|The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998
Who Built America? From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914. Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier, and Joshua Brown, American Social History Productions. New York, NY: Learning Technologies Interactive/Voyager, 1995. CD-ROM. PC and Macintosh. [For more detailed technical information go to: http://voyager.learntech.com/cdrom/catalogpage.cgi?wba]
The interactive Who Built America? offers the user a wealth of resources that allow one to literally view and hear, as well as read, about history. In addition to the traditional 450 pages of text, the user has access to a plethora of primary documents, including films, oral histories, songs, poems, speeches, diaries, letters, and press accounts. These documents are linked to the text, allowing the user to follow temporary "excursions" to explore and interpret the building blocks of history. For example, while reading about women and work, one could take an excursion to view a film of women suffragettes marching in New York City, or listen to the oral history of a Lithuanian immigrant woman recalling conditions at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. In addition to the document driven excursions, this thoughtful software allows one to take "historiographical excursions" to learn more about the historian who has crafted a particular argument, as well as alternative interpretations. The historiographical excursions are especially useful because they remind the user that history is constructed rather than simply learned and memorized.
film of the Westinghouse Air Brakes and Electric
Motor Company plant. From Who Built America?
moving pictures commercial. From
Who Built America?
Who Built America? retains much of the defining spirit of Herbert Gutman, a towering figure in American labor history who urged historians to examine workers' lives beyond their places of employment. The authors of the interactive Who Built America provide rich accounts of traditional shop floor conflicts and unionization, as well as the everyday experiences of domestic labor, Jim Crow, southern black labor, and western migration and conquest. Bearing that diversity in mind, Who Built America begins in 1876 with the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. This starting point allows the authors to contrast the grandiosity and splendor of the Exposition with the bitter realities of everyday life in America. While the Exposition imagined a prosperous America and displayed the "wonders of industrialization, "common laborers," African Americans, farmers, Native Americans, women, and Asian Americans contemplated their uneasy place in an economy wracked by depression. Industrial capitalism as a tension between blissful progress and painful struggle frames the entire narrative from 1876 through World War I.
One shortcoming of Who Built America?, implicit in its earlier versions, is that the scholarship could have done more to integrate race into the history of America's political and economic development. For example, although the works of David Roediger and Alexander Saxton are included in the bibliography, Who Built America? does not maintain a sustained narrative which incorporates race as a major ideological construction accompanying the development of American capitalism. In particular, the authors could have provided a tighter analysis on the ways in which whiteness and the labor market are intertwined. Likewise, a new synthesis would have to include a more coherent explication of the gendering of the workplace, the working class, unions, and the state.
From Who Built America?"
In fairness to the authors, many of the
analytical approaches to the history of race and gender noted above post-date this version of Who Built America? These are
primarily suggestions for the next version, CD-ROM or otherwise. Who
Built America? is an invaluable teaching tool for undergraduates and
high school students. It illustrates that high level scholarship and sophisticated
technology are not mutually exclusive.
New York University
Who Built America
Copyright © 1998 by the Journal for MultiMedia History
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JMMH, Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998