Closer Readings Commentary

"The War" on PBS

On Sunday evening, September 23, 2007, local Public Broadcasting Systems channels began broadcasting The War. This seven-part documentary, partially funded by NEH, directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history — a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America — and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.

The July/August 2007 issue Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, features several articles on the Second World War, including one related to the PBS documentary called "War Stories: The American People in World War II."

EDSITEment has many resources on World War II that complement and extend the Ken Burns documentary, including a new lesson plan focusing on the women pilots. "'Fly Girls': Women Aviators in World War II" offers a fresh perspective on the many contributions of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) to the war effort.

In “The Road to Pearl Harbor” a new four-lesson curriculum unit, students work through contemporary documents to understand the rise of animosity between the United States and Japan beginning in World War I and continuing over the next two decades. "American Diplomacy in World War II" presents an ambitious four lesson curriculum unit examining the nature of what Winston Churchill called the "Grand Alliance" between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in opposition to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And "The Proper Application of Overwhelming Force': The United States in World War II," another four-lesson unit, takes a close look at the significant military campaigns in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war and examines their contributions to the war's successful conclusion. Interactive maps, which allow users to trace events of the war, accompany these lessons: World War II Diplomacy, the Pacific Theater, the invasion of North Africa and Southern Europe, the D-Day Invasion of Northern Europe.

Other lessons offer different approaches to the war. "On the Home Front" encourages students to examine the ways that children and non-combatant men and women contributed to the war effort. "Jazz and World War II: A Rally to Resistance, A Catalyst for Victory" helps students understand the effects that the Second World War had on jazz music and the contributions that jazz musicians made to the war effort. "Anne Frank: One of Hundreds of Thousands" invites students to use The Diary of a Young Girl as a means of learning about the Holocaust, one of the most troubling aspects of the Second World War.

Teachers can also find links to resources and lesson plans on the PBS website for the documentary series.

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