Sunday, August 28, 2011

History through humor: The Story of Mankind and The Sale of Manhattan

I've been really into the idea of making World History seem easy to learn about through entertainment, comedy, good design/filmmaking lately, and I want to find more good examples of it. Late late one night while I was in the midst of a great clean out of my apartment, waiting for my sheets to dry in the middle of the night so I could finally go to bed, I channel surfed my way to a star-speckled Irwin Allen film called The History of Mankind. I think this film sparked something inside me.

There is NOT much online about this film, (the full length isn't even on netflix, bummerrrr) but I think every history teacher at every level from middle school to grad school should show this film. Albeit, the papers the students produce in reaction/comparison/whatever paper lameness you have to prove your info retention on would be at different levels of sophistication, but I think it really sums up a lot of what you learn in general history classes, while keeping a sense of humor about it all. Situations like this that get kind of glossed over or downplayed in history books sometimes, and when you're a student like me (horrible: can't really read at lengths, impossible to sit down to do homework, but loves learning) you need all the motivation in the world to spark interest in reading between the lines to find clues that something is interesting and learning more about a subject, especially since textbook writing tends to get so dry of emotion or drama or humor, the things that keep us tuned into anything worth reading or watching.

Short spurts of humor are the modern way to relay these ideas. Kids (and many of us that were raised with TV and now that we've had a generation come to voting and drinking age that were raised on the Internet as well, it's worth including as a valid form of accessible, relatable media) are used to things like the length of an SNL skit or a YouTube video, and this movie breaks up really important points in history through the use of good and evil, and our American Judicial system.

Vincent Price (famous St Louisan alert!) plays the Devil, and advocates that "the judge and jury in the clouds" (or is it the Supreme Court? Either way, the "God" character--depicted in fog machine filled room--really has AMAZING white glasses that match his gavel, which I was unable to get a screenshot of) let man destroy himself after inventing the H-bomb, because after all, look how many times man has screwed up or been motivated by selfish tricks or malicious violence. The other guy defends the good of humanity, how many great innovations we've made, etc.

They tie it all together with hilarious or entertaining skits featuring The Marx Brothers, Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, Agnes Moorehead (of Bewitched reruns fame, to my generation) as Queen Elizabeth I, some lady comedian (that I had to look up) playing a hilarious pink haired flippant Marie Antoinette, and so many others that you could base a world history curriculum on just showing the short clips of this movie, and then elaborating on the situations as your daily lesson plan. By the end of the semester, you'd have watched the whole movie, and your students would be filled with information and they'd at least look forward to the part of class where they get to watch a movie. The best part is: They won't be able to look it up on the internet and spoiler alert your class unless they buy it on DVD. BRILLIANT!

BONUS if you've read this far: Here's a Fred Crippen directed, Saul Bass illustrated/designed version of the same shitty hand we dealt the American Indians, or whatever we are calling them these days:

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