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Mastervision American History Series VHS Set Review by Kris Price

969 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10028

The American History VHS series by Mastervision consists of ten videos, with the first one focusing on a stretch of 350 years. (I did not receive the first video, so I cannot comment on it.) Each video is 60 minutes long, so you get only a brief summary of the events of each time period that is being discussed. Each 60-minute video is actually two 30-minute shows. Here is a breakdown of the information that is covered, excluding the first video:

Colonial America (1500-1600): The Beginnings and The Way of Life--discusses the fight for the continent by France, Spain, and Great Britain and then explains the customs and traditions that were brought over by the new Americans.

The Roots of Democracy (1700s): The Constitution, The Bill of Rights and The Economy--explains how the Constitution was written and what each of the amendments that make up The Bill of Rights mean to us. This video provides a basic explanation of our guaranteed rights and freedoms.

War Between the States (1800s): Slavery--What led to the bloodiest conflict in American history? The divisions between the North and South are the topic of this video.

Opening the West (1860-1900): Reconstruction and Westward Expansion--focuses on how the country was reunited after the Civil War; also explains how the land west of the Mississippi was settled

Gathering Strength (1840-1914): Immigration and The Pacific Northwest--What are the differences between the "old" immigrants from northern Europe and the "new" ones from eastern and southern Europe? This video explains how the expanding industries called for more manpower and what the US did to get people to move here from Europe.

America Grows Up (1850-1900s): An Industrial Nation and A World Power--explains how manufacturing grew and how we became one of the most industrialized nations in the world; includes information on the creation of foreign policy

The Game of Monopoly (1870-1914): Industrial Giants and Trust Busters--talks about the wealthy families of Carnegie, Hill, Rockefeller, Stanford, and Vanderbilt; also explains how President Teddy Roosevelt brought big corporations under the jurisdiction of the law.

Warring and Roaring (1914-1929): World War I and the 1920s--How did we finally get pulled into World War I? What was the Depression? What were the "roaring 20s"?

Two Great Crusades (1935-1945): The New Deal and World War II--focuses on how we pulled out of the Depression and then entered into World War II.

These movies were originally recorded in 1968, and they do not appear to have been updated in any way. Now, I remember watching movies like this when I was in elementary school, but the children of today are used to the highly animated movies produced by Disney and Pixar. The majority of each tape consists of a narrator discussing the events of the time period while "still" pictures flash on the TV screen. Now and again, there are flashes of movement by the use of live video-a train chugging by on the screen in the Immigration video, people voting in the Roots of Democracy video, FDR giving a speech about the New Deal, etc. My children, old enough to be able to sit still and watch a movie (they are 11 and 12 years of age), found them boring. This is not necessarily the fault of the original production, because that is the way information was presented in 1968.

My hearing impaired daughter could not understand much of the narration even with her hearing aids working properly. The sound of the narrator on some of them is muffled, even for me, and I have normal hearing! There is also no closed-caption option for these videos. These videos retail for $29.95 each, and I believe this is too expensive for movies that were originally produced in 1968. In comparing these to DVDs for sale at, it should be noted that the 50-100 minute DVDs retail for $24.95; however, each is on a very specific topic, so you are getting a lot more information. The 10-DVD set on the American Revolution is over eight hours long and costs only $79.95.

Now, of course, we all can't afford to pay over $80 for information on ONE historical event, so we may have to be picky when buying sets like those available from The History Channel. If you are looking for a general overview of American History, then these videos from Mastervision might be what you are looking for, but I still think they are a bit on the expensive side due to the quality of the video you'll be watching.

Product review by Kris Price, Assistant to the Publishers, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2006