March of Time Newsreels in the Classroom

Film Canisters by Mr. T in DCBack in the days before 24-hour news networks, people went to their local movie theaters to see what was going on in the world.

The March of Time, perhaps the most well-known producer of these videos, distributed documentaries that covered everything from American culture and lifestyles, to business and industry, to the nation at war.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this precursor to breaking news videos on YouTube, the Museum of Modern Art has a special film exhibition, running September 1 through September 10. Turner Classic Movies has posted background information on The March of Time and will show five of the newsreels on September 5th.

Luckily, highlights from the collection of historical videos are also available online from HBO Archives. Note that a free site login is required to view the videos. Additional materials are also available from the March of Time’s Facebook page.

The newsreels and documentaries on the HBO site include historical events, cultural happenings, and biographical profiles. The videos provide a wonderful snapshot of life in America and around the world.

I first wrote about the March of Time collection on Bedford Bits last summer. You can check my blog entry Use Newsreel Videos for Background and Analysis there for specific ideas.

One of my favorite possibilities for class discussion this fall is the Oil and Men video, which offers a profile of Standard Oil of Indiana from 1951. What a great pairing that 30 minute video would make for videos and news stories on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Here are some others you may want to spend some time with:

  • Basic English 1, with text by I. A. Richards, is quite odd, though perhaps not the best “teaching picture.” There’s also a Basic English 2 if you survive the first video.
  • Tobaccoland, USA might pair nicely with an analysis of cigarette advertisements and anti-smoking commercials.
  • Leadbelly is a short biopic on the famous musician, which might be compared to profiles on celebrities shown on TV or in magazines like People.
  • Wit and Humor is a dramatization of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.”

It’s unfortunate that HBO has left the running clock on the videos, but it’s still a handy collection with limitless possibilities for the classroom.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Mr. T in DC]