WMU News

WMU expert moderates online companion to TV series

Nov. 18, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University expert on Colonial America will edit and moderate a World Wide Web site to accompany "LIBERTY! The American Revolution," a six-part television documentary on the American Revolution, which airs Nov. 23-25 on Public Broadcasting Service stations around the nation.

Dr. John D. Saillant, WMU assistant professor of English and a staff member of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Va., says the site will include an electronic discussion among scholars and interested members of the public who can post questions about the American Revolution from around the world. Once posted, the questions will be posed to more than 1,300 scholars and teachers affiliated with the institute, which is the only organization in the country devoted to advancement of scholarship on early America.

"Television shows, even if they're educational TV, are passive experiences," Saillant explains. "This gives people a chance to be a lot more engaged -- to ask questions and get into discussions."

The site also will feature essays and interviews with American Revolution scholars in addition to providing information on resources for additional research. Saillant is hopeful educators will use the site to provide an interactive option for history students, especially those who are viewing the series.

"Even though the Americas existed long before the Revolution, people pinpoint it as the originating moment of the modern nation state," Saillant says. "It looms very large in people's minds when they think about American history."

Like recent American Revolution scholarship, the series and the Web site will also highlight ordinary people involved in the American Revolution. They include the stories of women, African Americans and Native Americans who were either involved in the War for Independence as participants or were affected by its fallout. "It's valuable to understand ordinary people from the past and not think only about people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, however valuable they were," he says.

Saillant will carry out the work for the project through H-Net/Matrix at Michigan State University, a center devoted to the use of computers in humanities and social science research. The site is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and can be reached at <www.revolution.h-net.msu.edu>.

"LIBERTY! The American Revolution" features three different shows from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Nov. 23, 24 and 25. Locally, it will air on WGVU/WGVK, Channels 35 and 52, in Grand Rapids.

Salliant can be reached at his office at (616) 387-2621. For assistance in contacting him, or if you're looking for an expert on another topic, contact Julie Paavola <Julie.Paavola@wmich.edu>, WMU Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, at (616) 387-8413.

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