Social Education 59(4), 1995, pp. 203-207
National Council for the Social Studies
Who Built America?
Historians Roy Rosenzwieg, Steve Brier, and Josh Brown have created a powerful resource in Who Built America? From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914. Based on a two-volume text written by a team of scholars affiliated with the American Social History Project, 1 the CD-ROM version of Who Built America? capitalizes on the explosion of social history scholarship over the last two decades. The product contains several thousand pages of text, hundreds of high-resolution pictures, 60 graphs and charts, four hours of audio, and 45 minutes of full-motion video.
Description and Features
As with a traditional text, the user can follow the historical narrative page by page, using the left and right arrow keys. Small black and white images are interspersed in the text, and the user can expand them to full-page images, with source information, by double-clicking on the image. Who Built America? departs from traditional text in its "Excursions," more than 200 subtopics that take the reader "behind the page" to explore supplemental resources. These include oral history interviews, recordings of historical figures, early moving pictures, charts and graphs, full-captioned drawings and photographs, text documents (first-person and press accounts, government records, fiction and poetry, analyses by historians), and puzzles and games.
The menu bar allows users to explore history by viewing timelines, searching resources, and analyzing maps. To aid in personal research, users can build their own collections of resources they have gleaned from their exploration of the product. Beyond page turning, navigation through Who Built America? can be done by word searches, by chapter, from a table of contents, and by a Progress Gauge that shows current location in the book. Points of interest can be marked for later reference. Pages can be dog-eared, passages can be highlighted, and even margin notes can be added on screen next to text material.
Quality of content. This 38-year period of enormous social transformation in American history is divided into four chapters: Progress and Poverty, Community and Culture, Struggle and Reaction, and Reforming America. Since the primary orientation is social history, users will find a considerable amount of material on social movements, the role of women and minorities, and changes in social and economic class structure. The content reflects a turn in the field of history toward greater focus on the everyday life of ordinary people, so the user will hear more from formerly lesser voices of the past, and somewhat less of the greater voices, than has been the case in traditional historical treatments. Moreover, the tone of the material generally takes a more critical stance toward prominent events and people in late 19th-century America than in traditional histories (as revealed, for example, by the chapter titles and the section on westward expansion titled "How the West Was Lost"). There is also a limited discussion of sexuality, 2 including issues of birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. Who Built America? has generated some controversy among those who view its contents as a revisionist, politically correct version of America during this period. 3
Nonetheless, Who Built America? is worthy of survival, because what it does, it does well. In the hands of a teacher with a strong history background, who is teaching fairly mature students, Who Built America? (WBA) can fill an important role in the history classroom.
Perhaps WBA's greatest strength is the rich body of resource materials it places in the hands of students. In a multimedia marketplace where MTV seems to be the standard for sound and video clips, the producers of WBA include entire documents, lengthy portions of recorded speeches, and video clips of vintage early film that last more than the standard rock video image. And what a collection! Included are Edwin Porter's 1903 early classic film The Great Train Robbery, in its entirety; a 10-minute recording of William Jennings Bryan recreating his 1986 Cross of Gold speech; a 6-minute excerpt from Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth, in his own voice; the only existing recording of Booker T. Washington; and footage of the U.S.S. Maine after its sinking in Havana harbor, shot in April of 1898 by Edison employee William Paley from the deck of William Randolph Hearst's yacht. These and more form the basis for the 200 or so "excursions" that explore topics and issues in greater depth than is possible in the main text.
Instructional quality. WBA's strength is its primary materials spanning text, audio, stills, and video. A notable exception here are the maps, which are of very limited usefulness. Users can click on highlighted place names in the text and see a flashing dot on a largely blank outline map of the United States. Two world maps are included, but there doesn't seem to be much to do with them. On the other hand, charts and graphs are very well done; the product includes the raw data on which they are based. This, however, is no static collection. Students can construct their own resource collections from material they find on the CD-ROM, and can pull together their ideas in a notebook. The ability to add margin notes, mark pages and passages, monitor progress through the material, and navigate resource material easily makes WBA a very useful research tool.
