Published Online: October 11, 2000
Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as Media

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Synergy: Historical documentaries for public television are rarely aired these days without supporting online educational resources.

One producer summed up the new attitude by describing his film as the "executive summary" of the educational Web site that accompanied it, said Kevin Dando, a spokesman at the Public Broadcasting Service.

The Web sites help make the series a deeper educational experience—and they're good business. "We're finding that if we put the Web sites up early, in advance of the show, it does help drive eyeballs to the broadcast," Mr. Dando said.

"Napoleon," a four-part video series written and directed by David Grubin and financed by PBS, won't start airing until Nov. 8, but its extensive Web site, at www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/, is already running.

The series recounts Napoleon's rise from obscurity in Corsica to become the ruler of France, his relationship with his wife Josephine, the politics of his time, and his military campaigns.

The Web site, meanwhile, offers discussions by the historians who contributed to the series, artwork and political cartoons from the era, and an authoritative bibliography.

Military-minded students will be drawn to the site's "interactive battle simulator," in which they can second-guess commanders' decisions at the Battle of Waterloo.

Another Web site connected to a new historical series offers a similar trove of original source material and goes even further to put students into the heads of historical figures.

The site for "A Biography of America" asks users to take positions in simulated historical debates in many of the eras covered in the 26-part video series, produced by WGBH/Boston.

Students can render an opinion on such issues as whether Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton "had the more enduring vision for the United States."

Choosing Hamilton calls up contemporaneous descriptions of his bleak view of human destiny, rather than the more sanguine view of Jefferson.

"Unlike the usual Web quiz, where you pick a choice and it tells you the right answer, it responds with the actual arguments that were used in the debate at the time," said David Pelizzari, a senior project officer for Annenberg/CPB, a partner with WGBH in creating the series and the Web site, www.learner.org/ biographyofamerica.

The series began airing last week in Boston and will be broadcast in other cities at various times over the next year.

—Andrew Trotter atrotter@epe.org

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 10

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