In the mid 2000s, the internet saw the slow death of dial up and the emergence of wireless internet. Gone are the days where you would wait five minutes for your dial up to make garbled screeching noises before you could hear “you’ve got mail!” Never again will we wait ten minutes to load and watch a buffered minute long video attached to an e-mail from a relative that was not as funny as the “HILARIOUS COMMERCIAL” subject line suggested. The days where it was once a necessity to plug a laptop or desktop computer into a modem have surely passed, and formerly fantastical modern alternatives have crept into daily life. Laptops, tablets, and cell phones are and have been Wi-Fi ready for quite some time now.
This capability to connect so efficiently brings massive amounts of news, entertainment, and yes even educational tools directly to the user. Whether you’re on a plane forty thousand feet in the sky or underground in the few lucky subway stations with Wi-Fi accessibility, our current availability to resources has become enormous and easily accessible. Educators are bringing these resources directly to their classrooms and reaping the benefits of going beyond the text book and lecture to entice students into enjoying their education on another level. People who are not connected to the academic world can learn what others are learning in the classroom or at least see history in a different light. One of the most utilized internet tools impacting our education today is YouTube.
In 2005, YouTube was launched as a website where user created video content could be shared to the entire world. Amateurs and professionals contribute their content on channels much like television but instead of being run by corporate television networks they control their own content. YouTube has become so popular that people colloquially referred to as “YouTubers” have created careers from sharing content. Today you can find a variety of YouTube videos that range from entertainment to educational. While some videos vary in quality of content depending on editing programs and resources, they all have something to contribute to the internet for the world to watch, grow, and learn from.
One educational program comes from well-known young adult author and YouTuber John Green, and is located on the YouTube channel “Crash Course.” The educational videos cover topics such as science education to history education. The flagship program on the channel is crash course American History that is narrated and hosted by John Green himself with the help of historians and media professionals. The videos are typically 12-15 minutes long, and break down complex topics in American History into brief narratives. They are not your typical educational type of lecture captured on camera. Instead they are interactive, colorful narratives chock full of clever quips on American history such as a “‘murica” moment where John Green essentially pats America on the back for doing something right rather than the often dark history of our nation’s past. Essentially John Green breaks down prior glorified conceptions of the American past and presents them in a more realistic and sometimes even cynical way.
Green and his team prepare primary resources the go beyond the basic “Declaration of Independence” and dive into a more complex social history. The Crash Course video titled “Growth, Cities, and Immigration: Crash Course US History #25,” discusses the major theme of immigration into United States cities at the peak of immigration rates. The video uses primary resources such as interactive maps that highlight areas Green discusses. He highlights New York City as “a leading city” in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. In the video he discusses the impact of mass immigration during the industrial revolution and Gilded Age. In one part of the series he must read a primary resource and then guess the author of the resource, if he gets it wrong he must zap himself with a buzzer pen. While not always one hundred percent educational, it still proves to be a comical way to make history more interesting for the general public, rather than students sitting in an undergraduate or graduate course at a university.
Above: John Green’s Crash Course Episode, “Growth, Cities, and Immigration: Crash Course US History #25”
YouTube can be educational as well as entertaining in regards to New York City other than just a “Crash Course” video that highlights the city. Educational and travel-based videos of New York exist all over YouTube. One major highlight is the ever popular Greenwich Village. While I have the luxury of regularly seeing culturally important buildings and sites by attending school in Greenwich Village, not everybody has the same convenience. You can read up on the history of Greenwich Village all over the internet to learn where to visit or learn a little bit of history about the area. What YouTube and many other user created content video servers can offer is the chance to have the most realistic view of Greenwich Village without actually stepping foot in New York City. Greenwich Village is rich with history reaching back to the 18th century to contemporary history. It is quite an eclectic community and there is so much to see in such as small part of the city. But, if you cannot physically visit the city you can always take a walking tour on YouTube.
One walking tour from the channel “Jetset Extra” titled “The Big Onion Walking Tour: Greenwich Village” features more traditionally educational and factual content on Greenwich Village. The channel prides itself as, “An online resource for seasoned globetrotters and novice travelers interested in learning more about a variety of destinations and exciting travel opportunities.” So while it is not a traditional educational resource, it offers insight into Greenwich Village’s history. However, one must use caution with using this as an educational resource and with everything fact check to ensure accuracy. What the video does offer is a visual beyond photos of staple Greenwich Village attractions such as the Centennial Arch in Washington Square Park or the Stonewall Inn, which is often seen as the birthplace of the east coast gay rights movement. There is something for every century and every community in Greenwich Village, as evidenced by the casual tour with video’s tour guide, Seth Kamil. The “Big Onion” video is fifteen minutes long and gives a brief glimpse of the long history. Is the video self-promoting in order to relay that Big Onion Walking Tours can be taken in New York City and Greenwich Village? It sure is. But watching the video can give a short insight and visual to the history of the village making it a useful tool to learning history online.
Above: JetSet Extra’s Greenwich Village Walking Tour guided by Big Onion Waling Tours
While some videos promote travel and specific tours available in Greenwich Village that people can physically take with tour guides, others on YouTube allow those who are unable to visit to get an experience as if they were there. Tools like YouTube make history more enthralling by bringing it beyond textbooks and lectures. The ability to see images and first person walking tours provides the awareness that history is more than a story. It gives tangibility to culturally and socially significant moments in history, something Greenwich Village has seen a lot of. Beyond Greenwich Village, bringing history out the academic sphere and putting it in a more public setting makes it accessible to a larger demographic of people. Even major companies such as The History Channel have taken to uploading clips that are of educational relevance because of the success of YouTube in general. YouTube can be used as a tool to tell the countless stories of history to everyone in an entertaining style.