Quantitative Review of a Political Science Documentary/Movie

Tun Myint, Department of Political Science, Carleton College
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For this assignment, students will select one of three movies/documentaries shown during first six weeks of the term. Students write a critical quantitative review of the documentary they select. This review essay should contain three components: (1) identification of key quantitative arguments and statements; (2) identification of key qualitative arguments; (3) analysis of how these key qualitative and quantitative arguments frame the central argument of the documentary. By investigating these three components, students will analyze the strength and weakness of the use of quantitative reasoning in the documentary.

Learning Goals

  1. to introduce quantitative critical thinking.
  2. to learn how to present in narratives with quantitative evidence and images.
  3. to prepare for the main assignment of this course which requires understanding and the use of quantitative evidence and critical thinking in writing.

Context for Use

This assignment is an introductory assignment for quantitative critical thinking used in a 300-level seminar at Carleton College. However, the assignment can be made appropriate for different levels by changing expectations and requirements. For instance, a freshmen course may use a commercial from television or a televised political campaign advertisement as assignment materials and require students to analyze quantitative statements and arguments. This introductory assignment is aimed to prepare students to engage in more in-depth thinking and writing with numbers (quantitative evidences) for the term research paper of the course which requires students to analyze and interpret quantitative evidence and communicate findings to the readers.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will select one of the following three documentaries to conduct a review of quantitative critical thinking and reasoning for this assignment: (1) Our Daily Bread, (2) Our Friends at the Bank, and (3) A Powerful Noise. The films are schedule to be shown in the evening the day before class discussion. The films are also put on reserve at the library for additional private viewing as needed. After watching the film, students will write quantitative critical thinking and reasoning review essay. The review essay is due in one week after the film is shown. There will be relevant readings assigned to help analyze the film and narrative.

Teaching Notes and Tips

In teaching students how to critically review documentary narratives and images quantitatively, I will show television news clippings and short documentaries in class and conduct group-based discussion to learn how to interpret quantitative reasoning embedded in narratives and images. These clippings will be selected to demonstrate the use, misuse, and missed-use of quantitative reasoning. In so doing, class discussion led by instructor's guided questions will be one of the strategies to illustrate this quantitative critical review of a documentary or a movie.


The review essay will be evaluated by: (1) student's identification of key quantitative arguments; (2) student's identification of key qualitative arguments; (3) student's analysis of how the key qualitative and quantitative arguments frame the central argument of the documentary; (4) the organization of the review essay; (5) control of language and errors; (6) critical and creative thinking; and (7) the use of course readings, discussion, and quantitative evidence illustrating the student's arguments.

References and Resources

A Powerful Noise.Dir Tom Cappello. Sheila C. Johnson, 2008.
Our Daily Bread. Dir. Nikolaus Geyrhalter. First Run Icarus Films, 2005.
Our Friends at the Bank. Dir. Peter Chappel. Icarus Films, 1997.

Readings for Assignment:

Chapter 2: "Seven Basic Principles" in Jane E. Miller, The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers: The Effective Presentation of Quantitative Information,The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Chapter 1: "Images and Quantities" in Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidences and Narratives,Graphics Press 1997.