Thursday, January 30, 2014

From Boob Tube to YouTube

By Jeff Burns

            Viewing habits are changing every day.  Ask someone in his twenties or younger, and he’ll probably tell you he watches less “live” television and more alternative television:  itunes, Hulu, recorded material on DVR, and YouTube for example.  I regularly use YouTube to find clips for class myself.  You truly can find just about anything on YouTube, including lots of history. Here are some examples of YouTube channels for you to check out.  Some contain clips good for classroom use; others might be best for your own entertainment and education. 

            You may subscribe to any of these channels and see all their posted videos and get notified when new ones are posted.

There are a number of channels that contain documentary clips or whole documentaries on a wide variety of topics:  Alpha History, History Essentials, History Tube, Greater History, and Superior History to name a few. 

The following series all contain videos that I either use in class or recommend to students.  Keith Hughes (HipHughes) is a history teacher in New York who has created a channel of videos designed to review for the New York state Regents Exams.  His videos are pretty spartan, basically just him talking to the camera, but he can hold your attention.  His videos can be a bit long, as long as 20 minutes or more, and he even has a couple of marathon review videos that are a couple of hours long, but they cover the essentials from a different point of view.

By now, everyone’s probably heard of Khan Academy, and it’s a great story.  As of now, their history offerings are pretty slim, and their primary focus is math and the sciences.  What’s there is good; there’s just not much.

How it Happens is also geared more toward math and science, but there are a few history videos, mostly of the variety in which someone draws as someone narrates.

TED-Ed’s self-description: “TED-Ed's Original videos aim to capture and amplify the voices of the world's greatest educators. Within the growing TED-Ed video library, you will find carefully curated educational videos, many of which represent collaborations between talented educators and animators.”

I use CrashCourse videos all the time in class.  Author John Green presents 10-12 minute videos on topics in US and World History, and his brother Hank presents chemistry videos.  They are fast-paced, factual, insightful, and humorous.  While AP and honors kids love them, the videos may not be quite as accessible in regular classes or lower grades.

The historyteachers channels features well-produced music videos about various events, mostly in world history, with lyrics set to popular songs.  For example, a song about Marie Antoinette set to Lady GaGa’s “Paparazzi.”  They’re fun and catchy.

And then there are the YouTube channels you might not want to show in class, but they can be lots of fun for you.

Ask A Slave was created by an actress who has years of experience portraying a slave woman at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and other historical venues.  In the videos, she stars in the series as Lizzie Mae, housemaid to the Washingtons, and she answers actual questions from visitors that she has been asked over the years.  However, she answers them as she only wished she could answer them while on the job.  Some of the questions are astoundingly …… shall we say misguided or naïve, and her answers are hilarious.

Ever wonder what a debate between Blackbeard and Al Capone would look and sound like?  Me neither.  Some twisted minds did, however, and made it a rap battle.  Epic Rap Battles in History pits two historical figures against each other in a fierce rhyming war:  Rasputin vs Stalin, Tesla vs Edison, Babe Ruth vs Lance Armstrong, just to name a few.  There is an occasional swear word and some sexual innuendo that make them un-classworthy, but they are all entertaining.

John Green also appears in many of the videos on the Mental Floss channel, brought to you by the people behind the magazine of the same name.  They specialize in all aspects of historical trivia, lists, and fun facts.  Almost every video guarantees that you will hear something you never knew before.

The Colony Bay channel features a web series called “Courage, New Hampshire.”  Set during the American Revolution, it’s a drama about the role of a fictional town and its citizens.

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface.  Check these out if you want, and if you know of other YouTube channels for history  buffs, comment and tell us about them.

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