Virtual History: The Civil War IPad App

In the last decade, Apple's gadgets have revolutionized how we consume digital media and even how we interact with the world. It's not too surprising, then, that their iPad might now change the way people immerse themselves in history. The History Channel has just released a real-time Civil War app, Civil War Today. Schools offering American History degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What It Is

Released earlier this month, Civil War Today aims to draw its users into a real-time virtual recreation of America's War Between the States. Gone is the need to dress up in period-appropriate costumes and travel to some open field in the middle of nowhere: your iPad will feed you a helping of relevant Civil War information every day. Users of the Civil War Today app can look forward to updates that include:

  • Recreated artifacts from the period, such as photos and newspaper headlines, as well as personal diary entries from key figures involved in the war, including Abraham Lincoln.
  • Articles and videos that investigate specific topics relevant to the war.
  • Daily North-South quizzes.
  • A somewhat morbid running casualty count for both sides.

history civil war ipad apple history channel app

Real-Time Explained

The Civil War Today App employs an interesting tactic to keep its users engaged: every day it will update with the major stories from that date 150 years ago. The app became active on April 12 to mark the Confederacy's attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, and it will cease to update after April 26, 2015, 150 years after John Wilkes Booth was shot and killed by Federal troops.

The History Channel is employing an interesting business model. For $7.99, Civil War Today gives its users four years of daily updated content. App programmers are banking on your sustained interest for a lengthy period of time, after which the app essentially shuts down. It seems like a gamble, but one that's already paid off; though it's been out less than a month, Apple has named it an 'App of the Week.'

Potential Controversy

Understandably, the Civil War remains a hot-button issue for many American history buffs. A recent New York Times editorial suggests that this app might stoke some controversy, even while trying to avoid it. Times columnist Virginia Heffernan posits that the app somewhat marginalizes the issue of slavery, a key factor in the War. That leads to a larger issue: can we really digest history virtually? Won't the digital landscape of pixelated battles and maps gloss over real historical truths?

Though there may be some danger in repackaging a national crisis as entertainment (like the high score in a video game, Civil War Today even allows users to unlock achievement badges for time spent on the app), one might wonder how a textbook or lecture would do much better. Any interpretation of historical events leaves itself open to criticisms of elision or misrepresentation. The History Channel wants to engage iPad users with the day-to-day details of a major period in American history. In the end, anything that facilitates that kind of learning seems to posses at least some value.

It's been over a year since the device was released, and many students and professors are weighing in on how well the iPad functions as an education tool.

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