)

Directions: Compose a coherent essay in which you answer the following questions. Your essay should be 5 to 6 pages, typed, double-spaced and it must be carefully proofread and spell checked (at least five times).

Additional reading or research is not necessary, rely on your own intelligence and the “content” of the film. After addressing the questions, you are welcome to comment on other aspects of the film that are of interest to you.

1) By using the comments and actions of the various characters, what conclusions can you draw about the nature of religious belief in this time period?

What religious practices, rituals, or traditions are depicted in the film?

Discuss the similarities or the differences you see between religion as demonstrated in the film and contemporary Christianity.

2) What social classes can you distinguish among the Roman people?

Describe the differences in lifestyle, experience, and privilege between the classes. What conclusions can you draw about the nature of Roman slavery?

Do you see examples of social mobility or movement from one class to another.

3) What political structure does Rome possess? Who has power and authority?

What efforts are being made to change the political structure and by whom?

What did Marcus Aurelius hope would happen? What is the role of the army in the Roman Empire?

4) What does General Maximus value? What does he believe in? How does the film establish these values and beliefs?

5) What “literary” themes, motifs, or symbols are woven throughout the film? Think broadly and in terms of your high school classes where you were asked to think about themes, motifs, symbols.


IMDB Synopsis: In Gladiator, victorious general Maximus Decimus Meridias has been named keeper of Rome and its empire by dying emperor Marcus Aurelius, so that rule might pass from the Caesars back to the people and Senate. Marcus' neglected and power-hungry son, Commodus, has other ideas, however. Escaping an ordered execution, Maximus hurries back to his home in Spain, too late to save his wife and son from the same order.

Taken into slavery and trained as a gladiator by Proximo, Maximus lives only that he might someday take his revenge and fulfill the dying wish of his emperor. The time soon comes when Proximo's troupe is called to Rome to participate in a marathon of gladiator games held at the behest of the new emperor, Commodus.

Once in Rome, Maximus wastes no time in making his presence known, and is soon involved in a plot to overthrow the emperor with his former-love Lucilla, Commodus' sister, after whom he lusts, and also the widowed mother of Lucius, heir to the empire after his uncle, and democratic-minded senator, Gracchus. Written by Thalya -- IMDB

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Comments 57 comments

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Oh! What a great teacher you are! Do no listen to your colleagues. I stand shoulder to shoulder with you on this teaching technique. It is wonderful, visual, and makes students think beyond the entertainment value of the film. I used it in middle and high school courses with the same technique as you. My students also answered essay questions individually or discussion questions in small groups followed by whole class discussions. It catches the students who are visual learners and they participate in the essay questions and discussions more than they would for other ways of teaching the lessons. It also teaches them to take more of a critical view of films they see on their own time. I know, some colleagues see it as a cop out or "dumbing down" of courses. But, in reality it is not. It is an effective way of teaching and captures the interest of some students who would not otherwise pay attention (especially at the middle and high school level). You just keep doing your thing and your way of teaching and your students will love you and benefit from your creative lessons. You go girl!!!

Love the photos!!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

How much history to you remember from the books you read in college? We remember movies. Great teaching technique when used in the hands of a skilled educator. Thanks for sharing. Hope many professors see this hub!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

I applaud your methods! And this is, in my opinion, a great piece of cinema. Ridley Scott is the man.

Thank you for sharing with us how you teach this. I enjoyed the illumination. Great stuff!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks James! Ridley Scott is the man! This approach seems to generate student interest and they get lots of practice,analyzing, writing, etc. Kind of a win-win. :) Am thinking about posting a couple more. Thanks for the encouraging feedback.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

I love history. I hope someday to be an English professor at the College/university level. Your class sounds like a lot of fun. It's hard to find a good history professor, but I like your approach!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

We have similar interests. History was my major and English was my minor. I loved literature, but I wasn't sure I wanted to teach grammar and composition. I have had good results using films in my classes. Students really like them and I still get them to practice analysis and logical writing skills. It's a win-win. :)

Thanks for your comments and best of luck with your studies. Becoming a professor....well, the money is not fabulous, but the freedom and flexibility in college teaching and research are pretty wonderful.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

All I know is when I walk by professors, especially the disheveled ones with patches on their jackets, I feel like that's what i need to be. I think it would be a nice steady job and gain recognition to publish books and give lectures. I really care mostly about teaching creative writing, and not so much the ins and outs of grammar so, we'll see what happens. And the flexibility is great too. Thanks for your support.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

They wear a lot of corduroys too, and some even wear socks and sandals or just sandals with their suits. :) Just remember that with giving lectures, going to conferences, and publishing books (the truly gratifying part) also comes a lot or assignment reading and grading...but its worth it.

Just as a heads up, so you will be prepared...at most colleges and universities, you will be expected to teach far more basic grammar and composition classes - there is much greater demand because we require all students to take these courses - than upper level discipline-specific courses (Southern Lit, Modern Poetry, Victorian Era, Creative Writing, etc).

Not to discourage you, but at many institutions each semester, professors teach three basic courses and one "cool" upper-level specialty course. Sometimes you can wrangle a second upper-level course by offering to teach at unpopular times - late afternoon, early evening (2 nights a week), or crack of dawn (8am).

Also, for courses that probably won't make (you have 8 majors who want the course, but the "official" minimum number of students is 10 or 15, the solution is cross-listing the course with another discipline. This is a long term strategy, not a last minute solution.

