The Department of History’s historical documentary production class will produce multiple films about topics of varying subjects. Students who participate are expected to complete an original documentary to be presented during finals week.
Dr. Vernon Williams, professor of history, is teaching the course, which has seven students. The class teaches a number of skills including script writing, video editing, mixing music and narration.
“The primary mission of this course is to teach students new skills that they can use in every aspect of their career tracks,” said Williams. “By the time students see the credits roll, they can’t believe that they’ve created fine films in such a short amount of time.”
In years past, the documentaries have been dispersed among museums and public schools for use in educational programming. Williams said the purpose of these documentaries is to preserve history so it is accessible to the general public.
“We are creating historical documentaries that involve capturing individuals’ stories in order to help others understand their history,” Williams said. “Our students usually commit to giving their films to nonprofit organizations; what they are doing is unlike what’s being done at any other school.”
The class goes through the process of creating documentaries specifically for museums and educational TV. The documentaries the students are making involve using photos, historical footage and first-hand accounts to tell personal stories. Students are provided materials to create their documentaries. Williams has been collecting photos and oral history interviews over the years that students may use, or they can provide personal stories about family or familiar topics.
Kendra Oregon, an international studies major from Mesquite, said she took the course this fall for the chance to expand her knowledge on different software and film creator tools.
“You never know when you need to whip up a video to illustrate what projects you are working on,” said Oregon. “So I think it’s an amazing skill to have.”
The course requires that students learn to create not only their own documentaries, but also how to promote their films. Williams expects the students to attend classes with parts of their films prepared so the students can workshop together. Because of the amount of information the students are required to learn, the course requires a significant time commitment.
Oregon said students who are diligent with their time get to see amazing end products, and Williams provides them the chance to tell unheard stories.
Chelsea Peer, a history major from Abilene, is also participating in the course this semester.
“I enjoy filmmaking and storytelling, so I find the class very rewarding,” Peer said. “But this sort of work takes hours just to make a little progress.”
Like Oregon, Peer said the course is challenging but has helped her gain many new skills.
“In this course I have gotten to learn more about Premiere Pro and about editing a longer term project, as well as putting together a full film,” Peer said.
Another reason Peer said she took the course was to participate in the study abroad program Williams is conducting. Those who are accepted to the program will get to travel for three weeks in the United Kingdom where they will use a makeshift video studio and field lab to document stories from survivors and families of WWII.
“One of my passions is film editing, so I just felt I would regret it if I didn’t take this opportunity,” Peer said.
The historical documentary production course is available every other year in the fall semester for history and non-history majors.