Innovation: Education

Making Civil War videos like Ken Burns

Narrating WW Isaac Robbins’ letters home

making Civil War videos like Ken BurnsKen Burns’ epic nine-part documentary on The U.S. Civil War ranks among the most powerful teaching videos available to explain the unexplainable to middle schoolers.

At Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, Vermont, students in grades 7 and 8 had the opportunity for making Civil War videos like Ken Burns when a trove of authentic Civil War letters turned up at their school one day…

Writes Edmunds educator Brent Truchon:

Edmunds Middle School students had a chance to dive into primary resources this fall when they were presented with a box letters written by WW Isaac Robbins.  Mr. Robbins served as a Union private in the New Hampshire 1st Infantry Regiment in 1861.  Students transcribed and interpreted well over 20 different letters written by WW Isaac Robbins to his family.  After doing so, students created short movies using the Ken Burns effect. To to so they narrated their transcriptions then selected complimentary photos from the Library of Congress to provide a visual compliment to their work.

Burns’ documentary is remarkable in part because it depends so heavily on incorporating first-person narratives and pairing them with Matthew Brady’s stunning Civil War photography. The pairing results in incredibly powerful video that transports the viewer back to the 19th century battlefield.




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