Review: History Of The World
Apple Macintosh © LCIII or above, System 7.1 or higher
6 MB of RAM (8Mb recommended)
Double speed CD-ROM drive (4X or 8X Recommended)
Copyright © 1995 Dorling Kindersley
Distributed by DK MULTIMEDIA 1-800-DKMM-575 (U.S.A. & Canada only)
List Price: $34.95
The EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD, a multimedia CD-ROM by the Dorling Kindersley MULTIMEDIA company, advertises itself as "The essential multimedia reference guide to World History," and as a CD-ROM which "...provides an unrivaled source of knowledge of different civilisations, historical events, and the people who have shaped history - from the first humans to our modern world." These are pretty bold claims and I, as a cultural historian, educator and reviewer, felt obliged to confirm how accurate these assertions could actually be. The Kindersley product had advertised itself as an encyclopaedia, so I thought it fair to use Grolier's 1996 Interactive Multimedia Encyclopaedia as the competition. The DK production consists of a single CD-ROM (632.5 MB on disk) with more than 70 animations, over 25 video sequences, 700 photographs and illustrations, 3 hours of audio narration and over 150,000 words of explanation and labeling. The Grolier production is also a single CD-ROM (640.7 MB on disk) and has more than 32,000 articles, a gallery of thousands of photographs and illustrations, dozens of movies, video-clips and animations, numerous maps of expandable potential, and fact boxes, tables, sounds, inter-activities in support of the various subjects. Another reviewer pointed out that the EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD claims to contain over 150,000 words of content. By contrast, Encarta[TM], the complete Interactive Multimedia Encyclopaedia by Microsoft, claims to contain over 9 million words. Facts and figures seemed stacked against the assertions of DK's cover advertising as being serious. If the intent of DK is to present EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD as a truly comprehensive and scholarly history of the world including all continents, peoples, customs, faiths and cultures, it seems doomed to be a miserable failure in very glossy packaging!
The key words "comprehensive" and "scholarly" must not be applied to the EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD in a critical fashion. One quickly discovers that this production is more about the "experience" of learning as opposed to an "exercise" in learning. Indeed, this Multimedia work comes very close to being a good example of "edutainment" as opposed to being strictly educational. But then why shouldn't learning be fun? The suggestion of an enjoyable journey of learning is reinforced by the central control screen desk whose appearance reminds one of mission control in H.G. Wells' "Time Machine." The user is presented, at the bottom of the screen, with ten time frame "rollers" which activate journeys within distinct chronologies ranging from "The Ancient World," through to "The Age of Explorers" and onto the "Modern World." Selecting one of the category "rollers" causes the items on the shelves and desk surface to metamorphose into objects relevant to the time period you chose. "The Age of Explorers" offers such desktop memorabilia as: a Veracruz Harp (an item of exchange between American natives and Spanish explorers); a working version of a "nocturnal" (a device used by ocean-going ships to measure time at night), Shakespeare's Globe Theatre; a Portrait of Henry VIII (yes, he really did have six wives, and only two went to the guillotine!); the Taj Mahal (a beautiful work of Islamic architecture); and a picture depicting the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. As a bonus, each of the ten chronological periods hide two items of interest in the "Document" drawer of the main screen display. For "The Age of Explorers," the items are a picture of Saint Alexis of Russia (which leads to an explanation of expansion workings in Czarist Russia during this era) and a page from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (drawing us into a similar look at the conquests and explorations associated with the Renaissance).
At first blush, one might wonder how this eclectic, disparate, seemingly trivial and obscure bunch of "stuff' will lead to a deeper understanding of world history. Have faith! All of these items have 'hot spot links' to other topics of larger significance. On the centrally-placed globe, each of four geographic locations ("The Americas," "Europe," "Africa and the Middle East," and "Asia and Australia") can be individually activated to generate maps containing icons representing histories critical to the particular chronology being studied.
