Skip to main content
credit Chevalier movie, Searchlight Pictures

Credit: Chevalier movie, Searchlight Pictures

July 13, 2023

Teaching about Joseph Bologne and Amplifying Hidden Histories

Learn how you can teach the hidden histories like that of composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, featured in the new film, Chevalier.


Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Pinterest
Share On LinkedIn

By Jen Fischer

Inspiring and engaging students in our social studies classrooms, and beyond, can be challenging, particularly when students see histories that feel limited in scope, focused on historical events and people who reflect dominant communities and narratives. However, research tools and subjects for research are constantly expanding, making histories available that were "lost" to us before.

Often, these histories come forward in different ways, including through narrative and documentary films that seek to bring lesser-known or hidden histories to the masses. Exploring this hidden history can inspire and engage students and can offer educators fresh ways to approach topics and historical events. 

Journeys in Film is a nonprofit organization that believes in the power of films to open minds, inspire an interest in learning, amplify issues and compel viewers to make a difference as they engage in their communities. “Journeys in Film introduced me to films that can have a great impact for change in the classroom,” an educator recently shared after a professional development workshop highlighting Journeys in Film’s materials. The organization prides itself on the careful curation of films for the classroom; this curation often includes films highlighting hidden history.

This summer, Searchlight Pictures released Chevalier (available across various digital platforms), a film inspired by the incredible story of composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Bologne was the illegitimate son of an enslaved African and a French plantation owner, who rose to improbable heights in French society as a celebrated violinist-composer and fencer. His fame as a composer coincided with the French Revolution, and Bologne went on to lead the only all-Black regiment during the French Revolution. Additionally, Chevalier and his mentor were the first composers to write string quartets. 


Sadly, Bologne or the Chevalier, as he was prominently known, was a talent and leader whose story, because of race, was lost to history until quite recently. Napoleon banned his music when he reinstituted slavery in France in the early 1800s.

Chevalier, which is directed by Stephen Williams, takes a bold approach to this hidden history that will inspire students as they see the French Revolution in a new light and see the power and importance of hidden histories and of music and art as both reflectors of social times and movements and tools used to inspire action and engagement. The film opens with a high-voltage violin battle, which points to the rock-and-roll swagger of Bologne and reflects the role of what we today call “classical music” played in Europe at the time. Ultimately, the film is one that students can relate to because Bologne’s tale is not just one of fame and radiance, but also a story about how a person can break out of the traps of what others expect or demand of them.

A discussion guide for the film is now available through Journeys in Film. The film is rated PG-13 and most appropriate for 11th- and 12th-grade classrooms, and is a welcome addition to world history classes. 

This film and resources follow in the footsteps of Journeys in Film's other popular resources that also highlight important hidden histories: Hidden Figures, Summer of Soul, Rebel Hearts and Crip Camp.

Hidden Figures focuses on the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three Black women known as “human computers” who worked at NASA in the 1960s; it is the most popular resource on the Journeys in Film website. Journeys in Film created both a discussion guide and a curriculum guide for this powerful film. You can download both here.

Hidden Figures

Summer of Soul is an Academy Award-winning film that highlights the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and is a powerful tool for exploring the history of Harlem and the turbulent 1960s in the U.S. “1969: A Unique Year” is a lesson in the Journeys in Film curriculum guide that has been uploaded to Share My Lesson and was rated the No. 1 piece of partner content on the Share My Lesson website in 2022. To access the full curriculum guide for this film, click here.

Summer of Soul

Rebel Hearts is a documentary that tells the lesser-known story of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who, in the 1960s, stood up to the patriarchy of the institutional Catholic Church and participated in the civil rights movement, including marching at Selma. Journeys in Film's curriculum guide can be downloaded for free here.

Rebel Hearts

Crip Camp is an Oscar-nominated documentary film that highlights the hidden history (or rather, often overlooked history) of the disability rights movement in the U.S. Journeys in Film created both a discussion guide and curriculum guide for this powerful film to teach about language, power and ableism. You can download both here.

Crip Cramp

Educators should explore these hidden histories as part of your summer learning--and beyond--so that you can incorporate them into classroom learning this fall! 

Jen Fischer

About the Author

Jen Fischer is a writer, film producer and teaching artist whose work focuses on highlighting shared human experiences to cultivate empathy and understanding. Her films have screened across the United States and abroad and have been featured by NBCLatino, ABC, Univision, Fusion, NBCBLK, Vice News, etc. with her film “THE wHOLE” premiering at Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary Human Rights Conference. Her educational and/or film writing has been featured by Edutopia, Video Librarian, Ms. Magazine, Parents Magazine and others. She is the Director of Programs and Outreach for Journeys In Film. She has developed curriculum for LA’s BEST, the Metta Center for Nonviolence and in conjunction with the Outreach Center for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, where she received her M.A. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and enjoys playing the piano and creating unique educational experiences for her two children

View profile

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Want to see more stories like this one? Subscribe to the SML e-newsletter!

Journeys in Film

The mission of Journeys in Filmis to use the storytelling power of film to help educate our next generation with a richer understanding of the diverse and complex world in which we live.

Post a comment

Log in or sign up to post a comment.