Django in the Classroom: Quentin Tarantino’s Intervention in the Discussion about Slavery and Its Aftermath; or, How to Span the Divide between US History 1 and 2

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Patrick Timmons, El Paso Community College
In 2013 director Quentin Tarantino told an interviewer from UK television’s Channel 4 News that he was responsible for starting a discussion about slavery and its legacy in the United States. Director Tarantino’s comment was (obviously) about promoting himself and his film, Django Unchained. Tarantino was not offering a historian’s assessment of the state of public, scholarly discussions about slavery and its aftermath in the United States. But for many students born in the 1990s, Django did introduce millennials to the subject of slavery, and it posed them questions about its legacy. So, while Tarantino’s statement overblows his contribution, college classroom historians owe him a debt -- he is one of only a handful of directors who have managed to use popular culture to hold people’s attention about one of America’s most troubling features: racist violence and the legacy of slavery. As such, Django Unchained allows a college classroom historian to trace the development of historiographical interpretations about slavery. Notably, then, it is a film which a classroom historian can use to reveal connections between the first and second halves of the required U.S. history surveys. For historians who teach U.S. history surveys, these connections are pedagogical imperatives: ask students in the second half of the survey about what thematically connects the first to the second and most will suggest that the topic of the civil war holds the two halves together. Django Unchained offers a different possibility: taught in a critical frame, Django Unchained helps forge relationships between the analysis of slavery, racism, and violence across U.S. history. Thus, inviting students to use popular culture as a vehicle for scholarly analysis opens up Django Unchained to scrutiny, encouraging students to investigate different historians’ claims about slaveries and their legacies throughout the Deep South and American West.
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