Civil War App: Mostly a Great Teacher With a Few Sub-Par Subs
Civil War: America's Epic Struggle is an iPad app that ties in layer upon layer of images, charts, statistics, articles and multimedia presentations to teach the user all about the American Civil War. The app can seem a bit unrefined at times, with typos and a few oddly put-together slide shows here and there. But they don't distract too much from the interesting lessons the app has to offer.
Move over, Ken Burns. The Civil War has come to the iPad.
The $4.99 app, Civil War: America's Epic Struggle, created by MultiEducator is a cornucopia of information about the war between the states. What's more, it deftly uses the iPad's unique features to bring history to life in an engaging and exciting way.
The app is organized into categories. They include general subjects, such as causes of the war, medical care and economics. They also include categories that slice and dice the material in the app into special information sets. They include biographies, timelines, maps, statistics and alphabetical and chronological lists of battles.
There's also a multimedia category. It contains a list of all the slideshows in the app. Photos, music, narration and an animated battle map enliven presentations on tussles like Antietam, Bull Run, Chickamauga and Gettysburg. Other slideshow subjects target the causes of the war, the role of railroads in the war and Sherman's march to the sea.
For quick access to material in the app, there's a search-by-word function, a list of items recently viewed and a favorites list for spots you fancy.
Information in the app comes from a variety of sources. Battle summaries are written by Marc Schulman, the chief historian for MultiEducator. Photographs used in the software were chosen from the Mathew Brady collection archived by the Library of Congress. It also uses material from books written by participants in war. Authors include Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis and James Longstreet.
General categories can be purely text or contain a mix of elements. For instance, the sections on "Americans" -- which discusses the demographics of the U.S. population during the war and the participation of Native American and immigrants in it -- and "America" -- a grab bag of topics, such as "daily life in the military," "prisons," "spies," and "confederate camps" -- are solid text. Other sections are all photos. "Railroads," for instance, is a slideshow-only section. Still others, like "Medical Care," mix text with a slideshow.
Within a category, items are listed in a column on the left side of the iPod's display. Each item has an icon beside it, making it easy to identify its content as text, image, sound, chronology or slideshow. The iconography, though, isn't always consistent. Chronologies for the some sections -- "Washington" and "Richmond," for example -- have their own icons, while the timeline for the naval history of the war has text icons.
Fun Despite Flaws
Some sections of the app are particularly entertaining. "Music," for instance, has hits from era. They include rousing renditions of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," sung by Awet Andemichael, as well as "Dixie." For the singalong set, lyrics for all the ballads are included in the section.
The maps section is engrossing, too. Maps allow you to see how a battlefield situation changed from day to day. Using iPod features like pinch to expand and contract a map and finger drag to move around it lets you zoom in on detail in a conflict or quickly zoom out to see the big picture with ease.
Most of the maps in the software are static. The map for the battle of Second Bull Run, though, is animated and narrated. As the narrator explains the action on the battlefield, the flags representing Union and Confederate units move around the map. The technique is quite entertaining. It's too bad only one battle receives the animated map treatment.
Another engaging section is "Statistics." Numbers can be numbing at times. This section, with its bar graphs, adds a visual dimension to the war unseen in pictures alone.
There are some annoying typographical errors in the app. In the music section, for instance, the menu item to play "We Are Coming Father Abra'am" is labeled "All Quiet Along the Potomac." In addition, some sldeshows have awkward pauses in them and music that sometimes drowns out the narrator's spiel.
While those flaws may irritate, they only slightly diminish the fun of learning about the Civil War with this iPad app.