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Drive Thru History: American History Series Review by Heather Jackowitz

ColdWater Media®
PO Box 470
300 General Palmer Dr.
Palmer Lake, CO 80133
719-488-8670
http://www.coldwatermedia.com/

Drive Thru History: American History Series with Dave Stotts focuses on the critical points in history that led to formation of the United States of America. This series from ColdWater Media has been featured on History International, a sister network of the History Channel. The entire series comprises 12 episodes on four discs. Each episode is approximately thirty minutes. Episodes 1-6 and Episodes 7-12 are available separately in special edition, two-disc sets.

In this DVD series, Dave Stotts introduces us to some famous--and not so famous--sites and people, including the Christian influences that made this country great. One thing I really liked was Mr. Stotts's copious use of primary source materials, including famous quotes, prayers, and correspondence. My husband, a theater arts major, enjoyed the creative camera work, and we all enjoyed Stotts's sense of humor. Some might find his jokes silly at times, but he sincerely values our American heritage and knows when to be serious and when to be playful.

In a 2007 interview with Christians in Cinema, Dave Stotts says ColdWater Media's vision for this series is to "present history with style, humor and fast pacing. . . . We're not trying to present a comprehensive and detailed study of history. It's history on a survey level; kind of a 30,000 foot view, which is really the best place to start. Our segments are packed with solid historical facts presented in a fun and engaging way." You can read the rest of the interview here: http://www.christiancinema.com/catalog/newsdesk_info.php?newsdesk_id=314.

The first DVD set contains Episodes 1-6 on two discs:

Episode 1: The Discovery: Introduction, Christopher Columbus, the Khan-Polo Connection, Florence, Setting Sail in Spain, Amerigo Vespucci

Episode 2: The Pilgrims: Driving to Scrooby, The Separatists, The Pilgrims in Holland, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, The First Thanksgiving

Episode 3: Boston & Beginnings of Revolution: Boston's Heritage, War Brewing, The Old North Church, Lexington & Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, Dorchester Heights

Episode 4: George Whitefield, The Freedom Trail, Granary Burial Ground, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, USS Constitution

Episode 5: William Penn, Pennsbury Manor, Henry Muhlenberg, Christ Church, Jacob Duch, Betsy Ross

Episode 6: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ben Franklin, The Declaration House, Carpenter's Hall, The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall

Stotts sets the stage for the series by explaining that history is not just a list of dates and events, but rather a "confluence of events." He says he likes to "connect the dots . . . those seemingly unrelated events that add up to some amazing moments." In the first episode, you will learn why Columbus would never have discovered the New World without Jesus Christ, Marco Polo, Pope Gregory X, Prophet Mohammed, Genghis Khan, and an obscure mathematician in Florence. Episode Two begins in England, travels to Holland, and ends in America. As in other episodes, Stotts includes modern cultural tidbits--in this case, the bicycle culture of Holland. Stotts shows how the Sermon on the Mount (and Matthew 5:14 in particular) strongly influenced the Pilgrims and Puritans. This episode introduces the Drive Thru History adventure vehicle: the Jeep Wrangler. I wasn't terribly interested in a tour of the Jeep, but my boys found it fun and interesting. As in other episodes, Stotts looks at some common historical myths, such as the Pilgrims' clothing style and the reason for the first Thanksgiving. As usual, Stotts uses primary sources, including the Mayflower Compact and the writings of William Bradford and Edward Winslow. Episode Three brings us to the beginnings of the American Revolution, with Stotts presenting alternate theories as to who fired the "shot heard 'round the world."

Stotts makes quick stops along the Freedom Trail in Episode Four. Here we learn about the Georgian style of early American architecture. My family loves all things nautical, so we especially enjoyed the segment on the USS Constitution. This episode ends with a gross (but funny, if you are a boy) segment about Stotts's campfire cooking. Episode Five introduces us to the Quakers and Lutherans. Stotts reads the prayer offered at the First Continental Congress, a real eye-opener for those who believe our Founding Fathers wanted to keep God out of our government. Finally, in Episode Six we visit Philadelphia, home of Benjamin Franklin and the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich. Having recently viewed the John Adams HBO miniseries, we questioned Stotts's assessment of Ben Franklin as a "man of virtue." Brilliant? Yes. Virtuous? Not in a Christian sense. We also visit Pat's King of Steaks, home of the original Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich. Most of the segments on food are gross, and this one is no exception. This episode ends with a funny clip of Stotts quartering a British soldier in his hotel room.

