Under the expert guidance of Kent Masterson Brown, Witnessing History provides outstanding resources that address the woeful ignorance of our national history. As a high school history teacher I am excited about the videos and teaching guides that enable me to better prepare my students not just for graduation, but for more informed participation in this grand experiment in democracy.
Dr. Reid Thomas
Witnessing History is admirably named. One is invited to encounter historical events as if at first hand, not as a passive spectator, but as one involved in the critical process of discovering evidence, contextualizing it, analyzing it, and ultimately translating it into understanding and meaning. The films that provide the material for this process are themselves first-rate pieces of scholarship; but instead of toiling over opaque academic prose, we are carried by the flow of a concise yet engaging narration; instead of footnotes, we are given text and images of the very documents that are both evidence and artifact. These are films that I would be delighted to use in a college course, yet I have also enjoyed them in evenings with my family.
The Witnessing History program supplements their films with helpful Teaching Resources. This material is thoughtfully divided into chapters which provide digestible and focused segments of the film, matched to lesson plans and ideas for teachers. The questions that guide the chapters are superb – they treat intriguing subjects that can lead to investigation of broad systemic concerns, or in-depth explorations of facts that seem merely quaint on the surface but are deeply significant when probed. My favorite example is the question of Daniel Boone’s birthday, which is noted to be variously given as October 22 or November 2, 1734, depending on whether the Julian or Gregorian calendar is used. In a single brief paragraph, the very structure of dating systems is opened up, together with the political, religious, and cultural parameters that define them. The Extension Activities provide prompts for discussing such matters at levels appropriate to students from the fourth grade through AP courses.
In sum, Witnessing History is a wonderful resource for the study of American history. I can only hope that it will set the standard for other programs that will imitate it in other fields of learning.
Professor of History, Transylvania University