Find a colleague (or two or three) in another complementary discipline and see if you can cross list some courses - generally this works really well inside the Humanities or the Sciences. For example, a colleague and I take turns offering a History of Science course - he teaches biology and astronomy and I teach history.

But each time we offer the course we are pulling from two populations at the same time - history majors and science majors - and the course always makes. Probably way more information that you wanted or needed! Consider this a friendly, "free" mentoring session. :)


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

Hello phdast7,

What a great read. I agree with you, that sometimes; the use of video and film, can greatly improve a student's understanding, of a particular era or epoch.

When we read Shakespeare or Dickens. To fully grasp the subtleties of the text; we need to try to get our heads back to those days. The way they spoke, the meter of the language.

That really, is no different to asking someone to watch a film on a particular topic. If it leads to a more complete understanding of the item under investigation.

Then it makes perfect sense.

I get the concerns about dumbing down, but sometimes, as in this case.

The film depicts how precarious life was; in those times (except the gladiators were probably a little heavier)

and no matter who you were things could go very wrong, very quickly.

Great hub voted up interesting and useful.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for taking time to read and comment. Your commenta are always thoughtful, interesting, and often helpful as well. Hopefully, I will get around to posting more film essay guides in the hear future.


mathira profile image

mathira 4 years ago from chennai

History tells us the rich background of so many events and your hub was very interesting.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 4 years ago from Isle of Man

I thoroughly enjoyed your hub and I salute you for not bowing to the pressure and preserving your independent and very creative approach to the teaching of your subject.

Do you also explain to your students the differences between what really happened and how Hollywood portrayed it or do you feel that is not important?

Thank you.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks Spirit Whisperer-

Yes, we go over all of that. The real history (as best we can ascertain it - articles and books ban be wrong, confused, and compromised as well) versus the film version. We even get into how a director's politics (say from the 60's or 90's) might, in fact probably will, affect their personal rendition of historical events.

We spend a lot of time discussing bias, propaganda, etc., and how to recognize an "agenda" underneath the story. And I present lectures and have them read journal articles and books about the time in question so they have a good basis for comparison and analysis.

Have a good Christmas.


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 4 years ago from Isle of Man

Thank you phdast I appreciate that.


Sky9106 profile image

Sky9106 4 years ago from A beautiful place on earth.

Awesome ! And there is one thing that I can say to you is that history was my favorite at least that we had in common My passing grade was B+ Knew the life of Christopher like the back of my hands.

Rome was it during those times , like LA and NY of today.

You will have to maintain a super head on your shoulders.

Great accomplishment.

Bless.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Sky- Interesting. I think English (literature really) was my favorite subject all through high school and the first two years of college. I just "liked" history and geography, but I "loved" literature.

Then in my Junior year a Dr. Keene (Kennesaw State University) changed my life. I took a History of China and Japan course with him and he taught history differently than any other teacher I had ever been around.

And I had an academic epiphany: one, I loved combining literature, geography, culture, and architecture with history (and he did a terrific job at it).

Two, no arrogance intended, but I realized that I would actually be good at what he was doing (I had never imagined myself teaching history, because it seemed to be all about lists of dates and lists of king and queens). Not with Dr. Keene. :)

So, I changed majors and Dr. Keene encouraged me to go on to graduate school, and I did and the rest is "history." :)

Hope you have a wonderful and blessed year. Theresa


Script Mechanic profile image

Script Mechanic 4 years ago from Wherever Films Need To Be Nitpicked

Oh, Roman history is one of those areas in which I am terribly lacking. It's quite possible that what I understand about the time period is completely wrong, so bear with me. While General Maximus's plight took center stage, for historical purposes the exploits of Commodus and his sister are probably more pertinent.

Marcus Aurelius appointed Maximus keeper of Rome because he knew that previous charismatic generals had attempted coups, and the best way to mollify them was to give them some degree of power. He also knew he could trust Maximus to act in the best interests of Rome itself, which he could not trust Commodus to do.

I don't get the impression that Marcus wished Rome to become purely a Republic because his son would make an incompetent ruler. More that the necessities of rule were too much for any one man and that the Senate, as divisive as it was, would be more effective at making the manifold voices of Rome's citizens heard.

Lucillius herself said something to the effect that "Rome is the mob." She was the voice of reason, and probably should've ruled rather than her brother.

While extremely selfish, Commodus well understood that a public that is entertained is one that is distracted. As he had no interest in ruling in a just or competent fashion, keeping the mob entertained with violent spectacles was a tried and true method of distracting them from more pressing issues, as well as getting them to forget the fact that he'd just murdered his own father. It rather reminds me of how America is more preoccupied with the escapades and affairs of celebrities compared to our state and federal representatives selling us up the river. All of us do it to some degree. If you're a parent, you can stick the kid in front of the TV and watch how hypnotized they become to the exclusion of all outward stimuli. Adults and crowds aren't really all that different.

The hitch that Commodus had not expected was that Maximus was rapidly gaining public backing as a hero, "The Savior of Rome." As a military commander, Maximus was as used to leading by rhetoric and example as he was orders. With the coaching of Troximo, he came to understand that he could achieve anything if he had the mob in his corner. They became his soldiers in a war of popularity. And when Commodus decided to face Maximus in the Coliseum to try to win back public opinion, he fatally underestimated his opponent. So ended a great popularity contest and excellent proof that emotion will win out over logic every time, which is in my opinion man's greatest downfall.

