My Audiovisual Semester: Using Media in U.S. History II

Renovating my U.S. history course this spring, I added audiovisual primary sources to many class periods that didn’t use them before. Here’s a complete annotated list of the film and audio clips I have presented this semester, should they be useful to anyone else.

In most cases, these clips (or excerpts from them) served as bases for class discussions. A few of these clips, however, were merely illustrative of points I made myself in a lecture.


Gilded Age, Progressive Era, and World War I

“Sky Scrapers of New York City, from the North River” (1903)

This Edison film is simple: It depicts the Manhattan waterfront from the perspective of a boat floating down the Hudson River. I played it before and at the beginning of class in order to convey some sense of the texture of American cities in the Gilded Age.

“A Trip Down Market Street before the Fire” (1906)

This film shows a teeming San Francisco street in the early 20th century from the perspective of a motion picture camera mounted on the front of a streetcar. The scene is chaotic and potentially frightening; pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, automobiles, and streetcars share the road without any traffic controls at all. For years, I have invited students to discuss this scene as a way to understand Progressive reformers’ desire for new structures of urban order and rationality.

“Why the Trusts and Bosses Oppose the Progressive Party” (1912)

Here, in his own voice, Theodore Roosevelt explains what Progressivism means to him—as a political movement that he believes he leads. The clip provides some insight into Roosevelt’s character as well as into the political era.

“The Third Liberty Loan” (1918)

Richard Augustus Purdy, a New York banker and dramatist known for his Shakespearean lectures and readings, delivers a speech as one of the “Four Minute Men” who whipped up public support for American involvement in the First World War.


Jazz Age, Great Depression, and World War II

“Billy Sunday Burns Up the Backsliding World” (ca. 1926)

This British Pathé newsreel gives a great sense of both the electrifying effect of a Billy Sunday sermon from the 1920s and also the ways spiritual, social, and economic issues intersected in the early fundamentalist imagination.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” (ca. 1930)

Annette Hanshaw’s version of the Franklin D. Roosevelt campaign song, from the film Chasing Rainbows, recorded under the name Gay Ellis.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Fireside Chat (1933)

A thirteen-minute explanation of the U.S. banking system and the initial steps Roosevelt’s new administration took to address the financial crisis. I played approximately the first 90 seconds in class.

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PowerPoint Basics for Historians, Part 3

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Part 3: Creating Your Own Template

In previous posts in this series, I discussed some general design principles and some ways to ensure smoother delivery of PowerPoint presentations. Today’s post introduces the basic process of building a new PowerPoint template. (Remember, for clarity’s sake, all instructions in this series are written for Windows PC users. For additional instructions from Microsoft, try here.)

Brand-new PowerPoint users often rely on pre-made templates included with the software. They pick a template that looks attractive, add text and maybe some images, and voilà: a slideshow.

I have criticized PowerPoint’s off-the-rack templates already. They include a lot of unnecessary and distracting design elements. Because audiences see the same templates over and over, they turn into clichés. They also encourage bad habits. Pre-made templates seem ideal for displaying lots of text, which presenters will (proverbially) read aloud to the audience.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. With a little experimentation, this alternative will help you create PowerPoint slideshows that fit your unique combination of teaching style, subject matter, and favorite classroom exercises. Even highly experienced PowerPoint users may not realize how easily you can create and save your own template. You can custom-build it with all the specific elements you expect to need in a particular course or subject, then use it over and over just like PowerPoint’s pre-made templates. Here’s how.

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PowerPoint Basics for Historians, Part 2

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Part 2: Shortcuts for Smooth Presentations

In the previous post in this series, I discussed three key design principles. 

Today, I want to consider the actual moment of delivery. You’re in a classroom or conference venue; you have a PowerPoint slideshow ready to go; you’re hoping not to fumble around like a fool in front of your audience. What can help?

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to assume you’re using a recent edition of PowerPoint on a Windows PC, since that’s the most common scenario for presenters in American classrooms. The following technical tips can make your PowerPoint delivery much smoother. Perhaps you know all these tips already, but unless you’re fairly experienced, there’s a good chance something in this post will be new to you.

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PowerPoint Basics for Historians: Part 1

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Part 1: Design Fundamentals

This is the first installment of a series designed to help historians use Microsoft PowerPoint effectively in the classroom. (You may want to read the series introduction first.)

Today, I’m writing about the big picture of PowerPoint design. This post is about how to set up a slideshow to communicate in the classroom (or conference hall) clearly and effectively. It’s not really about the technology, per se—at this stage, we’re just talking about how to build a visual communication element into a history talk.

As you design your presentation, you should keep three core principles in mind:

  1. Minimalism
  2. Argument
  3. Flow

Continue reading “PowerPoint Basics for Historians: Part 1”

PowerPoint Basics for Historians: Introduction

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Let’s face it: If you teach or make other kinds of history presentations, you probably use PowerPoint.

Microsoft’s presentation slideshow software is more than thirty years old. It’s a standard piece of classroom technology. Students expect it. Instructors rely on it.

Yet many of us are sheepish about it. We complain about presenters who simply read their slides aloud. Some teachers warn that relying on PowerPoint is dangerous; a good professor, they say, can walk into any classroom and teach no matter what technology is available that day. Many claim the premise of PowerPoint is flawed because the lecture itself is an outdated teaching method. Also, a lot of presentations are really ugly.

There is some merit to all of these complaints. And there are other slideshow software programs on the market. But the chances are good that if you’re teaching history, you’re using PowerPoint anyway.

There are good reasons for that. PowerPoint is an excellent tool.

I learned some of PowerPoint’s virtues the hard way in my first training-wheels-off teaching job. Hired at the very last minute for a U.S. history survey, I hit the lectern before I even had a university email account or network login—and without the opportunity to assign books ahead of time. My students were lost for the first few days, my printed handouts notwithstanding. PowerPoint, when I could finally access the classroom computer, probably saved the course.

Lately, on course evaluations, students leave me a surprising number of comments like these:

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I’m certainly not claiming that PowerPoint is the only way to present history. But it can be a powerful way. Contrary to some critics’ expectations, using it effectively means more than simply projecting text on a screen. To use PowerPoint well is to design a more immersive narrative for your course. And your PowerPoint slides don’t have to be ugly, either.

In this series of posts, I plan to explain some of the things I’ve learned about using PowerPoint in history classes. Some of what I have to say is very practical–it’s about avoiding basic technical hiccups. Some is about graphic design. Some is specifically about using PowerPoint to craft a story and exhibit historical evidence.

Tomorrow, in my first post, I’ll begin with a few fundamental principles.