Seven generations after the colony at Jamestown, one-third of England’s ships were made in the American Colonies, 40 per cent of British exports came to the colonies, and American timber fueled the global economy. After an incident involving wine shipments on one of John Hancock’s ships, the British occupied Boston with one soldier for every four colonists. Thanks to Ben Franklin, the colonies had a communications network that was the best in the world. These events provided a foundation for the birth of a nation.
On Sunday, April 25, at 9/8 C, The History Channel will premiere America: The Story of Us. The series consists of 12 episodes to be aired over six nights and promises to revolutionize the way we look at U.S. history. The first two episodes cover “The Rebels” and “Revolution.” The next several deal with such topics as migration, civil rights, civil war, booms, busts, and boomers. People concerned with the recent events in Texas school curricula will be pleased to learn that one entire episode is devoted to World War II. According to the press release, the last two episodes will deal with "defining moments from 1945 onwards and trace them back to their antecedents in earlier American history" and a "look at what has endured through 400 years in the American character."
The first episode introduces "The Rebels;" it has been rare in my experience to hear of Puritans and Jamestown settlers referred to as such. Narrator Liev Schreiber tells us that these rebels were “business men and true believers.” Although I am not a fan of computer generated images in the movies, I am a loyal fan of The History Channel and have never had a problem with their use of CGI. In this series, it looks to be a mainstay of the production along with live action re-enactments of historical events. The technology is so impressive, it’s often difficult to distinguish CGI from live action.
In “The Rebels” we meet one of the colonies' first entrepreneurs, a shrewd farmer who defied Spain’s grip on tobacco seeds and changed Jamestown from a ghost town into a boom town. For the next century and a half, tobacco was our largest single export. Donald Trump interrupts the re-enactments and CGI with a brief statement about success and luck with a brief tribute to the hard-working colonists. Throughout the series noteworthy Americans offer comments and opinions about our country and what it means to be an American. Perhaps it is a good time for us all to stop and ask ourselves what it means to us to be Americans.
The History Channel has announced that this series will launch its “largest ever educational outreach initiative to date.” In addition to numerous contests, seminar/web casts, and print materials, THC will donate the entire 12-hour series on DVD to every single school and accredited college in America. DVD and Blu-ray versions will be available from Amazon on August 10, 2010. A project of this magnitude is sure to attract attention. If our students do indeed watch it and learn from it, what will they do as a result? What this program motivates us to do both individually and collectively will be as interesting to watch as the series.