Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is stunning

I always told my students that ‘History happened to people’ – I did not want them to lose sight of the fact that as we studied History, whether World, US, or regional, we were looking at real people who were just like we were. Silly, tired, angry, happy, depressed, optimistic, pessimistic…all of the above and more. Spielberg’s latest movie does all of that, plus it presents a wonderful understanding about the history, the political behaviors of the time (little has changed!), and   the very real way in which events of the time were either orchestrated, avoided, or corrupted.

This is a great study in the end of the Civil War and the political/social struggles that accompanied the efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Watching the political combat in the House, and the balancing of power between Executive and Legislative branches, and the party politics of the day were all terrific lessons in pure history. Students need to see this film for that alone, especially after just witnessing the election season. And the human element is striking; Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as a very human figure – he comes alive for us, rather than just remaining as a name attached to events and speeches, and Sally Field is wonderful as Mary Todd Lincoln, a figure that played a much greater role in Lincoln’s life than we ever remember in a US History course.


Watching the film, one can make all types of connections to other pieces of legislative action in our history – the Civil Rights Act where the Democrats were trying to piece together just 50 votes in the Senate, knowing that they would have the VP’s vote to break the tie and pass the legislation; backing and later the debate on the Iraq War; budget issues we face with the approaching fiscal cliff. What is going on today behind the closed doors of the branches was going on in the 1860s too, and it is beautifully depicted here. If you have not seen the film, get there. And seriously consider ways to get your students there too. The film IS that good.


  1. junecoutu says

    I agree with almost everything you say about Lincoln, Norm. What an incredible film, truly believable perfomances, intelligent dialogue. I see Academy Awards all over. But I tend to disagree about sending students. I’m afraid that the average student will be bored. This is a talky film. Politics is primarily talking. And that’s a lesson in itself. But how many students, used to seeing fast moving dramas, war films with lots of action, love stories with ……, will be able to follow the actions of our greatest politician-president in history? Will your better students “get it”? Yes, especially if there is preparation beforehand and follow-up after. But for most students, i think a better use of time would be showing carefully selected scenes, in a classroom setting where questions can be answered on the spot before students get the “wrong” idea.

  2. Algot Runeman says

    There is an interesting “artistic license” discussion about the film from a historian’s perspective. http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/emancipation/2013/02/14/warning-artists-at-work/

    Films about history are often engaging *because* they snag our emotions. Maybe that is why social studies teachers like to use them. Students are better learners when they are engaged in the stories of history instead of just dealing in cold reality with the chronology of recorded events.

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