From the beginning of its formation, one of the central goals for the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been educational outreach. It is doing this in a number of ways from organizing conferences to creating mobile exhibits that will travel throughout the state between 2011 and 2015. Included in this is the creation of educational materials suitable for use in k-12 classrooms. This fall Virginia PBS stations will air “Virginia in the Civil War”. This was a joint project between the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Virginia Tech’s Center for Civil War Studies. The documentary is three hours in length and will be broken down into nine 20 minute segments. I couldn’t be more pleased with the commission’s focus on educational materials and this documentary, which will be made available to every public and private school in the state, will surely come in handy.
That said, I am just a little disappointed with this 13-minute preview. In one sense it is very predictable in terms of the narrative as well as the themes that are addressed. I am sure that the producers of this film wanted something that would be appropriate across a number of grade levels, but the level of analysis by the talking heads and narrator is flat and uninteresting. The segments on soldier life are right out of Bell Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb. Don’t get me wrong, I love that book, but we know so much more about the life of the common soldier. Where is the discussion about motivation, slavery, nationalism, etc? There doesn’t seem to be much of anything about the home front in Virginia. There is nothing on emancipation in Virginia nor do we learn anything about Virginia’s Unionists. Perhaps these comments are premature since I have not seen the full documentary, but I just don’t get the sense that this film pushes us to think hard about Virginia’s Civil War in any way and that is unfortunate. Decide for yourself.