The aim of this section is to give you a selection of books and films to read/watch in preparation for teaching or studying C19th USA. Click the images to go to a product page. Do get in touch if you have any other recommendations.
Smoke Signals is something of a ground breaking film in the category of Westerns, in that it has been written, directed, produced by and starred in by American Indians. The film itself is adaptation of a short story collection by Sherman Alexie "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven". Director Chris Eyre turns this into a fantastic, funny and intimate film which won both the Audience Award and the Filmmakers' Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival 1998.
Smoke Signals tells the story of two very different young men, brought up in a small town on the "Rez". When Victor is called away urgently to Phoenix, the two young men are thrown together when Thomas offers to pay for his trip. The remainder of the film looks at how the characters deal with themselves, each other and their shared histories as both struggle to come to terms with their relationship with Victor's drunken father.
The road movie theme is really something of an aside. What makes this a brilliant and darkly funny movie, is that it offers an honest insight into the lives of Indians on the Reservations in the late 1990s, without resorting to the kind of exploitation so common in white-directed films of the period. Indeed, Dances with Wolves is lampooned in a conversation where Victor tires to teach Thomas how to be a real Indian. As film critic Roger Ebert notes in his own analysis of the film "There's a particular satisfaction in listening to people talk about what they know well and care about. The subject isn't as important as the feeling. Listen to them discuss the ins and outs of an Indian specialty known as "frybread,'' and you will sense what they know about the world."
At the very least, this might be something of an antidote to Johnny' Depp in the Lone Ranger.
Indeed at one point in the film, a woman remarks to the odd duo "Hey, you two were just like the Lone Ranger and Tonto."
"No" replies Thomas, "We are more like Tonto and Tonto."
Try it - you might just love it
Westerns: Want something to watch this summer? The 10 best Westerns of all time!! #historyteacher #americanwest #tweko
The Guardian has compiled a list of the 10 best Westerns of all time. It is well worth a look. Even if you can only watch one or two of these, it will help you access the idea of the myth of the West which is so central to the USA's understanding of itself.
Can I highly recommend Stagecoach (no. 10) as a brilliant Western, I am not too sure about the Man from Laramie however...
Highly disappointingly, George Steven's Shane (1953) has not made the list. This is by far and away the best Western I have seen. If you have not seen Shane, what are you waiting for - go get a slice of American history!
The full list is HERE.
Comment if you have any other good recommendations.
A fantastic documentary from comedian Rich Hall looking at the decline of the Western as a genre. Be warned there is some strong language but a great watch none-the-less. Also check out Rich's other documentary on Native Americans.