History is the Dickens — or could be

Faithful readers here may note some long, substantive comments from another “Ed,” who is connected with the Open History Project, it turns out. I’ve linked to the OHP before, but not often enough. It really is a treasure trove.

For example, there is a page of links to computer/internet media works. Included there is a fascinating animation from the British site accompanying what was a PBS Masterpiece Theatre program in the U.S. from Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House. The animation, by a creative crew called Rufflebrothers (Mark and Tim Ruffle), covers the life of Charles Dickens. As a simple cartoon, it’s droll — notice Dickens’ siblings dropping dead in an early scene. As a piece of history pedagoguery, it’s brilliant. [It’s Flash animation, and I can’t copy it to paste a sample.]

(I can’t find this animation on the PBS website for Bleak House — but there is another, simpler timeline, covering Dickens and more authors.)

Watch the British animation of Dickens’ life, then go back and take it scene by scene. A pocket watch allows you to see what else was happening in history at that moment. Careful linking allows you to get much more detail — in the scene where his siblings are shown dying (as they did, in fact), the feature gives the details of each of Charles’ brothers and sisters, opening a door of new understanding for the inspiration of the characters in Dickens’ work (It was originally Tiny Fred? Really? After Dickens’ younger brother Frederick?).

Imagine such an animation for the life of George Washington, or for the life of Abraham Lincoln, or Henry Ford, Queen Victoria, Sam Houston, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, or Albert Einstein.

What in the world can we do to encourage BBC to do more like this? Who else can get in on the act?

What other treasures await you at the Open History Project?

2 Responses to History is the Dickens — or could be

  1. Thanks for posting this wonderful resource. Someone has posted some of the first part of the BBC’s presentation of Bleak House on YouTube in four parts. It’s pretty good….wish they would post the rest. I can’t wait to take the time to head over and check out the animation.

    I also wanted to let you know that I had tagged you for something. I will undertand if you can’t totally participate but you might could get a little creative with it and not totally out yourself. Intrigued? Come on over.


  2. Ed says:

    Thanks Ed, for the gracious review, and the thoughtful analysis of Dickens Life. Are these animations the future?..Or the past? When I started cataloging them, the number of creative people working in the media was growing exponentially. 100,000, then 200,000, then half a million people joined the Flash development community Flashkit ™!

    And then came YouTube. Those earnest young creatives with time to burn traded in their Macromedia Flash for FinalCutPro (or something cheaper), and started banging out movie clips. A stalwart few upgraded their Flash, and placed their swf’s in the videos, but amateur production dropped and support for professional production, (e.g. PBS), seems to have dried substantially. And I wouldn’t hold my breath for the BBC fee-payers to subsidize US history-telling.

    So, beyond a couple pay-for-curriculum companies like K12 and IgniteLearning, we have a very labor-intensive need. Hence the open source solution. OHP aims to build a community where animators, videographers, actors, programmers, writers, and designers can work together at production for learning.

    We can definitely use all sorts of help building community, filling the Wikis, categorizing and analyzing existing media, developing pedagogical standards, and encouraging and supporting the creative developers who will build this stuff for their younger brethren.


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