An academic vision to tell a story of America from various historical perspectives is attracting millions of viewers internationally.
“America from the Ground Up,” a series about America's archaeological and historical treasures, digs into America’s rich past searching for clues of its hidden history. The six-episode series will be shown in a marathon this Sunday.
“I hope viewers of this program come away with the sense of the importance of America's archaeological treasures,” said archeologist and CMU alumnus Monty Dobson. “We have such a rich historical environment here in the U.S., everything from "lost" Native American cities like Cahokia to shipwrecks, burial grounds and forts. We should celebrate the richness and diversity of our American story that is recorded in the archaeology.”
Making it happen
Pamela Gates, dean of CMU’s College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, had a vision to make the documentary, written by Dobson and CMU history professor Andrew Devenney, come to life through video.
She connected Dobson, who served as the inaugural visiting scholar for CMU’s School of Public Service and Global Citizenship, with CMU media producer Dan Bracken. Together, with the help of many resources from across campus, they developed a plan for creating the content.
They shot the series in more than 30 locations throughout North America during the summer and fall of 2013, but they did not work alone. Experts from universities, museums and Native American tribes all contributed to the storyline. The project took approximately three years from concept to completion.
“The thing I enjoyed most was learning to tell a story visually,” said Dobson. “I am intrigued by the ability of film and video to transport an audience to a place and time they otherwise would not be able to experience.”
Resources on campus involved in the project included CHSBS, CMU Public Broadcasting, the School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts, and others. Financial support was provided by the Michigan Humanities Council, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Kirby Foundation and author B.K. Bradshaw.
Reaching the masses
The series was aired on CMU Public Television and rapidly spread from there.
In the first five months of its three-year distribution, it has aired on more than 110 public television stations throughout the U.S., including major markets such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to the latest Nielsen statistics, it is available to nearly 120 million people in the U.S.
The series also was picked up internationally. Residents of the United Kingdom had access to view it through multiple primetime broadcasts and on demand. It also was available to most of Canada's major population centers, including Montreal, Quebec, Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia.
This is the first WCMU production to ever receive national distribution.
“While this project was driven mainly by Monty and Dan, we were very pleased with the resulting series and were honored to present the series to a nationwide audience,” said Ed Grant, general manager of CMU Public Broadcasting.
A marathon of the series will air on WCMU and WCMU-DT2 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25.