American History in Film

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Laurence Paluzzi


This course will be held in the BOLLI Gathering Space (a 58’ x 32’ room) with a maximum enrollment of 20. The Gathering Space will be equipped with two HEPA air purifiers.

5-Week Course

Feb. 26 - March 25


They say history is written by winners. But who can doubt that for over 100 years Hollywood has written its own version of history such that many people believe that the film reflects what really happened? Each week students will watch a movie at home. Classes begin with a brief look at the historical period, followed by discussion of whether the people and time depicted in the film reflect the historical record.

We start with 1776 (1972), observing our founding fathers debate independence and slavery. But was the Continental Congress really, as one author states, an “early version of Animal House?” Then we watch Jesse James (1939) and his gang rob banks and trains. But did his mythic life of crime really begin in revenge for the murderous railroad men trying to buy his family’s land? Next we descend into a Pennsylvania coal mine in 1876, and see the lethal conditions and intractable mining companies that led to the creation of the deadly miner’s group depicted in The Molly McGuires (1970).  In Hester Street (1975), we meet Gitl Borgovnik, immigrating to New York City in 1896 to join her husband. We learn about the high costs she pays to assimilate into American society. Finally, in Selma (2014) we join Martin Luther King as he leads the effort to establish voting rights in Jim Crow 1965 Alabama. But did LBJ and the FBI team up to hinder him and the movement?
Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

No book will be required. Instructor will provide reading material. Students may have to rent the assigned movies. Instructor informs students where films can be viewed. During Fall 2023, four of the five films were able to be viewed online for free.

Preparation Time

Approximately 2 hours to watch the movie, another 30 minutes to do the assigned reading.


Laurence Paluzzi is a retired attorney and former instructor at the MA Department of Revenue where he taught many important tax issues. Most recently Marijuana Tax and Regulation, Paid Family and Medical Leave, and Vaping and Tobacco Control Law. Laurence attended the New England School of Law, and during that time studied at both Oxford University in England, and Heidelberg University in Germany. He retired from the Department of Revenue in 2021. And like many of us, Laurence loves finding a good movie to watch.