Filmen som historisk källa - historiografi, pluralism och representativitet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article discusses why films have not been used more than they have as historical sources and argues that films ought to be used more by historians. Principally, historians can use film in three basic ways, all of which give access to information about the period when it was produced.
First, films can with caution be used for information about the persons, objects and events depicted in documentary films. Historians’ preference for the written word has though largely excluded the use of motion pictures. Attempts to use documentaries as historical sources fell victim to the criterions of source criticism, which declared all films to be false because they are manipulated through use of cuts and voice-overs etc.
Second, films can be used as a source for time-bound audiovisual configurations of historical events and historical individuals: Recently historical didactics have taken an interest in films due to the insight that audiovisual historical writing is dominates the dispersion of views of the past among the general population. The audiovisual writing of history thus becomes important because regardless of whether or not it is false it contributes to the formation of a historical consciousness among the public.
Finally, films can be used as a source for time-bound conceptions concerning, for example, gender, class, race and age in feature and documentary films. Because films are produced for a mass audience, are made by many people, and are expensive to make, there arise the phenomenon of the films pluralism. This pluralism gives considerable weight to the value of motion pictures as historical source material. Since a film is a collective effort that has to reach as many people as possible in order to turn a profit, it has to keep very close to its own time preferences, which, in turn, makes the motion picture inclusive by nature. Furthermore, through motion picture’s close connection to realism, the human raw material – the actors – will function as representations of a range of different conceptions concerning gender, race and class, and its mutual relations. Obviously, there are also exceptions to this pluralism. For this reason, the scholar must learn to “read” the films in relation to both the social and medial context in order not to misinterpret them.


  • Tommy Gustafsson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History


  • didactics, film, representation, history, historiography, contextualisation, film as historical source material
Original languageSwedish
Pages (from-to)471-490
JournalHistorisk Tidskrift
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch