Who Built America? From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914. The Voyager Company. 1993 (Macintosh Version only)

Way back when in the 1970s when I was in grade school, I had to read some pretty corny history books. You know the kind. The ones written in the 1950s and 60s where United States history was presented as mostly sweetness and honey (except for slavery which was eliminated when the good guy North defeated the bad guy South). Every now and then my teachers would show us a film or slide show about one of the topics we were studying. Bo-ring. Well imagine a book which takes a more balanced view of US history (and by today's standards, obviously a communist attempt to destroy "American" civilization). And to make it more exciting it incorporates multimedia technology to (caution: cliché approaching) bring history to life. The disk is based on the history book of the same title. It consists of 450 pages of text and graphics. Plus, there are separate resource files containing more text on specific topics in addition to audio, images, and QuickTime video clips.

User Interface and Tools

The program requires the Macintosh application HyperCard. This application utilizes hypertext to link files together. In form each screen looks like two pages of a book, just as if you opened up a real book. After the initial startup screen (accompanied by music) the reader is taken to a Table of Contents. As in the real book, the sections are numbered. By simply pointing and clicking, the reader is taken to a specific section of the book.

Once on a page, the reader can turn to the next or previous page by using the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. The reader can also use a Goto option to select a particular page. A tool palette which can remain on the screen allows readers to retrace their steps to all previously viewed pages.

Hyperlinks on some pages takes the reader to separate resource files which contain information on the current section. These consist of intro text to sound clips, video clips, and clip art. There are also actual transcripts of speeches, letters, and other historical documents. Once finished with these sidebars, the reader closes the window(s) and is returned to the regular text.

There are also hyperlinks which show the reader exactly where a city, state, or area is located in the United States (these places are underlined in the text). Or, if the reader clicks and holds the mouse button over the underlined text, a pop-up menu appears which allows the reader to go to previous or future occurrences of the site in the text (sort of an interactive index).

A notebook option enables the reader to keep on screen notes as he/she moves through the book. Additionally, notes can be written in the column of each page (an unlike in a real book, they can be permanently erased without damaging the CD). Pages of the book can be marked for later reference. When text is copied and pasted to a word processing application, the page number is automatically appended.

Finally, the search engine is well designed. Besides the basic search for specific text, a resource index provides a multiple level search of the various resource files (the sidebar data).

Educational Potential

As an educational tool, this CD has many advantages. As in many history books, the CD contains sidebar information which a reader can peruse for additional information on a particular topic. However, the use of sound, video, and images makes this a very interactive experience. When discussing the Indian Wars of the Old West, the reader can hear an actual interview of a Native American whose grandfather witnessed the murder of Crazy Horse. The same file also has a 1930s narration by a former cavalryman discussing his exploits against the Native Americans.

The search features of this disk, make it easy for students to find relevant information they need. In traditional paper books, if a name or term is not listed in the index, a student would have to devise other ways to find the necessary information. This program allows you to search for any specific text in the book. Some of us may remember citing something from a book and forgetting to note the page number and then having to search through the book later on to find the right page (or just picking a page number at the last minute). The automatic citation feature simplifies book report writing by eliminating this problem.

By providing so much information and making it easy to use, the authors and creators of this CD have developed an excellent educational tool.

Since some high end word processors already allow voice and graphic annotation, it is only a matter of time before students can use CDs like Who Built America to create their own interactive book reports.

Technical Issues

The application which runs this interactive program is power hungry. When tried to start the file, it requested the memory partition be increased to 4MB. The tech info suggests it may require up to 5.5MB of RAM. This limits its use in an educational setting where schools have purchased computers with less than 8MB of RAM.