Video Documentary Analysis:
Almost every week of the syllabus for this class includes a documentary
video that corresponds to the topic for that week. Video documentaries are one of
the main ways that history is presented to the public, and as such they are worthy
of critical analysis. For this assignment you are being asked to reflect on not only
the basic content of a video documentary, but also how the material is presented;
and how we, the viewers, can evaluate whether the historical information presented
is reliable. Twice during this semester you will submit a Video Documentary
Analysis (VDA). For each one you must write a 500- to 750-word commentary
about one of the documentaries that are listed in the syllabus and contained within
each of the Weekly Modules.
Preparing to Write your Video Documentary Analysis
When you have selected a documentary that you intend to write about, watch and
listen carefully and TAKE NOTES. Captions, if available, may be helpful for
picking up unfamiliar words or names, but beware: “auto-generated” captions
usually contain errors and inaccuracies (particularly where foreign names and
words are concerned).
After briefly describing the content of the media, analyze & evaluate how
the history is presented and how effective the presentation is. The main purpose of
your VDA is not to merely summarize the information, but to think critically and
assess how this historical information is being conveyed. Support your assessment
with specific examples and information from the documentary under consideration.
Your VDA should not just take a casual approach to evaluating the particular
source (e.g., “I liked this documentary”), but rather should actively explore what is
good or bad about the source, then explain how it succeeded (or didn’t) in
presenting history (e.g., “This was an effective presentation of the history of
________ . The producers accomplished this by [(a), (b), (c), etc.]”).
Note that this assignment is not simply about your opinion. You should
work to provide an objective, even-handed analysis of the source under
consideration; an analysis which is supported by evidence. However, in your
closing paragraph you may want to briefly state your reaction as a “consumer” of
this particular historical media.
As with any media source, we should strive to be critical consumers of
information. This means watching and reading carefully, paying attention to how
the material is presented, and how well it appears to be supported by evidence.
Look for any sign of bias or selective presentation of information: have any
particular perspectives been given undue emphasis? Have any particular
perspectives been left out of the presentation?
Here are some questions that you should consider when writing up your
• What kinds of images and sounds are used to present the historical
information? Are there still images such as paintings or photographs, maps,
scenes with actors, historical film footage? What kind of music or sound
effects are used, and how does this influence the viewer’s experience of the
• Does the documentary rely upon: historical footage with narration;
interviews with experts; reenactments using costumes and props; and/or
• How can we evaluate how reliable and trustworthy this documentary may be
as a source of historical information?
Remember that your commentary in your VDAs should be mainly analytical rather
than just descriptive. This means you need to focus on explaining how the
historical material is presented, as opposed to simply repeating what happened or
what was shown in the documentary. If you just submit a summary of the
source material, you will not do well on the assignment.
Formatting and Organization
Each VDA must be typed and double-spaced as a document in a standard 12-point
font (such as Times New Roman) with one-inch margins. 750 words of double-
spaced text is approximately three pages. Your paper may go over that amount
slightly if necessary, but if it is less than 500 words you will not receive full credit.
Work to organize your observations and arguments into separate paragraphs. In an
assignment of this length, you should plan to write three to five paragraphs.
IMPORTANT: If you use the exact wording (or very similar) from the
documentary under review—or any other source—without marking it as such by
using quotation marks and a proper citation of the source, this
constitutes plagiarism. A first offense will result in a grade of zero on the
assignment, and a warning; a second offense will result in a grade of F for the
class, and your misconduct will be reported. Note that all students’ assignment
submissions will be screened automatically through Turnitin.com.
Each Video Documentary Analysis is worth 10 percent of your final grade, and
will be assigned a point score based on the following grading scale:
* 9—10 = Excellent; well-written, analytical approach with direct reference to
evidence from the documentary
* 7.5—8.9 = Good; well-written but lacking some analysis and/or direct
reference to the documentary
* 6.0—7.4 = Fair; some flawed writing and/or little analysis and/or insufficient
attention to evidence from the documentary
* ≤ 6.0 = Poor; poorly written and/or evidence from the documentary is not
When & How to Submit your Assignments:
There are two deadlines for Video Documentary Analyses (VDAs). For each of
the VDAs, you will need to choose one of the video documentaries posted in
CougarView which correspond to that particular due date.
You will submit each of your two VDAs in an online dropbox, found by selecting
“Assignments” which is under the Assessments tab in CougarView. Late
submissions will not be accepted. Make a note of the following deadlines to avoid
VDA #1: The first VDA is due by Oct. 9th and should be based on one of the
documentaries contained in the Weekly Modules for Weeks 1 through 6.
VDA #2: The second VDA is due by November 22nd and should be based on one
of the documentaries found in the Weekly Modules for the last half of the semester
(that is, Weeks 7 through 12).
IMPORTANT: You do not have to wait until the deadline date to turn in these
assignments; on the contrary, you are strongly encouraged to complete and submit
them at the earliest opportunity. NOTE that the different assignments for this
class (PSA and VDA) share the same due dates ; so if you wait until the last
minute to complete them both, you will put yourself in a bind. If a particular
week’s documentary video catches your interest, you would be wise to write up
your Video Documentary Analysis while that material is fresh in your mind.
However, please DO NOT jump ahead in the syllabus and submit a PSA that
addresses material from a week that we have not yet reached in the syllabus.