Multimedia Moment: Documenting WWI Film Analysis Using Video Editing Software

This post was written by Tom Bober, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Audio-Visual Teacher in Residence. Over the course of his year at Teacher in Residence, Tom will be writing regular posts exploring different aspects of audio-visual materials in the Library’s collection and their use in the classroom.

How can we best document an analysis of film as a primary source? The complex motions, multiple scenes, and pacing can be challenging aspects not only to students analyzing film, but even more so in communicating their analysis and sharing it with others. In the March/April 2016 “Sources and Strategies” article in Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, I focused on a the film TR’s sons’ regiments during war, 1917-1918 to begin the exploration of WWI technology.


In a short few seconds, students are exposed to several technologies, some of which were first used in military action during WWI. Steel helmets sit atop soldiers’ heads as they march down a road. A plane is pushed by three men out of a hangar as others are seen flying in formation across the sky. Multiple rounds of an artillery gun are fired.

One aspect of the analysis that students may focus on is the interaction between soldier and weapon, especially in the case of the artillery. The fast pace of the film inhibits close observation and makes it difficult to document as some actions are taking place in a fraction of a second. The use of video editing software during the analysis process can help students access and respond to the film.

Many digitized films available online in collections from the Library of Congress can be downloaded. This allows for viewing independent of a network connection, but also makes it possible to view the digitized film in video editing software. Available for computers, tablets, and even smartphones, video editing software offers a variety of tools that can help in the analysis of primary source film. While software features differ, many allow users to add text or titles over video, freeze the video, insert still frames, and play portions in slow motion.

Students can use these tools to document and share their primary source analysis. In the embedded example, a middle school student viewed the WWI film. She was asked: What technology do you see? How are soldiers interacting with the technology? Her attention quickly focused on how the group of men interacted with the artillery and realized that each played a specific role. Using the software, she annotated the film with text, adding still frames from the image. Observations, reflections, and questions appear within the annotated film as the student worked to clarify and explain her thinking. (If you can’t view the annotated film clip included with this blog post, you can use the description at the bottom of the post.)

As students share their analysis by sharing their annotated films, common questions can be identified for further investigations. To extend the activity, students can explore WWI technology by searching Chronicling America’s historic newspapers as well as two smaller newspaper collections, Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914-1919 and Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers’ Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919.

How could your students benefit from using video editing software when analyzing a historical film from the Library of Congress’ collections?

Description of the annotated clip:

Title reads, “TR’s Sons’ Regiment s During War, 1917-1918 [1918?] Producer unknown.” Second title reads, “Excerpt of Film Annotated by Middle School Student.” As six men in uniform stand in field by an artillery gun, annotation reads, “I think this is an artillery gun. It takes 4 men to work the gun.” As one man bends down to pick up a shell, annotation shows arrow pointing to him and reads, “1 giving ammunition.” Gun fires multiple times as the first man hands off the shell to a second man. As empty shell is released from artillery gun, annotation points to second man and  reads, “1 loading a new shell.” While an arrow points to the shell casing coming from the rear of the gun with a second annotation that reads, “empty shell?” Prior to the next firing of the gun, additional annotations appear, one with an arrow pointing to a third man reading, “1 firing (watch him pull)” and a second that reads, “a puff of smoke will appear.” The third man is seen pulling back as the gun fires again with a puff of smoke. Annotations point to a fourth man and read, “1 bent down. Watch his left hand on the cannon. Maybe he is aiming the cannon.” And we see the fourth man’s hand appear to be turning a lever or handle on the body of the artillery gun. As the film shows the four men continue to fire the gun, annotations refer to the final two men in the scene and read, “This man and this man just watch. So it takes 4 men to fire this artillery gun.”

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