A mouse click on "Europe" reveals a map upon which are arranged miniature icons or pictures with topic titles. Activate one of these icons, such as "Czarist Russia" and a rich amount of information is presented in the form of "Key Dates," "Fact File," and a wonderfully rich link, "See Also," which in this instance leads one to discussions of the "Mongol Empire," "Russian Revolution," and many others. The other nine time frames offer an equally stimulating edutainment experience.
Back at the main desk, you should notice four reference books in the lower left hand corner: "Everyday Life" (Clothing, Food and Medicine), "Culture" (Art, Buildings and Writing), "Innovations " (Inventions, Transport and Weapons), and "Who's Who" (78 biographies of people from all of the chronologies). This material is constant throughout your chronological journeys because the information in these books relates to the entire concept of this history. Although each entry may lack the depth of a full encyclopaedic entry, the information is straightforward and occasionally comes with embedded 'hot spot' linkages.
Beneath the "Documents" drawer on the right hand side of the desk is a "Quiz Master" option. When activated, you are offered the option of a one or two player 'game' which uses material from the entire CD-ROM distributed among the categories of "People," "Places," and 'Events." There are only 150 multiple choice questions in total, and the difficulty level is predictably easy.
The peripheral 'buttons' on the sides of the screen allow access to an "A to Z" index of the CD-ROM contents (with a handy interface which takes you to the appropriate screen or article of information), a minimal 'back tracking' option, an explicit "Help" section, and an "Options" section which allows you to set program preferences and print or copy selections of interest.
In all fairness, I believe this product is aimed at a family audience with an emphasis on younger students. This being the case, I must admit that I was still intrigued by the amount of information contained in this 'Encyclopaedia', as well as its professional visual presentation. Despite having a limited replay value for a person such as myself, the contents of the EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD should act as an excellent incentive for young and teenage students to pursue research topics. It may even inspire a visit to a book library or the acquisition and use of one of the more serious encyclopaedias offered by Microsoft or Grolier. Personally, my 'trip' through the entire CD-ROM served as an excellent 'quickie' refresher course in the threads of World History; the patterns of which had become broken here and there as a result of time and my 'failing' memory!
The DK product contains another CD-ROM entitled "Sampler Disc 2." This overt piece of advertising introduces you to several other titles in the Dorling Kindersley MULTIMEDIA 'family'. I must admit, at this stage I began to have flashbacks to my childhood experience of visiting the grocery store where one was confronted with a displays of encyclopaedias, nature books, dinosaur volumes and so forth. They encouraged you to have your mother purchase Volume One this week, Volume Two the next week, and so forth until you had the entire collection. This concept of a 'family' or set of titles is not such a bad idea, but take care not to buy all the volumes! Careful research, using demos and reading reviews can save you precious time and money. For example, while DK's CARTOPEDIA - THE WORLD REFERENCE ATLAS may be a great visual treat, you have to keep in mind that it's comparative data base figures for items such as population, resources, borders, etc. will not be current. Another cause for concern would be the hardware you have at hand to run these productions. A case in point is my favourite 'family' member from the DK stable: The ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF SCIENCE. If one neglects minor oddities such as having only a written explanation of an eclipse (a phenomena which cries out for a visual explanation), some material that is presented visually will suffer in delivery unless you have a fast CD drive (2X is slow, 4X is tolerable, 8X takes the prize).
In the final analysis, every school library should contain at least one DK product on their shelves. They are a superbly well done adjunct to other learning resources. Families and individuals also may enjoy purchasing one or two of the titles for their own home reference library.
(I cannot resist mentioning the "fountainhead" of all visual in the world of graphic programs - MYST TM. Darned if the animated building on the "splash screen" of the EYEWITNESS HISTORY OF THE WORLD CD-ROM doesn't bear a close resemblance to the planetarium in the Miller Brothers' game and the DK 'desktop' reminds one of a trip into the MYST[TM] library! Small world, and it does look best on a Mac!)