Attention to instruction is evident in Kevin Smead's Teacher's Guide, a 115-page overview of the product, and more. Beyond operational instruction, the teacher's guide presents 31 possible lesson plans, organized around five themes: Events; Groups and Identities; Life, Work, and Leisure; Movements; and Skills. The skills lessons focus on using visual evidence, using oral history, learning from music, analyzing statistical evidence, using literature in history, and analyzing historians' conflicting interpretations. The last of these was most pleasing to see. Four excursions present opposing views on the rise of Jim Crow, western banditry, Populism, and imperialism. I would like to have seen more done with this, in a couple of respects. First, each side is usually represented by a single excerpt from a historian's publication; in some cases, these excerpts present little evidence to support a historian's interpretation (Hofstadter's piece on the rise of Jim Crow is an exception). There is not enough information in these excerpts to help students reconstruct the historian's thinking. Second, since WBA takes a fresh look at this period of history, occasionally challenging traditional interpretations (such as westward expansion), the authors might well have included such topics among the debated topics ("How the West Was Won" versus "How the West Was Lost," perhaps).
Technical quality. The technical quality of Who Built America? is excellent. The visual quality of the main text is outstanding, and the still images, audio, and video are often stunning. Students have multiple navigation aids at their disposal, including direct access to primary resources. But there are some annoyances to confront, ranging from moderate to minor in significance. Like a printed text, sentences are split between screens, in contradiction to a standard of interface design. More annoying is that tables are also split across screens. Although the text is presented in two columns, only the left column supports annotations, and I was unable to highlight text (for marking or copying) across columns. Printing excerpts from the main text is possible, but printing documents from "excursions," for example, is a laborious task, apparently requiring the user to copy text into the clipboard, paste it somewhere else, and then print. For teachers who want to put hard copy of primary documents from WBA in the hands of students, there needs to be an easier way to print. Finally, the text font on the world maps (one each of the western and eastern hemispheres) is very small and barely readable on a 14-inch monitor.
The authors note the range of courses in which Who Built America? might be used: U.S. History, American Social History, Labor History, Economic History/ Economics, American Studies, Ethnic/ Multicultural Studies, Urban Studies, and American Government. These are all reasonable recommendations. As a supplement to existing classroom materials, Who Built America? can add an important dimension to studying this period of American history by introducing recent historical scholarship on social history. Skilled high school teachers who never viewed history textbooks as gospel will make excellent use of Who Built America?, and their students will be all the better for it.
The Revolutionary War
This Macintosh-based CD-ROM image archive produced by Fife & Drum Software is of a very different nature from the previous product reviewed. In cooperation with the National Archives, Dick Rattan and Linda Spoales have collected 140 grayscale historical images depicting various scenes, battles, and figures from the Revolutionary War period. Teachers can use these resources in producing handouts and for display during presentations, and students can incorporate historical images into reports they produce for class.
The images are organized into 14 topics accessible though a HyperCard stack. Topics include Prelude to War, Beginnings in New England, A Declaration of Determination, Campaigns in the Northeast, Activities in the Central Colonies, Campaigns in the West, Victory in the South, War at Sea, War from the British Viewpoint, After the Revolution, Portraits of Colonial Patriots, Portraits of Foreign Allies, Portraits of British Leaders and Allies, and Portraits of Colonial Traitors and Tories. Users can find images by browsing the topics or by entering a search string with the Find function. All images on the CD-ROM are in the public domain, so there are no restrictions of their use.
Each image appears in a three-quarter-screen box on a card identifying the image and its source. Clicking on the image itself expands the picture to full screen (click again to return to the card). Teachers can copy and paste these images into other Macintosh application programs, including word processors (for handouts or overheads) or perhaps teacher-made HyperCard stacks. For large-group presentations, teachers can identify in advance the series of images they wish to show and place these in a "line-up" stack. The developers have streamlined this process nicely, so that knowledge of HyperCard stack development or scripting is not needed. Select "New Lineup" from the menu bar, find the first image of interest, select "Add to Line-Up" from the menu bar, and continue until all the images are added. Saving the lineup with a unique name generates a new stack with all the navigation buttons necessary to display image cards, as well as full-screen images. The stack constitutes a stand-alone, portable HyperCard presentation that can be used on Macintoshes without a CD-ROM drive. Of course, what teachers can do, so can students, in preparing research papers and class reports.
