This next piece begins the discussion of the means of disseminating history. Movies, museums, reenactments, monographs and the classroom are five of the more common ways of learning history.
First off, movies are excellent forms of media which identify the type of people and environment in which they were made. A World War II movie made in 1946 bears only some basic resemblance to the World War II stories of today. This is not to say one is better or more accurate than the other. Rather, both express not the historical topic of the movie, but the historical environment in which the movie was created. This environment is arguably as important as the historical content (which tends to be sorely lacking in Hollywood presentations). The important thing to recognize with historical movies, even when they state that they are “Based on a true story,” is that the director and producers have been given tremendous license to alter the based in reality story. If it was an accurate retelling of an historical event (very unlikely, unless you make a movie consisting of montages of film footage from the actual event), it would state that “The following is a true story, interpreted for your pleasure by some of Hollywood’s most attractive actors.”
So when you watch Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, keep in mind that while brave men such as Tom Hanks existed, his character as portrayed by the movie did not. Even real players, such as Colonel Doolittle of the well known Doolittle Raid (in response to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor), is portrayed well by Alec Baldwin, but it is unlikely that Baldwin precisely imitated him. There is a certain artistic license in these situations, which movie makers do not always state, assuming people will understand this. And this is precisely why the problem, which I shall call the Da Vinci Code Syndrome, exists.
Do not assume because Hollywood made the movie, that the story is historically accurate. That would be like assuming the news is 100% objective. And historians do not condone this at all. I have no qualms in admitting that I absolutely love watching the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, but doing so does not mean I see them as the visual version of what is in a text book. These movies are enjoyable to watch, but they should not be watched in place of learning the historical events. In other words, when studying the creation of the United States, do not turn to Ben Gates for your history. Robert Langdon, honorable though his character is, does not have the location of grail secreted away. While Roslyn is one of the places considered to be the resting place of the grail, it is not proven, and likely never will be.
With history, there comes of point of accepting what is. Most things in history can be proven or disproved, but things of a religious nature are trickier, because religion combines historical fact, belief, and myth. The history of religion is completely different, and must be given individual attention, so for now, we continue to the next visual form of history: museums.