Ensemble Media has worked with The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to produce a variety of learning tools and to document program activities across the country over the last five years. The museum’s Let’s Do History program provides learning tools and trainings for teachers, bringing the museum to the classroom through teaching strategies that focus on interactive, object-based learning.
The museum wanted to create a classroom-based tool to help students understand and connect to women’s suffrage through a historical character, “Rebecca”. Taking the form of a three-part series, everything about the character and her environment needed to authentically depict 1917. The video also needed to hold students’ attention and encourage them to think about that period in history and how it connects to the present.
The obvious challenge was that we could not film in 1917—and the season was changing, which meant we needed to act fast to find a background that was historically accurate and not subject to modern elements—even paved roads would be inaccurate.
We focused on infusing the video with as many authentic, historical elements as possible. We also realized that the segments needed to be distinct but visually connected to one another.
We came up with a format that included a change of setting in order to maintain students’ interest, and an easy structure for teachers to use. In addition, all of the set decor, from the banner to the teapot, is historically accurate to the time. These details extend to the suffragist character herself, whose appearance is authentic from her clothing and hairstyle to her way of speaking. We extended these details to the music selection, graphics, and the font used, which was based on typefaces and graphic details used in newspapers from that time period. To engage viewers, in two of the segments, she speaks directly to the audience as if they are a friend with whom she is weighing the pros and cons of joining, and then journeying into the burgeoning movement.