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Professor Robert Rosenstone says, “the study of history was born in Greece”, and names Theo Angelopoulos one of the best filmmakers in the world

by Paulina Karavasili
Apr. 19, 2021

World-renowned American-Canadian professor and author, Robert Rosenstone, participated as a guest lecturer in the most recent international webinar of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and stated that “the study of history was born in Greece.”

The educational webinar, with main theme the study of history and its importance in the media and the arts, was hosted by the Film Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in March, and received a great response from both Greek and foreign students.

Dr. Rosenstone, Professor Emeritus of history at the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) and the leading international scholar in the study of the relationship between history and visual media, was invited by the Greek university, and talked about the influence of Greek history on world history, as well as on the arts and the film-making industry in Hollywood.

Throughout his lecture, Dr. Rosenstone told the large online audience about the history of Greece and referred to numerous ancient Greek historians, specifically Herodotus and Thucydides, as the ones who started the study of history.

“For history, you have to blame the Greeks,” he noted jokingly, adding that “the telling of history is in the genes of the Greeks.”

Dr. Rosenstone explained how he began his journey from the university halls in California – where he has been teaching since the mid-60s – to landing a prestigious career as a historian writer and film advisor in Hollywood.

His first big break in the film industry was the critically acclaimed movie “Reds”, which was released in 1981 by Paramount Pictures, with Warren Beatty as the director, producer and screenwriter.

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The movie starred Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Beatty himself, and went on to win 3 Oscar Awards out of 12 nominations. Rosenstone at the time was writing one of his many historical and biographical books and was asked by Beatty to become the film’s history consultant.

Referring to the numerous movies that have been based on Greek mythology and historical events in ancient Greece, he explained that “the transfer of real events in a book, but also in a movie, is never objective,” and that as a historical screenwriter he has felt “forced to invent some non-historical and non-factual elements that better fit in a novel.”

“A historian always knows more than he can say or write, so every time you are working on a story, you only give some pieces of the actual events.”

“And the truth is that historians are wrong most of the time, because history is not a science, it is a debate,” he said, noting that he has been using historical films in his university lectures since the early 1970s.

Dr. Rosenstone also urged young Greek students who are interested in entering the film-making industry emphasizing that “the study of history can be magical but if you want to become a storyteller in films, you better hire a good lawyer.

“Of course, being a history consultant is much better in Europe than in Hollywood, which is a jungle in terms of laws.”

Talking about the film industry in Greece, professor Rosenstone stated that one of his all-time favourite filmmakers is Theo Angelopoulos, who “was one of best directors in the world, especially for historical films.”

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He also went on to add that Angelopoulos’ film O Thiassos (known in English as The Travelling Players) is “one of the best films ever made.”

“I did not know anything about Greece, besides the seven weeks that I spent in the country in the early 1970s and Angelopoulos’ films have taught me a lot, because to write a good historical film, you must know the historical context very well.”

Robert Rosenstone’s webinar in Greece was not his only online lecture with the students of the Film Department at the University of Thessaloniki, since he will be teaching more English-language courses for one of the post-graduate programmes of the institution.

His upcoming classes have already gathered a lot of interest from Greek students, but also from young people from the USA, Australia, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Nigeria, who have enrolled to the school’s online degree programmes.

“We seek to have an international profile and we always invite worldwide acclaimed professors and experts in the industry, and we will continue to do so”, stated the president of the department Eleftheria Thanouli, who last semester arranged a series of events at the university, with the internationally renowned Oscar nominee Greek director, George Lanthimos. 

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