The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Category: Video (page 2 of 3)

Google Takes on History

On November 13, 2013, Google India released a video advertisement, Reunion, which tells the story of two fictional, elderly men—Baldev and Yusuf— who are long-lost childhood friends. Baldev lives in India, and Yusuf lives in Pakistan. Baldev’s granddaughter uses the Google search engine to track down Yusuf, and then coordinates a reunion between the two men with the help of Yusuf’s grandson.

Within twenty-four hours of its release, Reunion had well over 900,000 views. To date, the advertisement has been watched over 10.6 million times on YouTube. Why has Reunion with its simple plot, become so immensely popular?

The story is sweet, but interestingly, takes on one of the most volatile events of the twentieth century—the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into separate states, Pakistan and India. Partition coincided with the end of British colonial rule in the region, and led to the migration, often forced, of some twelve million people and the deaths of one million. Reunion does not mention partition in word, but implies that this moment had far-reaching consequences, including ripping best friends apart. One gathers that Baldev, a Hindu, left his childhood home of Lahore for India, while Yusuf, a Muslim, witnessed Lahore become the capital city of Pakistan.  Then, over six decades later, these men—separated by time, distance, and their different nationalities—embrace one another in a heartfelt reunion facilitated in part by Google’s search engine.

Why would Google take on such a sensitive topic, one of loss, hardship, and national identity? Sandeep Menon, the director of marketing at Google India, stated, “We wanted to strike up a conversation to showcase the different uses of Google, and tell magical stories that show why our users love the product.” Reunion is no doubt a “magical” story, but the history that it touches upon runs wide and deep across the Indian subcontinent and not without controversy. Partition is no lighthearted matter, and its darker sides are left untouched in Reunion.

Ultimately, Reunion can be seen as a commentary on the continued salience of the partition of 1947.  The national boundaries of India and Pakistan were created during partition, yet these physical boundaries remain contested, as many people’s identities cannot be neatly divided between the two countries. Reunion also demonstrates that the history of partition is negotiable, not just for individuals, but for large corporations with their own set of interests as well. Google seems to be using partition to prod people into not only watching Reunion, but also into joining the over one billion people who use Google as their go-to search engine.

If you are interested in exploring the history of partition and the subcontinent’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, check out Choices’ curriculum unit, Indian Independence and the Question of Partition (released August 2013). The trailer below provides a summary of the main themes explored in the unit.

Nelson Mandela—”A Giant of History”

President Barack Obama, with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and South African President Jacob Zuma.

President Barack Obama with Ban Ki-moon and Jacob Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.                                              Source: GovermentZA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

On December 10, the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Tens of thousands of people from across the world—presidents, prime ministers, and everyday people—gathered for the service. As a nod to Mandela’s lifetime achievements, the memorial service coincided with the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Coincidently, December 10 also marked the twentieth anniversary of Mandela receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela received the prize, jointly with Frederik Willem de Klerk, for ending the apartheid regime and laying the foundations for a democratic South Africa.

President Obama spoke at the service, as did dignitaries from Brazil, China, Namibia, India, and Cuba; Ban Ki-moon—secretary general of the United Nations; Jacob Zuma—president of South Africa; Desmond Tutu—South African social rights activist and retired bishop; Nkosazana Dlamini Zum—African Union commission chair; and relatives of Mandela.

“It is hard to eulogize any man—to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person—their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”

—President Obama, December 10, 2013

President Obama’s point—the difficulty of eulogizing Mandela, “a giant of history,” is true not just for the speakers at the memorial service, but for educators as well. What aspects of Mandela’s life do we focus on in the wake of his passing? His almost twenty-seven years of imprisonment? His relentless campaign against the apartheid regime? His service to South Africa as its first democratically-elected president? His undeniable legacy? These topics are countless and are all well-deserving of our attention.

However, another way to honor Mandela’s achievements and legacy is to focus on the broad themes of resistance in twentieth-century South Africa—resistance to colonialism, to apartheid, and to inequality. There are various online resources that can help educators address these topics in their classrooms. See the list below for recommendations.


Choices has  Scholars Online Videos available that accompany the curriculum unit  Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle.  Many of these videos address topics important to understanding twentieth-century South Africa.

How did apartheid keep people separate?
Newell Stulz, professor emeritus of political science at Brown University

How was apartheid different from other systems of racial division?
Newell Stulz

More Scholars Online Videos

Harvard University’s Committee on African Studies:  “South African Apartheid and the Transition to Democracy”
A PDF file that identifies key themes of the apartheid system and resistance movements for educators. Provides an extensive list of books, documentaries, and websites that address these topics.

