Citizen historians

Ken Burns is urging “the YouTube generation” to take up their video cameras and interview veterans of World War II to feed an archive of personal histories at the Library of Congress. Citizen historians. He says in USA Weekend:

Thanks to a cooperative effort involving PBS and the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, anyone can get a camera and conduct his or her own interviews of a loved one who lived through the war. All submissions will be cataloged by the library to become part of the permanent Veterans History Project collection. This is a great opportunity: When I made my Civil War documentary, participants were obviously long dead. But World War II remains very much alive in the memories of millions of Americans.

Get ’em while they’re still warm.

NewTeeVee points out the sad irony that Burns and the LoC are not having the YouTube generation use, uh, YouTube to share these videos. That makes this a rather closed, controlled effort: old media, old style, last generation. Imagine what could be loosed if they’d just use the tools of the age.

Of course, this isn’t the first effort to capture large orgal histories. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has been collecting the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In New York StoryCorps has been urging people to interview someone and some sometimes great radio comes out of this.

I frankly fear what Burns will do with this material. I know it’s heresy, but I find him and his work dull and dutiful: as predictable as the Ken Burns effect in iMovie.

But I do give him credit for thinking openly and publicly and inviting in more filmmakers to make more film: big pat on the back.

Indeed, think of all the journalism and history that could be gathered if we just dispatched people to take the cameras and ask people questions: Ask teachers about teaching, doctors about doctoring, children about technology. Let’s turn the cameras on our friends and family and see what learning comes out of it.