Historically, I don't believe Commodus was killed in the arena, though he did choose to compete in gladiatorial competitions from time to time.

Back to the questions at hand.

The Romans employed a religious polytheism in which Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, was entreated to watch over and protect the dead until Maximus could be at their side to do so as well. Elysium was mentioned as a sunny, agrarian place, so their idea of paradise or a reward was probably not all that different from a good life on earth. Also, given that soldiers could expect to go there, and even Maximus expected to end up there after he successfully took his revenge, we can deduce that violence and murder aren't necessarily sinful actions depending on the context in which they occur.

Also, based on the fact that Juba and Maximus talked about their families and seeing them again, they were remarkably tolerant of religious differences back then. Certainly compared to nowadays.

I really didn't see all that much in terms of definite class differences in this film. I know from bottom to top that there were slaves, freemen, capite sensi, plebians, and patricians. If you were a slave, you could end up a freeman as a reward for your services, and that gave you the freedom to move about the empire however you wished. Theoretically, you could amass great wealth, but it would take an act of Caesar or the Senate to make you a citizen. Technically a capite sensi, that is a poor citizen who owns no land but was born to full-blooded Roman stock, was higher ranking than a rich freeman. So there was a definite limit to social mobility. In the film, this was probably best indicated by Troximo, the owner of the ludus, who was once a slave. Likewise, a citizen could choose to become a slave in order to work off significant debts. He was taking his life in his hands though, as a slave's owner could rightfully murder or torture him if he so wished. This wasn't very likely since buying and caring for a slave was expensive, but it still happened. Essentially, it was easy to fall down the ladder, tough to go back up it.

Political structure seemed to be, from the film's perspective, something along the lines of a constitutional monarchy. Realistically speaking, it was a dictatorship with a Senate that took care of day-to-day matters. Marcus saw that having just a pure Senate would be more effective in administrating the empire. From what I can tell, the army in the Roman Empire was tasked with peacekeeping as well. Maximus was being given the job to oversee the safe transition of power at the beginning of the film. Clearly it didn't work out as it had been intended, suggesting a singular ruler holding supreme military power was too easily a position to be corrupted to continue as it had been.

Maximus's values are manifold. Being from Spain and never having gone to Rome, he's an idealist. He buys into the propaganda that Rome is the light of the world. He's a follower in that respect. He devotes himself to the idea of Rome. That's what enables him to endanger his own life and sacrifice the lives of his men in battle. His values are what one would expect from a soldier: trust, loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, and steadfastness. He relies on and trusts his men, and they return that trust. It also means he has no time for lies or politics, which is probably why Marcus picked him of all people.

Hmmmm. Literary themes. That's tricky. Of course there's a revenge story wherein the jealousy and hubris of the villains ends up being his death. There's service to a greater cause. There's recognition of a true servant only after said servant's death. There's time passing and no one remembering. For all the sound and fury, it signified nothing. Maximus was buried, Juba put to the grave the two little figurines that symbolized Maximus's wife and son, and then the world moved on. I suppose you could say that nothing lasts. Not sure what else could be said from a literary standpoint.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Sript - Maximus was an invention, but Marcus Aurelius of course was a real emperor. The film seem to have had his character and intentions correctly. Max seemed to have been created based on a composite of several different Roman generals. And you are right, Luccilius would have made a better emperor that her brother Commodus. She seemed to stand for reason and restraint and order, but he was someone who was clearly dominated by the tyranny of his own emotions and desires.

Commodus did understand about keeping the crowds happy and your analogy to modern-day America, where so much attention is paid to triviality rather than the important social, economic, and political issues all around us. “So ended a great popularity contest and excellent proof that emotion will win out over logic every time, which is in my opinion man's greatest downfall.” Great summary sentence and I agree with its conclusion.

“I don't believe Commodus was killed in the arena, though he did choose to compete in gladiatorial competitions from time to time.” I don’t think he was either. Creative license.

Good analysis of the varieties of religious practice and a seeming tolerance demonstrated by Juba and Maximus. They did have a different concept of sin and judgment. Murder, killing without cause or for greed sake was one thing. Killing in service of the Emperor or to protect the homeland was acceptable, perhaps even noble.

I like your examples of social mobility. Not many of the students pick up on that. They usually just mention slaves, plebians, and patricians. The reality of course was a dictatorship with a Senate. Maximus probably did seem like the truest and most loyal general who would be likely to faithfully execute the plans that Marcus Aurelius had for the Empire. (So far, my favorite word is manifold.)

I think you pretty much nailed the literary themes. Whatever made you think you would have difficulty with this type of assignment? Back to grading papers; if I could eliminate that I would then have the perfect job. :)


Script Mechanic profile image

Script Mechanic 4 years ago from Wherever Films Need To Be Nitpicked

Grading papers must be a never-ending gulag for an instructor. Just as soon as you think you're done, more come in in a ceaseless cycle of hope and despair. Reminds me of working at my local Wal-Mart over one summer. I had to round up shopping carts in the parking lot in 90+ degree heat. It got to the point that whenever I saw someone leaving the store with a cart, part of me would hate them just because they were making me do my job. :)

Concerning my vocabulary, I think there must be something wrong with my brainmeats. I can never come up with the exact word I'm looking for, but I can always throw out about a half-dozen synonyms that will work. I'm still looking for what I meant besides manifold.

