By Singer, Linda A.
Multimedia Schools , Vol. 4, No. 1
microsoft's 500 Nations and The American Indian CD-ROMs differ greatly in style and scope. 500 Nations is graphic, colorful, depends on multimedia, but has little written text. This is not surprising since it is based on the 1995 CBS miniseries narrated by Kevin Costner. The American Indian has as its backbone six Facts On File print titles covering a range of topics about Native Americans: The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Encyclopedia of North American Tribes, Who Was Who in Native American History, Voices of the Winds: Native American Legends, Atlas of the North American Indian, and Word Dance: The Language of Native American Culture. It is largely text with some supplemental multimedia features. Both CD-ROM titles have a place in a school library media center.
When I am evaluating a reference CD-ROM title, I look at the content, its authority, the search engine, how well the CD-ROM serves its intended audience, the price, the extras such as teacher's guides, and the hardware and software requirements. I also consider how I feel about the program as a whole. Does it meet my expectations? Would I use it with students? Would students enjoy using it and benefit from it?
500 Nations covers both historical and present day perspectives but features specific events. These events when experienced as a unit illustrate the American Indian heritage as represented in the Kevin Costner TV productions. Events include the theory that Asian hunters came across the Bering Sea to Alaska thousands of years ago, Native American creation stories, and various struggles such as the Trail of Tears in 1838, Geronimo's Surrender in 1886, Wounded Knee in 1890, and the conditions and thoughts of contemporary American Indians. Microsoft and CBS staff traveled to Native American communities to establish the validity of the research and the assembled American Indian folklore. The CBS miniseries, two books published by Knopf, the audiobook published by Random House, and this CD-ROM are all based on the same research and field work.
Kevin Costner gives a brief video (and audio) welcome, explaining the 500 Nations project and invites you "to follow in the footsteps" of the earliest Americans. The content is divided into segments or chapters that are informative, well-written, and easy to understand. Each chapter is several screens in length. Each is introduced by a video with Kevin Costner and has vivid, colorful illustrations, text, and narration. Many have videos and/or slide show presentations, which are filled with much good information. While some videos are narrated, there is no associated printed text. Unfortunately, some videos are accompanied only by music.
You access this largely visual and auditory content from four different perspectives via choices from the main screen: Timeline, Homelands, Pathfinders, and Storytellers. The Timeline is represented as rings in a tree trunk. At the center is Creation; at the furthest ring is Living Nations, contemporary Native American life. From this Timeline, you can click on an event and choose a chapter to investigate.
In Creation, for example, you may choose First World, Creation Stories, Sacred Centers, or Ancestors. On each screen, there may be three or four choices to pursue. For example, in Creation Stories, there are videos of native scenic backgrounds as members from four different tribes each tell their stories of creation.
The same topics can be explored from Homelands. The difference is you select the topic from a map of North America where the event took place. Pathfinders presents the topics through nine broad themes such as Clash of Cultures, Cauldron of War, and The Conscience of America.
Storytellers are Native Americans who tell about events or experiences members of their tribe have had. Often, they are talking about their own ancestors.
Features which are accessible from each screen include Contents, Index, Options, and Back. …