Friday, April 19, 2013

In Praise of YouTube: Interviews on Civil Rights, Early Modern England, Writing, and Teaching History

Randall Stephens

On a recent browse through the loud, garish halls of YouTube I found several interesting history clips.  Without diminishing the importance of LOL catz videos and the endless Fail compilations, I'd like to praise/point to some of the history gems on YouTube.  In the last 5 years YouTube has served as a go-to source for me.  Interviews, documentary films, and materials on teaching draw me in.  It's been a boon to my teaching and research.

For example . . .

Hear the late esteemed historian and former master of Balliol College, Oxford, Christopher Hill speak about his work on 17th-century England.  He also reminisces on why he became a historian, the nature of revolutions, and more. ("Conversations With Historians: Christopher Hill," BBC Radio 4, October 14, 1991)

In this much more recent video (April 11) see historian Taylor Branch discuss the critical year of 1963 and the context of the black freedom struggle.  Branch pieces together this momentous year with the wisdom of 50 years of hindsight.  He also wonders why historians have not explored some of the major issues of the era. (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS.)

And finally, Sam Wineburg and others in this clip, speak about "Teaching Students to Think Like Historians," Stanford University, March 4, 2012.  (Several months back I interviewed Wineburg here on a related topic.)  "The first thing that we need to do is to break the stranglehold of the textbook," says Wineburg.  To play on the murder theme a little more, see Jonathan Rees's August 16, 2012 piece on this blog, "Kill Your Textbook."  Do history textbook snuff the life out of history?  Are students in history classes unfamiliar with, as Wineburg puts it, the "variety of voices" from the past?  How can high school and university history instructors better teach about the past?


Eric B. Schultz said...

Some great videos here, Randall; thanks! There's also a treasure trove of "how historians write history"--this one is James McPherson, but there are others: And no student should miss the 1956 "What's My Line" with the man who saw Lincoln shot:

hcr said...

These are GREAT clips, Randall!

And I try to teach the San Francisco trolley film in every possible course.

But I'm not entirely on the "let's not have a narrative" train of historical education. Let's not have a textbook, fine. But I find I need some sense of development through time to understand relationships. In college, I took an entire course in the French Revolution, in which we studied it intensively from different perspectives. But I was shocked years later in graduate school to discover it had come after the American Revolution, and the two were connected. And more shocked still, even later, to learn that Edmund Burke had been responding to it when he came up with the tenets of modern conservative thought. I'd have gotten MUCH more out of that first class-- and understood major historical themes much better, too-- if the instructor had done a broad-brush narrative in the beginning.

Just because we don't want an old-fashioned narrative doesn't mean we don't need ANY sense of one.

My two cents, anyway.

Randall said...

hcr: Agreed. I'm still in the textbook camp. I liked it as an undergrad. And I think it still provides the necessary structure. Your examples on that are great. I still like to read textbooks. Might be one of the few...

Eric: I wonder if there's a site that compiles all these good history clips from YouTube and elsewhere. Also is great that now much of the PBS Am Experience films are online.