Most everything you’ve heard about African history and culture is wrong, according to Gregory Kerr, and much has been left out.
It is not a “giant mud pit full of clay huts and savages,” Kerr (CAS’18) says in a 21-minute video he has put on YouTube. Cataract surgery and C-sections were done there long before Europe got around to them. Africans designed magnificent architecture, including buildings in a coastal region built almost entirely from coral. To the extent that Africans are poor, that’s mainly a consequence of colonization.
Kerr’s video reality check is narrated by a wisecracking, animated version of the student “Blue,” named for his eye color, who is seated by an animated fire in a book-lined library. He runs down facts and fictions about Africa, aided by quick cuts to maps, pictures, and colloquial captions.
Thucydides and YouTube: there are two words you normally don’t hear in the same breath. But classics and philosophy major Kerr is using 21st-century social media to teach lessons about ancient history in a way he says the Greek historian, who lived four centuries before Jesus, would have approved. Thucydides believed history should be enjoyable to read, Kerr says. By that yardstick, “textbooks are garbage,” he continues. “Oh my God, it’s the worst way to convey information.”
So Kerr’s summer project for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which matches students with faculty mentors across the University and provides funding for projects, is to make 10 enjoyable videos for a YouTube channel (name: Overly Sarcastic Productions) that either debunk misconceptions about ancient cultures or teach enduring moral lessons. Besides Africa, his planned or completed topics will be Thucydides’ Athens, the Vikings, Japanese Samurai, Mesoamerican peoples, Persia, India, China, the Iroquois, and the Mongols.
His Africa video alone has drawn more than 46,000 views, with Athens just under that.