Final Project Reflection: Schindler’s List: An Intersection of History and Memory

This project brought me to avenues that I never could have imagined when I first began to consider looking at historical films and TV shows for my final project. I first watched Schindler’s List when I was in ninth-grade and it was honestly a formative experience. I was deeply affected by the film, along with Elie Wiesel’s titular memoir Night, which I also read in ninth grade. These two things truly set me on the path to becoming deeply interested in history and, in turn, becoming a historian. My senior year of undergrad I took a class about History, Memory, and the World Wars. When I first began this project I figured I would investigate how several different historical films and TV shows have affected the popular memory of the events they depicted, but as I dived into studying that very thing in regards to Schindler’s List I found an almost overwhelming amount of information. So much so that I decided to focus my entire project solely on Spielberg’s film. I delved into what both academics and critics were saying about the film, though various journal and newspaper articles, as well as how general audiences have engaged and continue to engage with the film via mediums such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and YouTube. Particularly fascinating were the opinions of the general public as expressed via YouTube videos and their comment sections. Some of the main criticisms that scholars and critics had about the film were that it condensed both historical facts and the complex personalities of the real individuals that it portrayed. The condensing of historical facts, according to many academics, resulted in the loss of important historical context, such as the broader understanding of why the Holocaust happened or the overall causes of World War II. The simplifying of complex, real-life people like Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth would, critics stated, lead general audiences to believing that Schindler was a one-dimensional character who was an over-the-top savior by the end of the movie or that the Holocaust was conducted by outlier psychopaths like Amon Goeth, rather than the reality, which is that most of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany were committed by “ordinary” men. 

Despite the criticisms from various scholars, general audiences viewed this film extremely positively, viewing this film as very “authentic” and historically accurate. Pursuing places like Rotten Tomatoes and especially YouTube reveals that the general public, even thirty years after Schindler’s List was released, view this film quite oppositely from how scholars and critics believed they would view it. Rather than seeing the film’s portrayal of Oskar Schindler as one-dimensional, much of the general audience views Liam Neeson’s Schindler as a complex character that experiences some genuine character growth while also remaining a morally gray character. Many people in YouTube videos and various comment sections expressed that their first real interaction with the topic of the Holocaust occurred through their viewing Schindler’s List. They often viewed the film either as a teenager or as a young adult and were most often deeply affected by the film. In many cases, a person’s main frame of reference in regards to the topic of the Holocaust was Schindler’s List. 

One of the most significant things that I learned from this project is that there were a lot of critics and academics talking about how audiences will react and how they will engage with Schindler’s List and other historical films. There were some elements of audience evaluation in the form of surveys and the like; however, digital, online platforms like YouTube, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, TikTok, Reddit, and more provide us with unparalleled insights into how people actively engage with and think about films like Schindler’s List. These platforms allow for people to engage with the film in a way that was not possible when the film first came out. Using online platforms and social media to gauge what general audiences are thinking about historical films like Schindler’s List allows an even deeper understanding of how mass media mediums affect the popular memory of certain historical events. 

I plan to take the research that I conducted for this project and mold it into a full-fledged research paper for my Graduate Research seminar class next year. I want to dive even more into how general audiences use online platforms to engage with historical films like Schindler’s List and how these engagements reveal how said historical films have affected the popular memory of the historical events that the films portray. I want to further explore how popular memory is influenced by historical films/TV shows. I believe that this is an important avenue to study because a great number of people who engage with these films and TV shows draw a majority of their historical knowledge from these mediums; therefore, it is essential to understand these mediums, the ways they portray history, and how they affect people’s understandings of history. In the making of my website for this project, I worked through a lot of frustrations in learning how to use WordPress in a way that looked aesthetically pleasing, but by the end I gained an appreciation for WordPress and the materials that it makes available to the public for free. After some trial and error, I was able to figure out how to work through setting up my WordPress site. It is an excellent resource for those who wish to create a website because it is available for anyone who wants to use it and beauty of it is that anyone can use it. There was a bit of a learning curve when it came to first figuring out how to use WordPress, but once I got the basics down it was relatively easy to work through creating the rest of the site.

Here is my finished website for anyone who wants to check it out!

3 Replies to “Final Project Reflection: Schindler’s List: An Intersection of History and Memory”

  1. Megan, I love how this turned out! I totally understand the initial learning curve with WordPress, but I eventually overcame it. I love the design of your blog. Each of the sections are a really good length and you incorporate your sources beautifully. This is great work!

  2. Megan, this turned out to be a really interesting project! I think it’s fascinating how much can be studied about just one movie. I think this also creates a solid framework to further analyze other historical films. I wonder how reviews and engagement in the historical material differs based on the historical event being portrayed. This raises so many questions, so I’m happy to hear you plan to expand this for GRS. Really interesting stuff!

  3. Megan, I love your analysis of Schindler’s List and how it influences people’s perceptions of the Holocaust and history in general. I think more research needs to be done on historical nonfiction and fiction as a genre in general. I can tell you put a lot of time and research into learning more about how people interact with Schindler’s List and other historical films. Admittedly, I have never seen Schindler’s List, mainly because I have not wanted to watch such a sad movie, and also I don’t love black & white movies. But, your project makes me want to watch the movie and form my own opinions about how the film ties into history and people’s perceptions of history!

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