As for not thinking I could do this type of assignment, I suppose that's a combination of wariness when it comes to new work and learned response. If I approach it thinking it will be harder than it is, I overcompensate to the point where it's a breeze. Graduated in the top 10% of 5,000 students with double BAs in Psychology and English Literature, so I suppose that strategy worked. I was hoping to go for my PhD in Clinical Psychology and write on the side just for fun, but my health had other ideas. So now I'm writing in hopes of it becoming a career while trying to get an internet business going. The downside is that not believing you can do something tends to affect the self-confidence, so I'm still trying to find the balance there.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Script - I love it! You have devised the perfect metaphor.

Grading papers, day after merciless day, the workload constantly replenished no matter how much labor has been extended...is rather like a "never-ending gulag." And it is a ceaseless cycle. My history and English faculty colleagues will greatly appreciate your analysis. I would say all faculty, but in many disciplines, most assessment consists of multiple choice or fill in the blank exams....nothing like deciphering, correcting, and grading essay exams and papers.

I am sorry you had to round up carts in the heat....that sounds awful. No wonder you came to hate shoppers who left with carts. I hate students who had me a handful of pages with no staple, like I don't have 70 to 90 students per semester and I should sort out all the pages and staple them for them!!

Speaking of vocabulary, the fact that many words spring to mind is probably just a result of having an xtensive, well developed vocabulary. You might try reading the sentence or phrase out loud with various synonyms; sometimes that helps me pick the precise word I want. Hmmmm, manifold.....various, diverse, numerous, complex, multiform, complicated, aggregated....

The over-preparation "approach" for assignments that I expected to be extremely difficult, worked extremely well for me in college and grad school. As you said, assuming the worst often allows for smooth and easy completion of tasks once you tackle them. I recommend the approach to all my students all the time; most of the time, most of them do not listen to me. And obviously with two BA' and in the top 10% that strategy worked quite well.

You are right though, too much negativity can wear one down; there does have to be a balance. Well, I wish you well with your writing and the internet business. Now, I am going to go grade some more papers. I do them in batches of 10 or so and then get up and walk away, to fold clothes, change the litter pan, whatever. If I made myself sit in one place and grade for 3 or 4 hours, I would probably go my closet, get the 9 millimeter and be done with it. I should probably take the magazine out just in case. :)


Script Mechanic profile image

Script Mechanic 4 years ago from Wherever Films Need To Be Nitpicked

Don't forget the one in the chamber, just in case :)


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I had to smile at the phrase, "historically based films," because naturally a certain amount of creative license is, and must be taken in creating a historical film, and I was unwittingly sucked into the point of your hub.

The way you go about it, I totally agree with because you teach your class about the difference between known history and several aspects of the film that do not agree - as a student, the few times a teacher has done this, I have found in-classroom films way more stimulating and thought provoking than if we just watched a movie because the teacher wanted a break.

I think you're right on because of the way you go about it, the film is enjoyable and breaks up what could be dry material, and as a result stimulates their minds to compare what they know, meaning they will more likely remember what they are learning and will as a result, be able to compare what they see in films later on with the history they know.

As far as Gladiator, I had no idea that Christianity was presented at all! If I ever watch it again, I'll be looking for that. Being somewhat of a glass half-empty kind of guy, I am all too aware of the belief of Elysium in the film and how it is the dominant religious idea throughout, which in my opinion is not Christian at all. I do love the characters of Gladiator, especially Commudus and the elegantly portrayed twisted relationships he had with his family.

My only protest to what you're doing is that being a movie buff, I usually hate to watch movies in the classroom because it completely ruins the movie experience for me - but your dealing with a guy who owns a projector to enhance the feeling of watching a "real" movie :-D

Fascinating hub - I never thought there could be so much resistance to using films as an educational tool in the classroom. Maybe your peers have used movies in their classes to take a break from teaching once in a while and they think you are doing the same thing. Shame on them!

Voted up and interesting - this was fun to read and think about.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Alexander - I am so glad you were “unwittingly sucked in.” ? I do agree with you. I never show a film just to show a film. If students are getting a break from lecture, reading, and discussion, then they are going to have to work for it. My part of the bargain is showing mainstream, interesting historically based films; their part is taking notes and writing a good essay.

And I do think that after you've seen several films with study guides and get guidance from the teacher about how to watch for bias, propaganda, etc., you do emerge looking at, and thinking about films differently - even when it's not for class or foreign assignments. To meet learning how to evaluate and criticize films is simply another way to sneak in "analytical or critical thinking." That is my hope anyway.

About the focus on Christianity in gladiator, I may not have made myself clear. The film does not address Christianity, but the students do know something about it, even if they are not practicing Christians. So I want them to take what they observe about a pagan, Roman religion and compare it with what they know about Christianity.

I'm asking them to look for what's different, what's similar, do they have any values in common? In comparing the two religions and their practices, can they isolate any universal values found within most religions?

What a great phrase. You wrote, "the elegantly portrayed twisted relationships he had with his family." Speaking of Commodus, of course, that's a very good way of describing him.

