Students study Kennedy assassination
CF course provides look at history
Published: Friday, November 21, 2003
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
As the world remembers the infamous John F. Kennedy assassination on its 40th anniversary, students at SMU have the opportunity to delve into the long-running controversy in the Cultural Formations course, Making History.
Professor Tom Stone believes some people focus too much on "issues of the who-done-it variety," so he formed his class to help students see the relationship between history and art and to understand how to interpret and select various historical materials.
Students first read selections on Caesar and Brutus written by Plutarch to gain insight into their next assignment, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Then students watch Oliver Stone's movie JFK.
Both Shakespeare and Oliver Stone "used sources" in creating their works, Stone said. "The question is, when does ‘use' become ‘abuse'?" Stone asked. He wants students to determine the extent to which Shakespeare and Oliver Stone "bent" historical facts to fit the "artistic intentions" behind their works. "Does the bending [of facts] constitute a ‘distortion' of history? Why or why not?" he asked.
After students screen JFK, Stone provides lectures and readings that are aimed at familiarizing students with the controversies that have developed over the years concerning the interpretations of the available evidence.
Readings include excerpts from materials compiled by the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations as well as several essays that address the validity of JFK.
"It was cool because you walked out of seeing the movie totally believing in this huge conspiracy theory," junior Brian Fox said.
"Then Professor Stone totally debunked the whole thing," Fox said.
Students also visited the Sixth Floor Museum, located in Dallas' West End, to further explore the investigation.
Junior Lakshmi Jagannathan said she enjoyed visiting the museum after Stone's lectures on the assassination.
"I just got to go with a completely different perspective. It was great," she said.
Stone provides his students with the opportunity to meet and discuss the assassination with the museum's staff.
Fox said he enjoyed the visits to the museum because of the staff.
"They really knew what they were talking about. You could ask them anything, and they knew so much about what happened that day, they could answer almost all your questions," he said.
During the final section of the course students have the opportunity to focus on the exhibit itself at the Sixth Floor Museum. Stone wants his students to analyze the way the museum shapes visitors' understanding of Kennedy's assassination. Students then prepare an essay in which they make suggestions for redesigning the exhibit.
"I forward the essays on to the people of the museum," said Stone. "The staff at the museum are actually interested in the students' perspective, and they take the suggestions seriously," he said.