Teaching world history: from StudentsFriend.com


When I taught world history in high school, I acquired various educational videos in VHS tape format and compiled video segments averaging about two minutes in length into my own compilation tapes to accompany units in the Student's Friend historical narrative: One VHS tape for each unit with video clips arranged to match the sequence of topics in the Student's Friend.  After we went over Student's Friend topics as a class, we darkened the room and gathered around our "Time Machine" to travel to the historical locations under discussion.  It was smooth and efficient.

But nobody uses VHS tapes anymore, so I don't know how a teacher today might compile brief video segments to accompany the topics in a history class.  

I know some teachers use You Tube videos in a similar manner, and maybe this approach is workable, but from what I've seen of the videos available on the Internet and from education-industry publishers, the quality of these materials is not great; they often amount to goofy attempts at humor or boring voice-over narration—both of which are a far cry from the high-quality productions featured above...Here is Kenneth Clark describing the terror invoked in a mother's breast as the menacing prow of a Viking ship approaches on the Seine River in Paris, and there is Jacob Bronowski marveling over engineering of the high-altitude water system at Machu Picchu.

Fortunately, some of these series have been converted to DVD discs.  Unfortunately, Peter Jennings' excellent ABC series, The Century appears to be unavailable on DVD, which is a crying shame.  I can't forget the British veteran who described how things went in the trenches during the early days of World War I as young recruits gradually and relentlessly became acquainted with death, or the American woman who shone with pride for the role she played in building B-17 Flying Fortresses during World War II. (My mother helped to build Curtiss Helldivers.)

-Mike Maxwell, March, 2016

The Ascent of Man

by the BBC and Time-Life

Conceived as a companion piece to the Civilisation series below, The Ascent of Man looks at human history from the perspective of science and technology, which has produced a lot of history.  

Hosted by charming Jacob Bronowski.  

13 segments, 11 hours, DVD

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by the BBC

Twelve videos explore Western culture ("It survived by the skin of its teeth.") from the fall

of Rome to the 20th Century.  

Hosted by Kenneth Clark.  

11 hours, DVD

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Lost Civilizations

by Time-Life

Ten videos take students from ancient Mesopotamia to the Inca Empire.  Best video series I've seen for exploring the history of major civilizations from ancient times through the middle ages.  Emmy Award winner for outstanding informational series.  Narrated by Sam Waterston.  

9 hours, DVD

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Mankind: The Story of All of Us

by the History Channel

Flawed effort, but can provide useful video content.  Pros: The first segment on prehistory is worth the purchase price, and the series features individuals—not just impersonal processes. Cons: quick-cutting and bombastic music seek to invoke drama, but are  over the top.  Numerous battle scenes glorify the "art of war," rather than of the folly of war.

12 hours, DVD

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The Century: America's Time

by ABC

Six videos in this splendid series explore the world of the 20th Century with an American perspective.  Host: Peter Jennings.  

11 hours, VHS

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by CNN

This series covers the last thousand years of history in ten hours focusing on five topics during each century: Mongols, Moguls, Mayans and Marco Polo, for example. The best video set I've seen for teaching global history of the last millennium.

Narrated by Ben Kingsly.  

10 segments, VHS

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Lost Civilizations
The Century: America's Time

© 2001-2016 Michael G. Maxwell, Maxwell Learning LLC

Ascent of Man
Mankind: The Story of Us ALL


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