You wrote, “I usually hate to watch movies in the classroom because it completely ruins the movie experience for me.” If it makes you feel any better, we close the blinds, I tell the students they are welcome to bring snacks and we are fortunate to have a great set up in our classrooms.

Each classroom has a computer, a DVD player, an overhead projector suspended from the ceiling, and a 10’ x 15' screen that descends from the ceiling at the push of a button. It's pretty sweet. So it isn't like going to the movies, but it's a pretty good set up all things considered, and admission is free..

I am glad you found the hub “fascinating." Everyone loves to hear their work called fascinating every now and then. :-) Your explanation of why I have run into resistance to using films may be the correct one. I never really thought about it that way.

My current school dean is very supportive. He knows that I make the students work hard, I make them write a great deal (he is an English professor so that makes him happy), so he tends to support whatever methods I want to use.

Sorry it took me a while to get back to you; I have been preparing for a presentation that I'm making at the university tomorrow - about my grandmother's poetry that I have been editing for (hopefully) eventual publication. Tomorrow I'm going to read the introduction to the book I wrote, read two of her poems and show the students and faculty about 25 pictures of her paintings and watercolors. I'm looking forward to it and I hope it goes well. Thanks for all your comments and feedback and encouragement. Thoughtful conversations are always much appreciated.

Theresa


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

First, let me apologize for overusing the word, "elegant." Although I was rather proud of that sentence myself, I noticed I have been using that word in other comments, maybe thinking I was clever. But I meant to use it where I did! Ah, the dangers of being a writer.

I will give you a pass for using movies in the classroom because of the projector and the blinds ;-) There is, of course, popcorn right?

It sounds like you have a busy day tomorrow, so I'll wish you the best on your presentation and I'll keep this comment short.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Script Mechanic -

I overlooked your comment somehow until today.

"Don't forget the one in the chamber, just in case :)"

When I finally saw it, I burst out laughing. Clever. :)


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Alexander -

Elegant is a good word and so many people never use it except when describing an evening gown, a little overuse in some other applications is rather welcome.

Believe it or not there is popcorn! (Student lounge is right down the hall and they have a microwave.) Although the students seem to gravitate more toward cheese and crackers and cookies. Once a semester we buy pizza and for the final class we do a potluck meal an everyone brings something different and we share.

The presentation went fairly well, no computer or technology glitches which is always my great fear. I think I will do it again in a larger venue as part of Women's History Month.

We usually have 200 or so people for that and we open it up to the community and lots of little old ladies come. They are a great audience and ask terrific questions, but from the speaker's point of view, it is kind of funny. You look out at a sea of faces, most of whom are between 18 and 25 and then here and there are these small clusters of little old ladies who are in their seventies. :) I hope that I am that independent and full of life when I am in my seventies. :)


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Amen to that :-)


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

This is a great hub to read before watching the movie. Voting this Up and Useful.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you alocsin. Its always encouraging to get positive feedback about the methods I use in my history and inter-disciplinary studies courses. Glad you liked it.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 4 years ago from Tampa Bay

I found you in the forums! What a great treat to find here at HubPages. I chose this hub of yours to read first because I love the film so much. The next time I watch it, I'll be sure to browse this hub again. I love that your have your students write essays on well thought out questions. I think a great part of effective teaching is asking the right questions. I have a hub on Hans Zimmer that I'm going to link to this hub, as I briefly mention Gladiator in the hub, because of it's amazing film score.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi rebekah - Thank you for all the kind and encouraging comments you made, both here and in the Forum. That you found me in the Forum is so surprising. I spend 99% of my time reading, commenting on, and writing Hubs. Maybe once or twice a month something will catch my eye and I will spend 10 minutes on a Forum question.

Gladiator is one of my favorite films as well, of course I have about twenty favorites that I use in various history classes...eventually I will get them all posted. You are so right about asking the right questions, once students can begin to do that themselves they are well on their way to independent critical thinking. Toward the end of each semester, after they have done 5 or 6 films with my study guides, I have them come up with their own questions and answer them; then we go over all the questions together. It is a great learning experience.

Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading your work and the Hans Zimmer piece. :)


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

"What “literary” themes, motifs, or symbols are woven throughout the film?" - I like that question. Even though, it is not necessarily a question related to history directly, it makes one think - and that is very important in my opinion.

Do You give the questions needed for the essay prior to the movie screening? I know You stated that "The day before I screen the film, student’s are given a study guide" but are the questions on that study guide or is it just a guide to hint the areas where students need to focus on while taking notes? (Just curious, as always ...)

I do not recall any actual movies played in class in my university years. There were a few short documentaries but that is about it.

I enjoyed this piece as well. Thank You for giving an insight into your work as a professor. All the best!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I like that question too, all kinds of questions. :) I always try to teach from an unterdisciplinary perspective, whatever my "historical" subject is. Nothing exists or happens in a vacuum, so culture. literature, science, religion, geocrapgy, and social developments impinge on History and their influence should be examined.

Yes, I do give them a study sheet with the actual questions and a little bit of background information, at least two days prior to the film. I want them to have time to think about the questios and then watch the moviea and take notes with the questionsand themes in mind.

I never saw films in school either, an occasional short documentary. I started showing films when I studied "bias" and realized that even "objective" documentaries are subjective. They are made by people and people have biases andopinionsand attitudes, even when they try not to. The best you can do is examine and admit your biases and preferences to your reader or audience.

