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Civil War: America's Epic Struggle comes to the iPad and iPhone

David Winograd

Civil War: America's Epic Struggle (US$4.99) from MultiEducator Inc. is a full history course in an iPad and iPhone app. It contains at least as much information as most textbooks on the Civil War at a fraction of the cost, while adding elements that no textbook can. There are 24 multimedia presentations, some as long as nine minutes, a nice selection of music popular during the Civil War, and a wonderful navigation system that just makes sense.

When starting the app, information can be sorted 18 ways, from a changing Categories bar including Battles (sorted either chronologically or alphabetically), Multimedia Presentations, Statistics and topics like Navy, Economics, Railroads, Music, etc. Depending upon where you are in the app, tapping on Categories brings up a contextual listing of what you can see. For example, tapping on Major Battles Chronologically changes the bar to a listing of battles grouped by year. Tapping on a battle such as Bull Run, brings choices of a text summary of the battle, a five minute multimedia summary, seven text articles on aspects of the battle, 20 photos or drawings, most of them taken from the Matthew Brady Archives, and full color maps. Depending upon the battle there is more or less information available, but this is done for 26 battles in total; clearly, there's a phenomenal amount of information in the app, plenty for even a Civil War buff to peruse.

Gallery: Civil War: America's Epic Struggle | 7 Photos

Dozens of biographies of Union and Confederate Generals can be found and the majority of them have photos included. The Timeline contains a button for each year, which brings up a listing of what happened each month along with a button for each month affording a more detailed listing of events. Choosing Americans brings up articles on Native, German, Irish, Jewish, Spanish and Chinese Americans. If you tap on Washington, you get a chronology of what happened by year, 18 text articles, and 49 photos. The amount of information is staggering. To contain this much information, the app has to be huge and it is, weighing in at 248 MB.

With many hundreds of items, it might be easy to get lost, but Marc Shulman, the major developer of a team of 4.5 (his kid did the icons), came up with a number of ways to inform you of where you are. A Recents button offers up a listing of the last few dozen places you've been. Any page can be marked as a Favorite whose listing appears on the Navigation bar along with Categories and Recents. Standardized color coded icons grouped on the bar makes it easy to tell just what items are: text, photos, music, statistics or audio. It's very hard to get lost.

The app can be used any way you hold the iPad or iPhone. On the iPhone the Navigation bar is on the bottom and quite honestly the app is harder to use, but according to Shulman it was meant and designed for the iPad first and the iPhone second. Videos and photos are better in landscape mode and can be expanded to fill the whole screen which eliminates the bar. Another nice touch is that you can email the content of whatever is being viewed by tapping on the Send button. This brings up an email screen which does not toss you out of the app. Next to that is an Info button offering a brief overview of what section you're in at the time.

About 50% of the content previously appeared 15 years ago in a two CDROM set which was mostly sold to schools. This included all the multimedia presentations and a lot of the text, but over the last nine months of development a ton of additional content was added including the majority of the photos. MultiEducator Inc. is currently working on similar apps covering the Revolutionary War and the History of Aviation. Don't expect to see them soon, since putting one of these together is Herculean task, as you might imagine.

The app is not without its share of problems. When I first took a look, it was rife with mistakes, but a few days ago a revision was put up solving about half of my concerns. There are still quite a few issues, though: Some items are duplicated. The audio quality can be poor, with a constant low buzz and a lot of microphone noise when changing readers. A good number of text screens spill off the right side and you need to use pinch and stretch to make them readable. This was the case for all the screens in the original app, but over half of them have been re-sized in the revision. One icon is wrong, and there are a few spelling errors on buttons -- the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is displayed as "When Johny Comes Marching Home." Some pages, especially the ones regarding the Generals, are too small and leave large gray borders on the screen. There is a notable lack of consistency in the text screens. The last three minutes or so of the Overview multimedia presentation shows a constant thin black line near the top of the screen. None of these are shooting offenses, but they do tend to lessen the quality of a first class app.

The text problems should be fixed in the next revision which will include an option to choose the display size of text. The audio problems will take longer since they require re-recording. Over the last 15 years, ideas of what was considered quality audio has changed and re-recording well over an hour of audio won't happen overnight.

None of these problems should make you hesitate to buy the app right now, especially if reading about the Civil War is your thing. They are nothing more than ants at a picnic, and I was assured that they will all be fixed in free revisions.

In the final analysis, this app is a wonder. It contains an amazing amount of history curriculum presented in many modes. From an instructional design perspective, it makes commendable use of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

Kudos to Marc Shulman and his team. Civil War: America's Epic Struggle is a wonderful addition to history education and strengthens and expands the uses of the iPad for students and educators.

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