Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review of Marshall Publishing's The History of America in the 1880s

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history.  One of my undergraduate degrees is in history, and it is the one subject in school I could teach all day long (and not get much fussing from my kids!).  I was really excited, then, to receive this DVD, America in the 1880s, to review.  Marshall Publishing has tons of great DVDs for kids, and I'm sure they're all amazing, but I'm a huge fan of this one. In fact, if Marshall had one for every decade of American history, I would likely buy them all.   

What's so great about this DVD? It's not high definition.  It's not full of fancy special effects.  It's not narrated by Morgan Freeman (Seriously.  Is anything not narrated by Morgan Freeman these days?). What it is is chock full of images of life in America in the penultimate decade of the 19th century.  My kids have read the Little House books.  Now they have seen images of what life was like in other parts of the country at the same time.  The difference between the rural and sparsely settled West and the teeming East is starkly apparent.  The majesty of the railroads is on full display.

The neatest part of watching my kids watch this DVD was seeing their realization that they already knew so much of what was on the DVD.  The narrow gauge railroads of the mountains? They've ridden on one! The majesty of Pike's Peak? They've ridden on the cog railway! The silver miners and the story of Baby Doe Tabor? They've toured a silver mine and know the story of Baby Doe! Was all of that the 1880s? At the same time as Laura Ingalls? Watching those connections get made is one of the joys of homeschooling.

When the DVD turned to parts of the country with which my children were less familiar, like New York and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, they were even more rapt.  They seized on names they knew (the narrator mentioned James Garfield, and my 7year-old said, "President James A. Garfield?"), and asked when we would study things like women's suffrage.  In this way, the DVD was both a recap of things they had studied and a preview of goodness yet to come.

My whole family loved this DVD.  The male narrator has a pleasant voice. He sounds like someone you would expect to narrate a school film, if that makes sense. The DVD is filled with both black and white stills of the era and colored modern films that are relevant (images of buffalo herds, for example).  This is a DVD that celebrates a very important, but little studied era in American history.  Names you have heard but probably not associated specifically with the 1880s populate the DVD (Sarah Bernhardt, Mark Twain, John Philip Sousa, Lillian Russell).  Events you studied in school as isolated are placed in context (the Johnstown Flood, the gunfight at the OK Corral).  For only being an hour long, the DVD is quite an education.

America in the 1880s normally costs $24.95, but is on sale right now for $19.95.  Even better, with coupon code TOS27 you can get free shipping, saving $6.95.  For most homeschooling families, $19.95 is a lot of money, but I honestly think this DVD is worth it.  Recommended for 4th grade through adult (although really appropriate for anyone), Marshall has a study guide on its website which can act as a jumping off point for any number of school ideas from geography to unit studies.  I have many new ideas that would use the DVD as a starting point, and my kids are now really excited about this decade!

As I said, Marshall has many other great DVDs, and the Crew got a peek at a bunch of them, so be sure to check out the Crew blog to see even more great Marshall products.


Disclaimer: I received Marshall Publishing's America in the 1880s free in exchange for my honest review.  I received no other compensation, apart from a very pleasant hour and the happy prospect of another viewing soon.