It seemed to me that using hisotical (major studio) films would allow us to examine many different things in addition to history. I tried it and it seemed to work and luckily I had a supportive dean. Many academics disparage films because they are not "objectively true and accurate." Well, what is? Whay not teach people how to analyze and evaluate what they see and hear.?

One of the best compliments I ever got from a student was from a youngwoman who laughingly said to me, "You know you have ruined films for me. I can't just watch them mindlessly anyore. Even if they are not specifically historical, I am constantly thinking, evaluating the purpose and meaning and possible bias of thefilm."

I was so pleased! Now when my students can also evaluate what they read and hear politically, religiously, and socially...I will have accomplished something a very good thing.

Enjoyed your comments and questions. They are always welcome. You make me keep thnking. :) Theresa


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 4 years ago

I like using feature films in my history classes also, although (for lack of time) I never show entire films. I also have students do an assignment in which they historically evaluate a Hollywood film, describing specifc ways that a film provides valuable information about history and specific ways it is not so great historically. Unlike documentaries, feature films can bring the past to life, and once they are asked by a history teacher to watch Hollywood films more critically, students will hopefully apply these lessons to all films that they may watch in the future. Many people, after all, get more of their "history" from Hollywood films than history courses and books.

It would be interesting to read a part 2 of this hub in which you historically evaluate "Gladiator," separating what is likely fact from fiction.

Keep teaching like you do. Many of the "traditionalists" often have bored students.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Glad to know someone else appreciates the value of using films in a history class. Of course films are not necessarily accurate (that is where you and I come in), but the students interest in films and the way they will grapple with history and important concepts if presented in a film makes it worth it.

I like the assignment you described. And I agree with you, I think once they learn to critically evaluate films in a history class they will continue to do it, maybe even sub-consciously. I once had a woman student come to see me the semester after we had a class together and she announced (laughingly) "You have ruined films for me! I can no longer mindlessly enjoy them. Now I am evaluating all of them critically and thinking about bias and point of view and all sorts of other things that would never have occurred to me before." I told her that was one of the best compliments I had ever received. :)

Time for a feature length film in a classroom is a problem. I only do historical films in my upper level courses and I schedule them in mid to late afternoon. Mondays we meet at 3:00 or 4:00 for 75 minutes, but on Wednesdays when I show films they know the class will probably run 2 hours and 15 minutes. Its listed on registration schedule that way and I put up flyers so the students know that Monday is a regular "short" class. So far it has worked well.

There are so many things I would like to write about, but I will put Gladiator part 2 on the list and maybe one day I will get around to it. :) Thanks for commenting.


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 4 years ago

Since I only teach lower division survey classes, I can't show entire films. I guess that would be one of the benefits of upper division courses that study topics in more depth.

I would love to write an entire book that provides an overview of American history through Hollywood films, discussing the actual historical value of each of them. But since I seem to hardly find the time to even watch one movie a month, that won't be happening any time soon.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

That is a benefit of upper division courses if you system can be flexible about the scheduling. Of course it takes a lot more reading and prep work to stay ahead of the students in upper level courses, but on the whole it is wroth it.

Students in upper level classes want to be there and are not simply filling a general education requirement. You should write that book, that would be great. Maybe one day there will be be enough time. :) Happy Easter.


romino 4 years ago

i need the answers of the questions please


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi romino - I use these questions with my college students and I expect them to come up with the answers after they have seen the movie - so I do not give the questions to them. But another individual here on HP did write an essay in which he answered the questions. I will be happy to send it to you. It is very long and detailed because he is a man in his thirties and writes about films a lot. :)

Oh, Roman history is one of those areas in which I am terribly lacking. It's quite possible that what I understand about the time period is completely wrong, so bear with me. While General Maximus's plight took center stage, for historical purposes the exploits of Commodus and his sister are probably more pertinent.

Marcus Aurelius appointed Maximus keeper of Rome because he knew that previous charismatic generals had attempted coups, and the best way to mollify them was to give them some degree of power. He also knew he could trust Maximus to act in the best interests of Rome itself, which he could not trust Commodus to do.

I don't get the impression that Marcus wished Rome to become purely a Republic because his son would make an incompetent ruler. More that the necessities of rule were too much for any one man and that the Senate, as divisive as it was, would be more effective at making the manifold voices of Rome's citizens heard.

Lucillius herself said something to the effect that "Rome is the mob." She was the voice of reason, and probably should've ruled rather than her brother.

While extremely selfish, Commodus well understood that a public that is entertained is one that is distracted. As he had no interest in ruling in a just or competent fashion, keeping the mob entertained with violent spectacles was a tried and true method of distracting them from more pressing issues, as well as getting them to forget the fact that he'd just murdered his own father.

It rather reminds me of how America is more preoccupied with the escapades and affairs of celebrities compared to our state and federal representatives selling us up the river. All of us do it to some degree. If you're a parent, you can stick the kid in front of the TV and watch how hypnotized they become to the exclusion of all outward stimuli. Adults and crowds aren't really all that different.

The hitch that Commodus had not expected was that Maximus was rapidly gaining public backing as a hero, "The Savior of Rome." As a military commander, Maximus was as used to leading by rhetoric and example as he was orders. With the coaching of Troximo, he came to understand that he could achieve anything if he had the mob in his corner.

