7.0538 Review: CD-Rom, "Metropolis" (1/132)

Wed, 2 Mar 1994 20:17:21 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 7, No. 0538. Wednesday, 2 Mar 1994.

Date: Wed, 02 Mar 94 15:28:27 EST
From: John Saillant <SAILLANT@BROWNVM>
Subject: Review of CD-ROM, _Metropolis_

_Metropolis: A Multimedia History of Western Civilization from the
Neolithic to the Global Village_, Prototype 2.1, 1993, by Metropolitan
Arts, Inc., 21 Jones Street, New York, New York 10014,
75366.3234@compuserve.com. Development supported in part by the
National Endowment for the Humanities & the U.S. Department of

Reviewed by John Saillant, Brown University & IEAHCNET (Institute of
Early American Culture & History & H-NET). Saillant@Brownvm.Brown.EDU

This CD-ROM describes itself this fashion: "_Metropolis_ is an
interactive multimedia program for high-school and college students
about the history of Western civilization, focusing on the evolution of
the City as a human institution, from its beginnings in the Neolithic
village of 8,500 years ago to the Global Village that we will all
inhabit in the next century. The program allows you to 'Time-Travel'
through a chronological series of 1500 'events'--major works of art, key
political events, scientific and technological advances, social trends.
Slides and hypertext commentaries, dramatic re-enactments, debates,
readings and musical excerpts are all used to explore these events
further. At a dozen points along the way, you can visit a great city at
a pivotal moment in its development--a moment when it played a decisive
role in the history of the West: a Neolithic village (c. 6500 BC), Ur
(c. 2100 BC), the Egyptian city of El-Amarna (1365 BC), Athens (385-375
BC), Rome (105-115 AD), Bruges (1190-1200), Venice (1500-1510), London
(1720-1730), Paris (1860-1870), Vienna (1904-1914), New York
(1945-1955), the Global Village (2025)."

For technical details, this prototype is an advance copy, only 10%
complete, for teachers interested in computer use in teaching. I
installed it on a PC with no problem. Its system requirements are (1)
IBM-compatible 286 or above with 3 Mb RAM, (2) Windows 3.1 or above &
Mouse, (3) VGA (or better) Windows supported graphics monitor (256-color
SVGA highly recommended [I did not have this]), (4) 1.5 Mb free hard
disk space, (5-optional) Windows-compatible sound card.

It seems likely that CD-ROMS such as _Metropolis_ (in its final version)
will soon begin replacing textbooks in high-school and college teaching.
CD-ROMS themselves are part of a booming business. A March 1, 1994,
article in _The New York Times_ notes that Microsoft's CD-ROM
multimedia titles now provide about a third of the company's consumer
business, up from less than 2% two years ago. Dell Computer will
sell roughly 500,000 PCs with CD-ROM players this year, five times last
year's level. And Link Resources Corp. says the number of households
with CD players has increased fourfold last year to 1.9 million. (A1)
Having taught a Western Civilization survey course several times with a
textbook, several volumes of primary writings, and in-class slides, as
well as having taught an American History survey to 1877 with a
textbook, I welcome the change.

Although this prototype is only 10% complete, its structure shows the
utility of Hypertext and multimedia teaching materials. Hypertext is
text with a built-in dictionary or encyclopedia. As a student reads,
certain key words appear highlighted on the screen. A click on the word
opens up an explanation ranging from a dictionary definition of the word
to an essay equivalent to a short encyclopedia article. The explanation
may itself have Hypertext references; once all is read, the original
text is easily brought back to the screen. Images & maps as well as
primary sources--all mainstays of interdisciplinary teaching--appear on
screen. In Bruges, a burgher's house appears in floor plan, with
some areas highlighted. A click calls up reproductions of windows,
furniture, silverware & the like, with a detailed description along with
explanations of their creation & use. In London, a menu offers a
selection of coffee houses to visit--Button's, Lloyd's, St. James's,
White's, & Don Saltero's. The visit reveals contemporary descriptions of
the activities, conversations, & curios found in each establishment. In
ancient Rome, a click on "Rhetoric" brings forth a good discussion of
rhetoric from the exordium to the peroration along with some of the
correspondence between Trajan & Pliny the Younger.

The 1500 events recorded can be modified once _Metropolis_ is installed.
As an experiment, I added the signing of the Declaration of Independence
& composed a short essay as an explanation that the student would pull
down from the top of the screen where "Event Information" is noted. The
addition worked perfectly. Moreover, a note section is built into the
program, so that students at any time can open up a "Notes" section to
record their thoughts as they read.

One excellent feature of _Metropolis_ is a "Connect Events" function,
again invoked with a click at the top of the screen. Here is an example,
although the series of events given now are short, reflecting the fact
that this prototype is incomplete. One event is "The Emancipation
Proclamation, 1862." "Connect events" places this in a series:
(1) "Abolition of slavery in the British Empire, 1833," (2)
"Emancipation of the Russian serfs, 1861," (3) "Jim Crow laws ruled
constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, 1896." A click on (1) here then
reconfigures the context as (1) "Peasants' Revolt led by Wat Tyler,
1381," (2) "Portuguese begin African slave trade, 1441," (3) "British
women gain right to own property, 1870." Again, a click on (3) here
reconfigures the context as (1) "Arranged marriages begin to disappear
in Europe, 1868," (2) "North Carolina becomes the first state to outlaw
wife-beating, 1890," (3) "American women gain right to vote, 1920."
Thus students can see events as elements in various trends, not as
isolated incidents.

The format of _Metropolis_ has the advantage of providing narrative,
interpretation, dictionary or encyclopedia references, images, & music
in one package. The feeling one gets is that history is an environment,
not just a string of events--this I believe is something closer to the
actuality of history than a textbook can achieve. Historians & other
scholars should be aware that products such as _Metropolis_ are coming
on to the market & should exert a professional influence to ensure that
such products maintain a high standard. The professional time & energy
that once were devoted to the creation of textbooks & encyclopedias
probably will be diverted in part to the creation of CD-ROMS. Many
scholars will be excited by this prospect. In my own area--American
History to 1830, with special interests in race, religion, & political
thought--there is nothing like _Metropolis_, but there is fantastic
potential to reconceptualize the textbooks as multimedia CD-ROMS.
Probably any historian can imagine an environment for his or her
teaching--a narrative, in-depth explanations, primary materials, & a
collection of images, maps, &, frequently enough, music.
My message to publishers is that the age of the textbook & its
companions is over--the age of the CD-ROM is begun.

Furthermore, although there's some feeling today that "snazzy new
technology" is elitist, the opposite is true, I believe. A similar
belief is expressed by John V. Lombardi in "Campuses Need Not Wait for
Snazzy New Technology to Enter Cyberspace," _The Chronicle of Higher
Education_, March 2, 1994, A48. At Brown, for instance, a vast slide
library is available for in-class slide presentations, but I know
first-hand that nothing like it exists in local colleges, much less of
course in public high schools around Brown. Wider use of CD-ROMS &
Internet will serve to open up the doors of the new information age, to
bridge some of the gap between the elite institutions & the ordinary.
Likely John Lombardi is right in arguing that use of electronic media in
education is a paradigm of the delivery of "low-cost, high-value
material," which "would open up access, reduce the economic barriers to
learning, and encourage universities and schools to find ways to speak
to larger, more extended audiences." Indeed, it seems an imperative to
extend the benefits of advances in the technology of education.