I can honestly say that my life is anything but boring. I just never know what is going to happen next, one of the people that I always enjoy working with is the owner of a small publishing house, History Publishing Company. In fact Don Bracken is such an engaging guy that I recently had him as a guest on our radio program The Week In Reviews

One of the questions that I asked Don was how did he become involved in the publishing industry, and why specialize in the history aspect. He explained that publishing was his second career, retirement was boring, and he needed another focus. He is an avid student of the American Civil War, and one day was talking to a friend, a university professor about the Civil War, Don argued that what was sadly missing was a compact, yet comprehensive view of the engagements, the locations, the outcomes, and the theaters of operation. Students need to understand how vast this war was. What is taught in schools and indeed colleges often is limited to just a few battles, little effort is made to paint the larger picture.

With this in mind Don decided to create a series of posters depicting the Civil War, not glossy pictures, bereft of information, but a serious time line of the where, the result, and what happened next.

I grew up in England, and the Grammar School system stressed History as a required subject, but the American Civil War was relegated to a scant few lessons. I have read much about it since ‘crossing the pond’, but still feel that I am far from being more than a confused student.

When Don sent me a set of his HistoryScope posters, I was somewhat unsure what to do. How does one review posters? I could talk about the high quality of production, but had almost no input about the content.

I decided that the solution was to show them to someone who understood the Civil War. But who? My wife and I are newcomers to Mississippi, we know family, but we really don’t have much of a professional network. My cunning first plan was to call the local High School principal, he did not return my call! It transpires that my wifes aunt also works at the school, and she provided me with the name of the most liked History teacher.

With posters on hand I headed off into a world that I hated as a teenager. My, how much has changed in the last half century. Yes, security is a much bigger issue, yet the student/teacher relationship has become much warmer. That was clear in our short journey to the classroom. Several pupils came up to talk to the teacher. A whole different world from the one I grew up in.

Ms Wheat and I entered her class room, and she explained that it would take a few minutes to start the class and then we could discuss the Civil War. What a fascinating time, I sat and watched as the kids came in, they were all polite, and todays class was going to be about ‘living history’, one of the students had just returned from a one week trip to Washington DC, a journey partially sponsored by his fellow students, and members of the local community. This was going to be a photographic exploration of living history.

Alas I could not stay for the presentation, but I certainly would have enjoyed it. Ms Wheat took me to the school library where we could discuss the HistoryScope material. It took Ms Wheat less than 30 seconds of looking at the first poster to say “Oh, this is wonderful”. She went on to say exactly what Don Bracken had heard, the biggest problem is how do you teach the vast scope of the Civil War?

As a reviewer, I tend to just look for an overview, that was not the case with this teacher, she went item by item. I was waiting for some mistake, I had figured out that the Civil War was one of her favorite subjects.

These are great, it is so hard to explain how vast this was, it is not just a couple of battles, and many people miss that fact. It was not something that happened in a week, it happened over years.

It transpired that Ms Wheat is currently covering the Second World War, and one of the concepts she is trying to convey to her students is that this was no simple battle, there were multiple protagonists, and a vast array of interests were involved. Yet few people really understand the fabric of the cloth’s that created the problem, nor the actual events.

The American Civil War has much in common, while many view it as a North vs South issue, it was far more complex, it pitted brother against brother.

I enjoyed talking to Ms Wheat, and it certainly was encouraging to see how she responded to HistoryScope, this may not be the best seller that hits the NYT, but it certainly seems to be something that educators like.

You can order your copy here. Oh and tell Don I sent you!

Simon Barrett


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