They became his soldiers in a war of popularity. And when Commodus decided to face Maximus in the Coliseum to try to win back public opinion, he fatally underestimated his opponent. So ended a great popularity contest and excellent proof that emotion will win out over logic every time, which is in my opinion man's greatest downfall.

The Romans employed a religious polytheism in which Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, was entreated to watch over and protect the dead until Maximus could be at their side to do so as well. Elysium was mentioned as a sunny, agrarian place, so their idea of paradise or a reward was probably not all that different from a good life on earth.

Also, given that soldiers could expect to go there, and even Maximus expected to end up there after he successfully took his revenge, we can deduce that violence and murder aren't necessarily sinful actions depending on the context in which they occur.

Also, based on the fact that Juba and Maximus talked about their families and seeing them again, they were remarkably tolerant of religious differences back then. Certainly compared to nowadays.

I really didn't see all that much in terms of definite class differences in this film. I know from bottom to top that there were slaves, freemen, capite sensi, plebians, and patricians. If you were a slave, you could end up a freeman as a reward for your services, and that gave you the freedom to move about the empire however you wished.

Theoretically, you could amass great wealth, but it would take an act of Caesar or the Senate to make you a citizen. Technically a capite sensi, that is a poor citizen who owns no land but was born to full-blooded Roman stock, was higher ranking than a rich freeman. So there was a definite limit to social mobility. In the film, this was probably best indicated by Troximo, the owner of the ludus, who was once a slave. Likewise, a citizen could choose to become a slave in order to work off significant debts. He was taking his life in his hands though, as a slave's owner could rightfully murder or torture him if he so wished.

This wasn't very likely since buying and caring for a slave was expensive, but it still happened. Essentially, it was easy to fall down the ladder, tough to go back up it.

Political structure seemed to be, from the film's perspective, something along the lines of a constitutional monarchy. Realistically speaking, it was a dictatorship with a Senate that took care of day-to-day matters. Marcus saw that having just a pure Senate would be more effective in administrating the empire. From what I can tell, the army in the Roman Empire was tasked with peacekeeping as well. Maximus was being given the job to oversee the safe transition of power at the beginning of the film. Clearly it didn't work out as it had been intended, suggesting a singular ruler holding supreme military power was too easily a position to be corrupted to continue as it had been.

Maximus's values are manifold. Being from Spain and never having gone to Rome, he's an idealist. He buys into the propaganda that Rome is the light of the world. He's a follower in that respect. He devotes himself to the idea of Rome. That's what enables him to endanger his own life and sacrifice the lives of his men in battle.

His values are what one would expect from a soldier: trust, loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, and steadfastness. He relies on and trusts his men, and they return that trust. It also means he has no time for lies or politics, which is probably why Marcus picked him of all people.

I hope this is helpful. :)


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Like your history teaching methods very much Theresa. Gladiator is a good film that really gives a feel for the Roman era; however skewered the historical facts are in it lol.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks Alastar - Sometimes a film accurately represents reality, but more often it doesn't. Sometimes you have to work with the students to get them to see the bias or slant of the director, the incorrect facts and assumptions, even at times, the not too subtle propaganda.

But atl least a film will keep their attention. I have almost given up using books (beyond a general text-book), but I have started making them use databases and find 4-6 scholarly articles...you know, written for a graduate level course with 46-66 footnotes or citations. Once they have read it 2 or 3 times and made lots of notes, they have to write an analytical essay. We may not read a lot of books, but they are going to do some serious reading and writing for me. :)


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Your adjusting to the new dynamic as best you can and doing it in the best way it can be done. The TV and everything tech has taken the imagining away from a generation of young people. Will they ever know the pleasure of sitting down with a good history book in their hands, learning and going into another world at the same time? Perhaps not, but the smart teachers, the ones who care, are adapting- and lets hope as well as you Theresa.:)


udontnomi profile image

udontnomi 4 years ago from intense introspection

This film was great! (the first time I saw it) So is your lesson plan!

In film, costume is important. This film matched the big Hollywood epic sagas in that regard. I think they did it with more accuracy as well. As for depicting the "feel" of the intrigue behind Roman politics. They did a good job of collecting scraps of Roman history and scarfing together a believable (as far as the gist of things is concerned) scenario. It was crazy wild like the Romans with their miscreant behavior and illusions of grandeur.

I must have gone to the men's room at my first viewing. The second time I saw the film, I noticed that Russell Crowe galloped on his stallion from Italy all the way to Spain. What's up with that?

When I worked at Devereux, I was often asked to take "High School' level classes for interim periods that had a way of stretching until the next JAHCO inspection. The line staff always complained. All he does is show those kids movies.

A third of them could barely read for crying out loud. I handed out questions to the accomplished students (all SED kids - different levels), write them on the board for the others. We discussed and answered verbal questions on the subject (Nat Geo, Bill Nye, American Promise, etc.). I wold rite the answers on the board, and the least accomplished could copy them. I allowed fast finishers to help ("tutors" I called them).

Complaints were so vehement, that they were heeded. I was to get approval from the principal before showing any films. I had these bozos 6 hrs. a day. I did more than show movies. After about a week , the principal (bless her heart) got tired of me waiting for her to sign off on my daily video. If I wasn't in class, those guys would raise too much hell with the newbies watching the class and waiting for me to get back from having my video approved.