“South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy”
This site provides firsthand accounts of the struggle against apartheid, and includes video, documents, photographs, and interviews as well as historical background.

Google Cultural Institute: Africa Media Online Exhibits
The Google Cultural Institute, a platform for online exhibits, houses nine slideshows from Africa Media Online, an organization that collects and digitizes photographs from across Africa. These exhibits address apartheid signs, the Soweto riots, women activists, the 1913 Land Act, and other topics. Click on “exhibits” on the website to access the slideshows.

African National Congress Archives: Apartheid
Includes photographs, posters, and documents that reflect the African National Congress’ campaign against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Features online exhibits on Mandela’s life and over 300 primary documents related to his work.


How The Economic Machine Works

Here’s a fantastic video that explains how an economy works:

At 30 minutes, it’s on the long side, but it covers everything from the basic building blocks of an economy to more complicated concepts like short-term and long-term debt cycles. (Since it’s on YouTube, you have the option to share or embed a certain section of the video by changing the start time.)

On a related note, be sure to check out our interview with Professor Mark Blyth (Brown University) on the 2008 financial crisis.



The March (1963)

The National Archives recently released a digitally restored version of the 1963 documentary The March directed by James Blue. The 30-minute film chronicles the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963.

While (regrettably) the most iconic moment of that event, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech has been redacted for copyright reasons, it’s the rarely seen footage of ordinary citizens traveling across the country and participating in the march that make this film remarkable.

Details on the making of the film can be found here.

50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This day gives us an exceptional reason to reflect on that event, the civil rights struggle, and the challenges that remain. It is important that students not only focus on the philosophy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also on the experiences of women, students, local organizers, and others who fought for equal rights. In this Teaching with the News lesson, 50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories, you will hear the voices of activists who worked in local communities to bring about change. The lesson features short films with three veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC): John Lewis, Judy Richardson, and Charlie Cobb. They share their motivations for joining the movement as young people and describe their daily life in the fight for equal rights. We hope your class (or friends, or whoever you may share this with) will consider what they would have done if they had been students in 1963. What lessons can we learn from these activists? What causes or movements do we feel connected to today?


This lesson builds off some of the core themes covered in the Choices curriculum, Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, an entire unit dedicated to understanding the local work in Mississippi, from sit-ins to voter registration drives. As your class discusses the March on Washington, consider using these resources and others to incorporate a wide array of perspectives on the movement. Below are a few additional links.

50 Years Forward

PBS: Freedom Riders

Time Magazine: One Dream

Afghanistan: Cost of War infographic

Here’s a beautifully executed motion infographic about the true cost (from the British perspective) of the war in Afghanistan. (Commissioned by Stop the War UK.)

Being Khrushchev

This short film produced by Koji Masutani ’05 in collaboration with James Blight and janet Lang is part of a research effort called The Armageddon Letters. This multimedia project, based at the University of Waterloo, focuses on the most dangerous moment of the Cold War: the Cuban Missile Crisis. The project website when it is launched in mid-September will have a series of short films that explore this critical event.

Blight and Lang did groundbreaking work on the missile crisis while at Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies. With the fiftieth anniversary approaching in October, Blight and Lang are focussing on the lessons in political psychology that transcend the the Cold War and relate to the role of international leaders and nuclear weapons.

The Choices Program recently released a version of its curriculum materials on the missile crisis for the Ipad. The interactive Ibook contains text, images, maps, and more than twenty short video clips of scholars explaining the importance of the events. Ultimately the materials challenge students to consider the question: Why are the lessons of the missile crisis relevant today?

TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing

Use engaging videos to create customized lessons. You can use, tweak, or completely redo any lesson featured on TED-Ed, or create lessons from scratch based on any video from YouTube. Get started at TED-Ed!

YouTube for Schools

Google has just launched YouTube for Schools, a network setting that school administrators can turn on to grant access only to the educational content from YouTube EDU. Teachers can choose from the hundreds of thousands of videos on YouTube EDU created by more than 600 partners like the Smithsonian, TED, Steve Spangler Science, Khan Academy and Numberphile.

They’ve also worked with teachers to put together more than 300 playlists broken out by subject and by grade level. You can find them listed out at

New in Scholars Online: Benjamin Hopkins

“[Afghanistan] turns from being this…central player in a regional order into being this…land of endemic chaos that doesn’t really fit any place.”

How did Afghanistan become the country it is today? Professor Benjamin Hopkins takes a look back at the history of Central Asia and how British imperialism shaped the future of Afghanistan.

This video is part of the Scholars Online collection for The United States in Afghanistan. You can see more videos from this interview here.

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