Disc One includes a few extras for Episodes 1-3. An interesting bonus segment on John Adams explores his birthplace; his Quincy home; and his friendship, conflict, and reconciliation with Thomas Jefferson. It also includes a promo for the next three episodes (4-6). Finally, if you place the disc in your computer's DVD-ROM drive, you can access a discussion guide and key, which includes some additional interesting facts as well as ten questions to think and talk about. I had trouble accessing these materials on my computer, so I e-mailed ColdWater Media and they e-mailed me the PDF files.

Disc Two also includes a few extras for episodes 4-6. In addition to a promo for the next three episodes (7-9), a bonus segment shows the quartered British soldier from Episode Six trying to eat a huge apple fritter in under one minute. I'm not a huge fan of gross eating contests, so the food segments are the low point of Drive Thru History for me. However, my sons howl with laughter and like Dave Stotts all the better for it, so what can I say? This disc can also be placed in your computer's DVD-Rom drive to access a discussion guide and key.

The second DVD set contains Episodes 7-12 on two discs:

Episode 7: Philadelphia, Thaddeus Kosciusko, Germantown, Benjamin Chew House, Fort Mifflin, Valley Forge

Episode 8: The Jamestown Colony, Pocahontas, Peter Muhlenberg, Colonial Williamsburg, The Battle of Yorktown

Episode 9: Mount Vernon, Slavery in Colonial America, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Madison's Montpelier, Dolly Madison

Episode 10: Battle Hill, The Battle of Long Island, Hessian Huts, Morris Manson, Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, Lombardi's Pizzeria, Fort Washington

Episode 11: Wall Street, Federal Hall, New York Stock Exchange, St. Paul's Chapel, The Battle of Saratoga, Benedict Arnold, West Point

Episode 12: Crossing the Delaware, The Battle of Trenton, John Witherspoon, Princeton, Morristown, Battle of Monmouth

Be aware that some segments in Episode Seven might frighten young or sensitive children, as Stotts visits and discusses the "second most haunted place in America"--Fort Mifflin. He tells some of the ghost stories that have been passed around, and a segment of Stotts in the fort alone at night includes a creepy person in the background. My children found it funny! Episode Eight includes a brief mention of accounts of cannibalism in the Jamestown colony; apparently, someone murdered his wife to eat her. You can tell Stotts loves architecture in Episode Nine, as he takes us on tours of Mount Vernon and Monticello. He also discusses the growth of slavery in America and explores our founding fathers' views on the institution through their writings.

Episode Ten will introduce your family to modern-day Times Square in New York City. My kids loved the food clips about New York pizza. In Episode Eleven, we learn a lot about Benedict Arnold before he turned traitor, and Stotts takes the opportunity at the end of this episode to remind viewers to honor the soldiers who defend our freedoms. Finally, Episode Eleven was a family favorite because of the amphicar--a car that converts to a boat for Stotts's own Delaware crossing. Stotts ends the series by reflecting on all the episodes and sharing his hope for America's future.

Both of these discs also include some bonus material. In addition to a promo for the next three episodes (10-12), the first disc includes a fascinating bonus segment on Thomas Jefferson and the famous phrase from his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association: "wall of separation between church and state." In addition to a series promo, the second disc features an interesting segment on Martin Luther and shows how Reformation ideas affected the development of the United States. This clip would be a perfect introduction to the first episode in the series. Both discs can be placed in your computer's DVD-Rom drive to access a discussion guide and key.

My family greatly enjoyed this series. It perfectly complemented our study of American history this year and introduced us to people and places not typically found in a textbook. I offer only two caveats. First, be prepared to laugh. If you don't like laughing, do not buy this DVD series! Second, don't expect great depth of subject matter. Consider this a supplement, not the main source of information. Trailers and clips are available at http://www.drivethruhistory.com.

Product review by Heather Jackowitz, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2010

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