The Documentary

The Documentary

Ken Burns on How to Make a Documentary 

Time Frame:  1 class  

Ken Burns

The Ken Burns Effect

The Power of Story

Gambling on a Great Story

 The Power of Story 

Project Description

Students will make a documentary to tell the story of one aspect of the war experience.  Presentation options include:

  1. Describe the history and significance of one memorial.
  2. Describe the American response to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor by telling the story of the internment camps in the northwest.  
  3. Relate the experience of at least one veteran of war, either a soldier or journalist.  
  4. Compare media coverage on contemporary conflicts and analyze the media’s influence on public opinion.

 The Feature Documentary Project Grading Rubric

A Model Documentary

Time: 2 classes 

maya linMaya Lin:  A Strong Clear Vision

Maya Lin is the world-renowned architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and one of the most important public artists of this century. Her parents fled China just before the Communist takeover in 1949, eventually settling in Athens, Ohio, where both became professors at Ohio University. Her mother wrote poetry and taught literature; her father, a ceramic artist, became the Dean of Fine Arts.

As a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale, Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a class project, then entered it in the largest design competition in American history. Her striking proposal, a V-shaped wall of black stone, etched with the names of 58,000 dead soldiers, beat out the submissions of 1,420 other entrants. She encountered ferocious criticism when her unconventional design was selected. Feelings were running so high that her name was not even mentioned at the dedication of the memorial in 1982. She coped with the painful controversy by returning to Yale as a graduate student. Her inspiring vision has since become the most-visited memorial in the nation’s capital. The families of the fallen leave mementos at the wall, and veterans maintain a constant vigil there.

The essential question for any architecht designing a memorial is simply,

What is the purpose of a memorial, particularly in the twenty-first century?

Here is the text of her application essay for the design of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in which she addresses that question.  

Walking through this park-like area, the memorial appears as a rift in the earth, a long, polished, black stone wall, emerging from and receding into the earth. Approaching the memorial, the ground slopes gently downward and the low walls emerging on either side, growing out of the earth, extend and converge at a point below and ahead. Walking into this grassy site contained by the walls of the memorial we can barely make out the carved names upon the memorial’s walls. These names, seemingly infinite in number, convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole.

The memorial is composed not as an unchanging monument, but as a movingvietnam veterans memorial composition to be understood as we move into and out of it. The passage itself is gradual; the descent to the origin slow, but it is at the origin that the memorial is to be fully understood. At the intersection of these walls, on the right side, is carved the date of the first death. It is followed by the names of those who died in the war, in chronological order. These names continue on this wall appearing to recede into the earth at the wall’s end. The names resume on the left wall as the wall emerges from the earth, continuing back to the origin where the date of the last death is carved at the bottom of this wall. Thus the war’s beginning and end meet; the war is ‘complete,’ coming full- circle, yet broken by the earth that bounds the angle’s open side, and continued within the earth itself. As we turn to leave, we see these walls stretching into the distance, directing us to the Washington Monument, to the left, and the Lincoln Memorial, to the right, thus bringing the Vietnam Memorial into an historical context. We the living are brought to a concrete realization of these deaths.

Brought to a sharp awareness of such a loss, it is up to each individual to resolve or come to terms with this loss. For death, is in the end a personal and private matter, and the area contained with this memorial is a quiet place, meant for personal reflection and private reckoning. The black granite walls, each two hundred feet long, and ten feet below ground at their lowest point (gradually ascending toward ground level) effectively act as a sound barrier, yet are of such a height and length so as not to appear threatening or enclosing. The actual area is wide and shallow, allowing for a sense of privacy, and the sunlight from the memorial’s southern exposure along with the grassy park surrounding and within its walls, contribute to the serenity of the area. Thus this memorial is for those who have died, and for us to remember them.

The memorial’s origin is located approximately at the center of the site; its legs each extending two hundred feet towards the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The walls, contained on one side by the earth, are ten feet below ground at their point of origin, gradually lessening in height, until they finally recede totally into the earth, at their ends. The walls are to be made of a hard, polished black granite, with the names to be carved in a simple Trajan letter. The memorial’s construction involves recontouring the area within the wall’s boundaries, so as to provide for an easily accessible descent, but as much of the site as possible should be left untouched. The area should remain as a park, for all to enjoy.


Time Period:  1 class iwo jima 

Powerpoint presentation of memorials in D.C.  



Americans Disabled for Life Memorial veterans

Japanese Internment Camps

japanese internment

 Pinterest Board 

Lesson Plans

Ken Burns’ The War Media Database 

segment from Episode 1 of The War 


Reporting America at War 

ernie pyle

Reporting America at War Part One

Reporting America at War Part Two

Ernie Pyle Wartime Columns

Boston Globe


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