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Accelerating Student Learning and Motivation in Your U.S. History Classroom

Documentary Video Resources

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Why Study U.S. History?
Using the Standards
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Developing Themes in U.S. History
Historical Stories and Unit Hooks
Using Primary Sources in the Classroom
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Kevin Williams: Contact and Information

A big part of “creating the museum” is making the student feel like they are experiencing history.  A well chosen film or historical documentary can accomplish this.  One hint:  do not be afraid to show only clips that emphasize the point you want to make. 

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(Click on the image to go to PBS' The West website)

                                          1.  Ken Burns’ The West.  An excellent 8 part documentary of the history of the American West.  I particularly like the two following episodes:

a.      “Empire Upon the Trails”:  details the original movement to the West (1820-1850).  This video is an excellent resource to stress the many ways that Manifest Destiny occurred.

b.      “Geography of Hope”:  details the 2nd phase of settlement of the West – the post-Civil War phase.  Does a very complete job of highlighting the many groups in the West in the late 1800s.

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(Click the image to go to PBS' The Civil War website

2.  Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Episode One:  This entire series is excellent, but Episode One in particular highlights the causes and the enormity of the Civil War.

 

 

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(Click on image to go to PBS' Ulysses S. Grant website)

 

 

 

 

3.  American Experience – Ulysses S. Grant:  the 2nd half of this film deals with the period of Reconstruction by following the post-Civil War career of Ulysses S. Grant.  The film also does an excellent job of putting Reconstruction in context of other history of the time (Reservations, Industrial Revolution, etc.).

 

American Experience offers an excellent catalogue of Presidential biographies.  Others that are excellent (and I've used):

  • Harry Truman
  • Richard Nixon

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(click here to go to PBS' America: 1900 website)

4.  America:  1900:  This video (now on DVD!!) is a 3-hour look at America in the year 1900.  It contains several useful clips (all around 10 minutes each):
a.  Technology in 1900 - an excellent review of the different types of revolutionary technology in use at the turn of the 20th century
b.  Women's roles:  a look at the Gibson Girls, and Francis Benjamin Johnston.
c.  Morals - a look at vaudeville, and then an interesting look at the play Sapho, whose star, Olga Nethersole, was arrested for breaking decency laws.
d.  Labor - the Scofield Mine Accident of 1900 is studied here, revealing the lack of safety measures, and the hopes of unionizing
e.  Filipino Conflict -  a short, but excellent view of this often overlooked conflict.
f.  Life Ev'ry Voice and Sing - an excellent 4 minute look at the song and the state of African Americans at the turn of the century.  I use it as an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance.
 

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(click here to go to the PBS' Woodrow Wilson website)

5.  American Experience - Woodrow Wilson:  Excellent video to use in conjunction with the U.S. role in WWI.  Covers everything from neutrality, to the 14 points, to the Treaty of Versailles.

 

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(click here to for The History Channel's online support for this video series)

6.  The Century, America’s Time:  15 episodes, each lasting 45 minutes, this stunning series does justice to nearly every decade it details.  What I like most is that each episode usually uses a theme to explain the trends of a decade.  For the 1920s for example, it doesn’t simply highlight the “roaring”, but also the conflict.  There is no online support site, but The History Channel does offer teacher’s guides for each episode.