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Film and history

Newsreels

Newsreels use original footage that show us what history ‘really’ looked like, providing an insight into ideas and fashions of the time they were produced, as well as what was important to people. Public information films and advertising also tell us a lot about the lifestyles and habits of ordinary people.

Despite being primary sources, newsreels are also problematic as historical sources, and present a number of difficult questions:

  • Newsreels also only present one view of the past – is their view accurate? Are certain things left out? How do we know?
  • Does the fact that these are primary sources mean that we automatically judge them as more reliable? Are they actually more reliable? In what ways can newsreels be biased?
  • Is there a political bias to the newsreel? Does it present a balanced view of the issue? Is there a hidden message?
  • For what purpose was the newsreel produced? How does this affect how useful the newsreel is as a historical source?