The Reel 1940s: Using Film to Explore a Pivotal Decade of the Twentieth Century

Burton Atkins
History / Movies

Course Description

In 1940, with much of the world engulfed by what would become the most destructive war in human history and the effects of the Great Depression still obvious across the country, the United States remained detached from the conflict raging across Europe and Asia. But the “date which will live in infamy” fundamentally altered America’s role in the world. Victory in 1945 ended the “hot” war with the Axis powers but it also coincided with the start of a “cold” one with the Soviet Union. Still, the engine of economic power assembled to fight a global war transformed the domestic lives of many Americans. People felt richer. Opportunities seemed abundant. The engine driving the American economy transformed the country. The bleak landscape of the Great Depression receded into the past. This series will use film clips as visual texts to explore these and other aspects of American society in the 1940s. (Film selection and order of presentation are subject to change.)


1. Great Issues at Home and Abroad: The Grapes Of Wrath / The Great Dictator.
2. Classics of the 1940s: Citizen Kane / Casablanca.
3. Metaphors About Law, Values and Heroes: Ox-Bow Incident / The Devil And Daniel Webster / Sergeant York.
4. Europe Plunges into War: Dunkirk / The Darkest Hour.
5. Pearl Harbor to Normandy: Tora, Tora, Tora / The Longest Day.
6. Music and Patriotism: Holiday Inn / Yankee Doodle Dandy.
7. The Dawn of the Nuclear Age: The Day After Trinity / Fat Man And Little Boy.
8. Post War Issues and Moods: It’s A Wonderful Life / The Red Shoes / On The Town.

About the Instructor

  • Dr. Burton Atkins is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Florida State University. Currently, he teaches political science at Florida Atlantic University and also serves on the faculty at Penn State University. In his 35-year career at FSU, Dr. Atkins taught a variety of courses on, and wrote extensively about, constitutional law and US politics and served as chair of the Political Science Department. He lived in London from 1992 to 1997 while serving as the Director of FSU's London Study Center; and from 1997 until his retirement in 2006, serving as Director of the FSU International Affairs Program.