Documentary Based History Course Comes to Bucks


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Jeff Tuffner, Centurion Staff

With the ever-changing world of technology, some professors at Bucks County Community College are alternating their class approach in a way that appeals to many modern students.
John Petito, a history professor at Bucks, has long wanted to change his approach to class from the traditional wordy and sometimes outdated textbook to a more interactive format of documentaries.
Citing his own disinterest in them, along with many students feeling similarly and some even not reading them, Petito says he feels “seeing history would be much more engaging than reading a dull textbook.”
After receiving approval from the Dean of Social and Behavioral Science Dr. Lynn DellaPietra and later the Provost Lisa G. Angelo, Petito will be going forth with the new format.
“Two of the sections are hybrid classes, meeting one day a week and rather than a second class, students will be given an array of documentaries to watch as opposed to the traditional textbook readings.”
The documentaries themselves won’t come at any extra cost for students. Petito notes they’ll be found on various platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and Films on Demand, which is on the library database found on Bucks’ website.
The documentaries will focus on the United States history since the Civil War. They will display different angles of history, like social, political, and cultural, as well as in-depth first-person stories retelling some the country’s most prestigious and noteworthy moments post-Civil War.
“If you watch a documentary on Franklin D. Roosevelt, or the Great Depression, or the New Deal, you’re going to walk away with a much better understanding of the history than if you had read a bunch of pages in a textbook.”
The documentaries will also be different formats. One of those include cinema verité, a filmmaking format. As described by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, cinema verité provides “the art or technique of filming a motion picture so as to convey candid realism.”
Petito mentions this differs from the traditional narration style of documentary.
While the conventional and sometimes superficial textbook is getting is getting pushed aside, it doesn’t mean the important skill reading will be following suit.
The classes will have lecture notes that will coexist with the documentary being viewed and will be found on students’ Canvas course space. Petito says students should observe the notes prior to viewing the associated film to familiarize themselves with the topic the films will discuss.
Aside from being a different format for learning history, the documentaries viewed as a part of the class will also teach or improve certain critical skills. One of those being able to evaluate the films and videos. By doing this, students will be able determine if what they’re viewing is reliable or bias.
Petito’s newly formatted history class will be available to students starting next semester here at Bucks. However, due to various complications, the course will still be listed amongst the other history courses within the course catalog.
“I’m trying to get the word out the advisors that this class will be different than other history courses.”
While the name remains the same now, Petito stresses that by the 2022 fall semester, the course will be titled “Modern U.S. history: a Documentary Approach,” ultimately making it easier for students to locate when deciding upon their classes.