History of the World Through Film

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

History of the World Through Film

Spartacus statue by Denis Foyatier from WikipediaThe other day I was watching the new Spartacus series on cable and that got me to read the article about Spartacus on Wikipedia, which in turn got me reading the article about the Third Servile War. After learning how closely this followed the realm of Julius Caesar, I immediately thought of the HBO series Rome. The two shows fit together so well historically that I began to wonder. Could I construct a history of the world using feature films and television shows? Sure it's going to be silly and ahistoric, and the constraint that the movies had to be in the library collection made it even more of a challenge. So here's my go at it. I'll give you the timeline, the movie title, a brief description and a link to the item in the collection. Enjoy!

  • 10,000 B.C. - 10,000 B.C.E. - a silly account of cave people.
  • 300 - 480 B.C.E. - Battle of Thermopylae.
  • Hero - 221 B.C.E. - The unification of China under the Qin Dynasty.
  • Spartacus - 73 B.C.E. - Spartacus leads the third servile war (and obviously this is too soon to be in the library).
  • Rome - 44 B.C.E. - Julius Caesar and the rise of Augustus.
  • Cleopatra - 30 B.C.E. - Romances and tragedy of Cleopatra.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar - 33 C.E. - Teachings and Passion of Jesus of Nazareth in a catchy Andrew Lloyd Weber musical way.
  • I, Claudius - 54 C.E. - The Julio-Claudian Empire of Rome.
  • Beowulf - ca. 450 C.E. - The mythic adventure of Beowulf vs. the monster Grendel.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail - ca. 516 C.E. - The end of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, again, quite silly.
  • The Lion in Winter - 1183 C.E. - Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the wittiest argument you will ever see.
  • Mongol - 1186 C.E. - The life and times of Ghengis Khan.
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon - ca. 1209 C.E. - The life of Francis of Assisi and the founding of the Franciscan monastic order with a soundtrack by Donovan.
  • Braveheart - 1297- 1305 C.E. - The life of William Wallace and the First Scottish War of Independence against Edward I of England.
  • The Tudors - 1520-1540 C.E. - Henry VIII and his many wives in glorious and gory detail. Seasons 1-3 cover wives from Katherine of Aragon through Anne of Cleves.
  • Elizabeth - 1558-1572 C.E. - The beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I and the declaration of the Golden Age of England.
  • Shakespeare in Love - ca. 1590 C.E. - William Shakespeare finds inspiration for his plays through his love affair with Viola de Lesseps.
  • Pocahontas - 1607 C.E. - The Disney-fied version of Pocahontas and John Smith, complete with singing animals.
  • Girl With a Pearl Earring - 1665 C.E. - Johannes Vermeer through the eyes of a servant girl.
  • The Libertine - ca. 1670 C.E.- The downfall of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, hard drinking, bawdy playwright and poet.
  • The Crucible - 1692 C.E. - Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder in Arthur Miller's scathing portrayal of the Salem Witch Trials.
  • Roots - 1750-1870 C.E. - The story of Alex Haley's family, from the enslavement of Kunta Kinte in Gambia, West Africa, to the family's move to Tennessee after the American Civil War.
  • 1776 - 1776 C.E. - The founding fathers sing their way to Revolution.
  • John Adams - 1770-1826 C.E. - John Adams' life from the Boston Massacre through his presidency to his death in 1826.
  • Amadeus - 1783-1825 C.E. - Herr Salieri, Court Composer to Joseph II of Austria, recounts his rivalry with Mozart.
  • Jefferson in Paris - 1784-1789 C.E. - Thomas Jefferson's tenure as the Ambassador to France prior to the revolution and his relationships with Maria Cosway and Sally Hemings.
  • The Civil War - 1861-1865 C.E. - Ken Burns' exhaustive documentary of the American Civil War told through the photographs of the era and the voices from journals and letters of the time period.
  • Glory - 1863 C.E. - The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first military troop in the United States to openly enlist African-American soldiers, led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw.
  • Lawrence of Arabia - ca. 1916-1935 C.E. - T.E. Lawrence leads rebellion against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
  • Gandhi - 1915-1948 C.E. - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi leads the nonviolent revolution against British colonial rule.
  • Schindler's List - 1939-1945 C.E. - German soldier Oskar Schindler creates a list of "skilled" inmates who are saved from extermination in the Auschwitz concentration camps.
  • From Here to Eternity - 1941 C.E. - The attack on Pearl Harbor by way of a love triangle.
  • Au Revoir, Les Enfants - 1943-1944 C.E. - The effects of World War II on a French boarding school, and the death of Jewish school children in Auschwitz and their teacher's imprisonment in Mauthausen.
  • The Great Escape - 1944 C.E. - 50 Allied prisoners of war escape from a German POW camp, and there's Steve McQueen on a motorcycle.
  • Seven Years in Tibet - 1944-1950 C.E. - A former Nazi soldier encounters the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, and the experience changes both their lives.
  • Evita - 1936-1952 C.E. - Madonna belts out the famous "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" while pretending to be Eva Peron.
  • M*A*S*H - 1950-1953 C.E. - The kooky surgeons of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital get up to pranks to make it through the trauma of the Korean War.
  • The Motorcycle Diaries - 1952 C.E. - Based on the diaries of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his encounters with the desperate poverty in South America that led to his Marxist rebellion in Argentina.
  • Battle of Algiers - 1954-1960 C.E. - Recounts events surrounding the war for Algerian independence from the French.
  • Capote - 1959-1966 C.E. - Truman Capote becomes obsessed with the murder of the Kansas Clutter family and pens his magnum opus In Cold Blood.
  • Mad Men - 1961-1963 C.E. - Madison Avenue advertising executives with hard drinking habits relive the peak moments of the era from the inauguration of JFK through the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • Malcolm X - 1965 C.E. - Denzel Washington's magnificent portrayal of African-American activist Malcolm X.
  • A Beautiful Mind - 1950-1994 C.E. - The life of John Forbes Nash Jr., game theorist and mathematician, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenic episodes.
  • Frost/Nixon - 1977 C.E. - British talk show host David Frost interviews former president Richard Nixon about the Watergate scandal and the abuses of his presidency.
  • And the Band Played On - 1981 C.E. - Epidemiologists discover a strange virus spreading rampantly through gay men in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS.
  • Good bye Lenin! - 1989 C.E. - The fall of the Berlin Wall, the arrival of capitalism to East Germany, and the reunification of Germany.
  • Hotel Rwanda - 1994 C.E. - Hotelier Paul Rusesabagina saves the lives of his family and over 1,000 refugees at the Hotel des Mille Collines during the Rwandan genocide.
  • Blood Diamond - 1996 C.E. - Takes place during the Sierra Leone Civil War, showing the people forced into slave labor in diamond mines and the terrible cost of the diamond trade.
  • Black Hawk Down - 1996 C.E. - Americn Black Hawk helicopter loaded with Delta Force soldiers is shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia.
  • Breach - 2001 C.E. - Robert Philip Hanssen, former American FBI agent and spy for Russian and Soviet intelligence, gets busted for being a double agent.