Bill Callahan

William A. Callahan, International Relations (Photo: Aperiofilms for LTI)

When William A. Callahan, Professor in IR, devised a new course, Visual International Politics (IR318), one of its objectives was to train students in how to produce, direct, film and edit short documentary films.

Documentaries encourage students to  work collaboratively, reinforce concepts learnt, and generate new knowledge as well as resources that can be used by future students. Allowing students to create knowledge (and materials) together seems an excellent practice, so it’s a surprise it isn’t more widespread. Why would we limit ourselves to asking for text, text and more text when films “[can provide] an appreciation of the power of the nonlinear, nonlinguistic and nonrepresentational aspects of knowledge” and “filmmaking provides an exemplary method for showing what knowledge production can ‘do’—rather than what it can mean,” so Bill himself writes in his excellent (and eminently readable) essay on the politics of shit in China.

Students that are accepted at the LSE broadly know how to write essays. Bill’s course aims to complement the theoretical textual approach to visual international politics – critical evaluation discourses surrounding photographs, film, tv, and other media – with a creative visual approach of making documentary films. The quality of the students’ movies shows how well this approach worked. And students really, really appreciated the experience:

‘I *loved* this course. it was so much fun and the lectures were fascinating!!!’ 

‘I have really enjoyed this course. … I enjoyed the practical aspect of the course the most although it was very challenging.’

Despite the overwhelming approval of his students, Bill is explicit about the improvements he must make to the course for the future, in particular to lengthen its duration: film making is naturally rather labour intensive and although students didn’t complain about the amount of work, they worried about the amount of time they were given to accomplish it. And yet, students reacted very positively to the experience; and the IR Department has since decided to that film-making should become a transferable skill taught to IR students at all levels: UG, MSc and PhD. Naturally, Visual International Politics is an appropriate subject for students to create visual artefacts. But the overarching idea that students benefit from making things for and with each other is entirely transferable to all disciplines at the LSE. If you would like to do something similar, get in touch with Learning Technology and Innovation: we can make that happen!

What Bill Did & Does: 

  • Bill applied for a Students-as-Producers LTI grant, which provided students with appropriate kit: access to brand new DSLR cameras, tripods and high quality microphones;
  • Some “light touch” technical teaching was provided: students were encouraged to find out how easy it is to operate a digital camera;
  • Some “light touch” teaching on how to structure a documentary film, and:
    o Allow students to learn by doing
    o Give students access to editing suite on iMacs in LTI (as per agreement with LTI)
    o Award 50% of course grade to final project
    o Enjoy feedback from engaged students.
Words: Sonja Grussendorf
Photo & Video: AperioFilms