It's a war sometimes. In my Voc. class, I always upset the academic teachers with my job interview curriculum. I started with a questioneer like we used to pass around in Jr. High. What is your favorite color, food, music . . . who do you admire most. I would have them ask each other the questions and then get u and introduce each other. They loved it!

There was always an odd number, and I would team with a needy student. When asked who I admired most, I would answer, "Malcolm X."

Why?

"He had the courage to change his mind when he saw the truth!"

Then I would show the whole movie "Malcolm X" with Danzel Washington. I made popcorn and served fruit juice, too.

What a jerk!


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

Oops, I got my identities mixed up. That was me that taught at Devereux. I hate Quark. It got me again!

udnotnomi is a trip.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Yes you did. :) That damnable quark!

So what's the deal with the one liners in the conversation about Chik Fil-A and the protests. We deserve your thoughtful and considered fun. Yes I understand udontnomi is a trip and fun., but.....

Of course I figured it out when I saw the reference to Devereux. And then you confessed. :) Have a wonderful evening. I will repond to your ealier hub when I have a chunk of time. Theresa


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi UD - It is a great film and thanks for the compliment on the lesson plan. Spain to Italy on a galloping horse....why it the magic of film...or the necessary constraints of a 2-3 hour film. :) I think using films and breaking down the assignments like you did was genius. How else could you handle a large and (probably) rambunctious of students all at different learning levels? People who haven't spent much time in the classroom simply have no idea, do they?

Administrators are so often the problem when they ought to be the solution. Sounds like the lady principal might have been one of the better ones. Have you written a book about your Devereux experiences? And why not? :)

Have a great week!. Theresa


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

Not too stealthy with my role playing. This program sends "ghosts" out. You know how sometimes you accidentally leave 2 comments when you thought it didn't go through? The ghost came back to haunt you. I should have slapped up a quick comment instead of leaving it blank when I cut the comment. I didn't have much time after I saw that weirdo up there.

What's up? I went to military school. We didn't have much to do, so we entertained ourselves with quipping wars. I guess I never outgrew it. Some of those folks never get a real challenge. It is tit and tat that they initiated upon my arrival on my first day. Never pick a fight with a stranger . . . he might be packing heat.

Chick-Fil-A? Sorry, I have bigger fish to fry. I think folks need to cool their jets. There is sickening bigotry on both sides of the issue. It is like Republicans and Democrats. Both sides exaggerate the faults of the other. We live in a time that cries for solutions while we wallow in our problems.

Good abvice . . . if you are in Brevard County Florida, don't start yelling at anybody in the street.

Do you still love me?


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

WD Curry 111 has been banned from the forums pending a communication that will never happen. The office politics around here is a trip. I am culling the religious stuff from WD Curry 111. I will keep that for the conservation, public awareness, educational and art stuff.

I plan to split the art and the fiction as well. I am experimenting with niche stuff. You know how two part things get separated and your favorite stuff disappears into a hub vault that you don't have the key to. I am going to try to control the visibility of my hubs by grouping them on different sites. There are all kinds of things you can do with a hub. There is a call for artists for a local mural grant. They required a website address. I am nowhere near being done with my Muse sight. I did a hub as a project specific portfolio and wrote about it. I was pretty tickled with myself.


udontnomi profile image

udontnomi 4 years ago from intense introspection

WD - Are you a loose hose in need of a fire? You are carrying your thoughts in a leaky bucket. They are spilling out all over the place. Come up for air. Take a break.

Don't cross me. I'm a busy street.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

WD - Yes. The ghosting thing makes me crazy. I hit post and wait and wait and finally I hit it again and instantly two copies pop up. Very frustrating.

Ahhh, military school and quipping wars. It just seemed so unlike you, of course you weren't really you. You were udontnowme. :) Perfectly understandable if you have bigger fish....I got involved primarily because Kathleen and I are friends in the "real" world. In other words, we can meet for lunch and she introduced me to HP.

You described the situation perfectly..."It is like Republicans and Democrats. Both sides exaggerate the faults of the other. We live in a time that cries for solutions while we wallow in our problems." I wonder if it will ever end.

I will make certain never to start yelling at or about anybody on the street in Brevard County. :) Of course I still love you. What's not to love, once I have an idea what all is going on. :) Theresa


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

WD - You are doing major housecleaning and rearranging. Makes sense to split and experiment with niches Will they be different niches and profiles here on HP or are you moving all your stuff elsewhere?. I know the office politics can get crazy, but don't abandon ship -you would be sorely missed.

The local mural grant sound exciting and right up your alley. Get busy on whatever it will take to go after that grant. :) Well if you were tickled with yourself, I will have to find it and take a look. Later, Theresa


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

OK... I am really getting worried about multiple personality disorder, now. :)

"Don't cross me." Never heard that before, but I get it. Literalism. :)


udontnomi profile image

udontnomi 4 years ago from intense introspection

Everything I do or say is original. I have the knack. I just forget where I saw or heard it and make it my own.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Ah, so that is the secret to your success. I will have to bear that in mind. :) Crashing now, I things to do and obligations to meet from 8 to 8 tomorrow. A twelve hour day...I am too old for this. :)


Nick Hanlon profile image

Nick Hanlon 4 years ago from Chiang Mai

Marcus Aurelius was Harry Truman's greatest political hero.Both stood against the special interest's and both did anything to protect the state.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello Nick - Thanks for dropping by and for your comments.

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