Is YouTube Becoming the World’s Most Important Resource for Modern History?

Is YouTube Becoming the World’s Most Important Resource for Modern History?

Video marketers already know that U.S. news and education are two of the larger categories of content on YouTube. But, what about history? Could old news footage and historic movie newsreels create a new category on YouTube that’s worth watching closely?

Well, Baby Boomers have seen this movie before. Back in 1986, the Turner Broadcasting System acquired the film archive of movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which then formed the programming foundation for TNT, and Turner Classic Movies. The Turner Broadcasting System also purchased Hanna-Barbera Entertainment in 1991, which along with the MGM cartoon library, provided content for the Cartoon Network, which rolled out in 1992. In other words, everyone else saw these libraries as a collection of old, dusty footage from a previous era – when most movies and short subjects were released once and rarely seen again. But, Turner saw the value hidden in these video archives in the new era of cable television, which needed content 24/7/365.

History Gets a Reboot on YouTube

Now Millennials are seeing a reboot of this classic story. In April 2014, British Pathé uploaded its entire newsreel archive of 81,748 historic films to its YouTube channel. This unprecedented release of vintage news reports and cinemagazines was part of a drive to make the archive more accessible to viewers all over the world. Less than 16 months later, the British Pathé channel now has more than 90 million views and over 430,000 subscribers. One of its most popular videos with more than 3.3 million views is entitled, “Hindenburg Disaster Real Footage (1937).”

And in July, 2015, the AP Archive, the film and video archive of The Associated Press (AP), and British Movietone, which has a newsreel archive that spans the period from 1895 to 1986, published more than 1 million minutes of digitized film footage to YouTube. Overnight, they created the largest upload of historical news content on the video-sharing platform to date, showcasing the iconic moments that have shaped the world in which we live. Together, the British Pathé, AP Archive, and British Movietone channels now act as a view-on-demand visual encyclopedia, offering a unique perspective on the most significant moments of modern history. Available for history buffs to explore for free, the channels could also become powerful educational tools for students researching history projects as well as a source of inspiration for curious culture-vultures and documentary filmmakers.

YouTube: Home to Most Important Historical Events

The AP Archive already has 100,000 videos and British Movietone has 47,810 dating from 1895 to the present day. Content includes surprising videos from political milestones and historical moments, technological innovations, sporting coups, entertainment, extreme weather, fashion through the ages, as well as the evolution of eating and drinking habits. For example, more than 75,000 viewers have already watched, “The Titanic Disaster 1912” on the British Movietone channel, even though it doesn’t have sound, because it was made back in the silent movie era. And more than 61,000 viewers have already watched, “Russian Liberation of Auschwitz – 1945” on the AP Archive channel, even though the narrator speaks Russian.

But, these videos are just the tip of the iceberg. The plan is to have more than 550,000 video stories on the two YouTube channels in the foreseeable future. The channels will be continually refreshed with up-to-date contemporary footage from the AP Archive, which has over 1.7 million stories in its database.

Now, as every video marketer knows, publishing 1 million minutes of digitized film footage to YouTube is an impressive accomplishment, but it’s no guarantee that anyone will watch it. Seriously, how many history buffs can there be? Well, the AP Archive channel on YouTube – which was created on June 17, 2015, didn’t start publishing videos until July 13, and was officially launched less than three weeks ago on July 22 – already has more than 2.6 million views and almost 37,000 subscribers. And the British Movietone channel on YouTube – which was also created on June 17, 2015, started publishing videos on June 29, and was also officially launched on July 22 – already has almost 1.8 million views and close to 29,000 subscribers.

YouTube: On-demand History for Teachers and Students

Let’s see if I can put this accomplishment into perspective. On cable TV, the History channel recently launched two new hit series: ‘Alone’, and ‘Forged in Fire’. In its first five weeks, ‘Alone’ has averaged 2.3 million total viewers. And in its first five weeks, ‘Forged in Fire’ has averaged 1.4 million total viewers. The History channel claims to be “the leading destination [to] connect viewers with history”. That’s what they say. But ‘Alone’, and ‘Forged in Fire’ are more reality series than history archive, whereas British Pathé, AP Archive, and British Movietone channels are building an audience of people interested in seeing actual history. And this audience could get a whole lot larger – shortly after Labor Day.

Why? My oldest son teaches history. He is one of about 57,200 history teachers in the U.S. And he’s preparing his lesson plans for the coming school year, which starts in early September. And he’s wrestling with the challenge of “teaching to the test” since one of the courses he’ll be teaching this year will be an Advanced Placement United States History course (also known as AP U.S. History or APUSH), which includes an examination offered by the College Board. Each year, about half a million high school students take for the AP U.S. History exam.

In the past, conservatives in the U.S. have criticized the College Board’s curriculum for downplaying “American exceptionalism” and failing to foster patriotism. This recently prompted the College Board to provide educators with a new edition of the AP U.S. History Course and ExamAnd my son, like other AP U.S. History teachers, has read many of the news stories about “the new, new framework for AP U.S. History.” So, when he heard about the British Pathé, AP Archive, and British Movietone channels, he immediately started checking out videos that he could use for “teaching beyond the test” on a topic like civil rights.

For example, he found “Martin Luther King Delivers His “I have a dream” speech (1963)” on the British Pathé channel. It has 131,185 views and could be used to prompt a class discussion.

He also found some B-roll on the AP Archive channel entitled, “Martin Luther King is arrested whilst on a March in Selma, Alabama.” It already more than 29,800 views and could be used as a writing assignment for extra credit. And over on the British Movietone Channel, there’s another video entitled, “Assassination of Martin Luther King – Movietone’s Report.” With more than 13,400 views, it could be used to supplement the AP U.S. History course materials. The AP Archive also has a playlist of three videos about the “Watts Riots,” which shook Southern California 50 years ago and played a major role in the Civil Rights era.

Bringing Modern History into Perspective for Today’s Viewer

So, AP U.S. History teachers who want to go beyond teaching to the test now have a new set of resources to use. Why would they do that? Well, some people think teaching history is just about getting students to regurgitate facts about important names and events on a test. But, other people think teaching history should be about getting students to comprehend, interpret, and debate ideas that will be valuable beyond a test.

Why should video marketers care which side wins? Well, would you rather work in a world where most people think there’s a right or wrong answer to questions like, “How long should a YouTube video be?” Or, would you prefer to work in a world where most people understand that there are a variety of ways to answer questions like, “How long should a YouTube video be to tell a story?”

In other words, the old news footage and historic movie newsreels could change how history is taught in high school by enabling students to watch videos that tell important stories – at least the newsworthy ones that happened after 1895. And that would be a very significant development that could change our future, so it’s worth watching closely. Who knows, history could become a major subcategory of content in either the U.S. news or education categories on YouTube.

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