Fife & Drum Software has produced a useful collection from the National Archives, with a user-friendly interface for flexible use by teachers and students. The Revolutionary War is not a tutorial, nor was it intended to provide instruction. A second product from Fife & Drum Software, Powers of Persuasion, provides a richer array of instructional features, in addition to its broad collection of National Archives material focusing on World War II propaganda. 4
Thanks as always to educators in the Round Rock Independent School District, Austin, Texas, for their thoughtful evaluations of the videos below. Reviewers for these products included Kathy Slayton, Lori Loranger, and Miriam Rouse. There will be another video review feature in September.
A Time Remembered (1994)
Grade level: MS/HS
Publisher/Producer: Churchill Media
6901 Woodley Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 91406-4844
Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978
Cost:$99.95 (free preview)
Contains:1 video (VHS), color, 42 minutes
This story is about a community of Japanese Americans living in California before and at the beginning of World War II (bombing of Pearl Harbor) in a small fishing village. The entire community is uprooted and transported to an internment camp. The video shows the life of the Terminal Island community residents, using rare films and photographs set to music, and first-person accounts. The video vividly portrays the devastation and disbelief these Japanese Americans felt as they were evacuated to the camps. The resource is somewhat light on information about life in the internment camps. Recommended.
Grade level: 1 to adult
Publisher/Producer: Churchill Media
6901 Woodley Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 91406-4844
Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978
Cost:$99.95 (free preview)
Contains: 1 video (VHS), color animation, 25 minutes
Based on an actual event, this animation tells the story of an African-American brother and sister who were attacked by a racist gang; he was beaten, and she was spray painted white. The young girl withdrew from the rest of the world, and the press coverage overwhelmed the family. With the help of the grandmother and support from classmates, the girl was able to resume her life. This film is a winner of the 1994 New England Children's Film and Video Festival-Best Animation Long Form. Reviewers found the video powerful and intense, and a good initiator of discussion. Because of the racist language and verbal abuse portrayed in the video, reviewers felt that Whitewash was more appropriate at middle school and above. Recommended, with reservations.
Instructional Technology Product Announcements
Geography Search for the Macintosh places students in grades 5 through 12 in the role of competing ship crews racing to the New World to find the City of Gold. The simulation targets skills in geography, reading, math, critical thinking, and teamwork. Three versions are available: one-computer classroom at $179.95 (cooperative groups take turns at a single computer), real-time multi-computer pack at $279.95 (linking up to six computers simultaneously, without a network), and a network version at $599.95 (supporting multiple "worlds" for multiple "fleets"). The software requires a QuickTimeª compatible Macintosh (LC or better) with System 7 and a 1.4 MB disk drive. The package includes software, teacher's guide with lesson plans, 28 student books (seven sets of four navigation experts), worksheets, and reproducibles. For more information, contact Christopher Werler, Tom Snyder Productions, 80 Coolidge Hill Road, Watertown, MA 02172-2817. Tel: 617/926-6000 x 242.
ArcView (for Windows and Macintosh) allows schools to use GIS (Geographic Information System) data gathered by professionals in research, government, and industry to manipulate dynamic maps. The package includes ArcUSA, a data base covering the 48 coterminous states at both 1:25 million and 1:2 million scales. ArcScene USA Tourª provides a set of satellite images about 16 notable places in the United States. The Digital Chart of the World provides a detailed examination of world features at 1:1 million scale. ArcView software and eight CD-ROM disks of data are available in the United States for $495.00. For more information, contact Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI K-12 Education, 3460 Washington Drive, Suite 101, St. Paul, MN 55122. Tel: 612/454-0600, x 26; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Skills for Living, Set 3 targets adults and secondary learners in teaching critical life skills on topics including fostering self-esteem, using public transportation, renting an apartment, having consumer protection, discovering personal learning style, maintaining health care, and conducting job searches. The software is available for Apple or MS-DOS for $69.95 each or $489.65 for all seven titles. For more information, contact Hartley Courseware, 3001 Coolidge Road, Suite 400, East Lansing, MI 48823. Tel: 800/247-1380.
African Global Studies, a comprehensive, interactive study guide produced by WorldView Software, contains 260 questions divided into six topics (culture, economics, geography, government, history, and international relations), each with its own overview and glossary. The package includes a timeline, 64 brief biographies, and 47 country profiles. Teachers can add curriculum-specific questions using the Supplementary Question Editor. A DOS version is available for $59.95 (individual set), $99.95 (school set), $179.95 (lab pack of five sets), or $299.95 (site license/network version). For more information, contact WorldView Software, 76 North Broadway, Suite 4009, Hickville, NY 11801. Tel: 800/34-STUDY.
Dreams of Equality, a 27-minute documentary drama from Media Projects, Inc., chronicles the early struggles of the Women's Rights Movement, captured and personalized in the letters between a sister and brother that span 30 years. The drama re-creates the First Women's Rights Convention in 1848. Events and issues portrayed and illustrated with archival stills are interspersed with segments in which a group of young people engages in candid exchanges about female/male roles. For more information, contact Paula Jamrock, Director of Marketing, Media Projects, Inc., 5215 Homer Street, Dallas, TX 75206. Tel: 214/826-3863.
TimeLineª 4.0 for the Macintosh improves on previous versions of this Tom Synder Productions product. Timelines up to 99 pages long can be created, containing information on multiple forms (banners, single-page timelines, and lists). Users can illustrate timelines with graphics included, with clip art, or user-created art from paint programs. Font size, style, color, flags, and bars can be customized. The package includes a teacher's guide, lesson plans, reproducible worksheets, and sample historical timelines. Also available are TimeLiner data disks (each with 10 or more timelines on different subjects) and student workbooks. The package price is $69.96; also available are lab packs ($209.95 for 10 disks) and an AppleShare network version ($299.95). For more information, contact Kristen Keith, Tom Snyder Productions, 80 Coolidge Hill Road, Watertown, MA 02172-2817. Tel: 617/926-6000, x 247.
Choices, Choices: Kids & the Environmentand Decisions, Decisions: Violence in the Media
Britannica Global Geography System (BGGS) is a modular electronic learning system that includes the following: Geographic Inquiry into Global Issues (GIGI) student databooks, teacher's guides with overhead transparencies, laminated mini-atlases, BGGS CD-ROM with user's manual, three BGGS videodiscs with barcode guides, and three thematic posters. GIGI materials developed by the Center for Geographic Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder use an inquiry approach and are organized around world regions. The CD-ROM is a resource guide and reference tool containing student databooks in English and Spanish, as well as the Geopediaª database. Videodiscs focus on the three major GIGI strands: Earth's Environment and Society; Economic Development; and Global Political and Cultural Change. The expanded 20-module program costs $8,470.00; the basic 12-module program costs $5,678.00. Individual BGGS components are available. For more information, contact James Dunn, Geography Education Specialist, Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation, P.O. Box 6115, Boulder, CO 80306-6115. Tel: 303/440-7505. E-mail: email@example.com.
1 Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society (New York: Pantheon, 1989, 1992).2 In the Wall Street Journal article cited in note 3 below, Steve Brier, co-author of WBA, noted that material on sexuality amounts to only 40 of the 5,000 pages of text and resource documents, and 15 minutes of interviews out of four hours of total audio.3 "U.S. History on a CD-ROM Stirs Up a Storm," Wall Street Journal (10 February 1995): B1-B2.4 Distributed by Intellimation, Department 5SCH, 130 Cremona Drive, P.O. Box 1922, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1922 (Tel: 800-346-8355). Cost: $59.00.Charles White is associate professor of social studies in the School of Education, Boston iversity. He is also the department editor of the Instructional Technology section of Social Education.