Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Historic lens

History professor shares expertise on PBS, National Geographic Channel shows

History professor Dolita Cathcart will appear on two television shows early in 2017, sharing her expertise in African American history and social movements with audiences on PBS and the National Geographic Channel.

The first project, titled “Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster,” will air on PBS’s Independent Lens on February 6, 2017, and focuses on response to the 1915 silent film Birth of a Nation.

“The filmmakers came across my dissertation while they were conducting research on the showing of D.W. Griffith's blockbuster film, Birth of a Nation—a horribly racist film that helped to reinvigorate the Klan,” Cathcart said.

The film, which was developed by Northern Light Productions, is narrated by actor Danny Glover and features interviews with filmmakers Spike Lee and Henry Louis Gates Jr., among other famous names.

The Wheaton professor’s living room was transformed into a film studio for the interview, which focused on how the black community in America reacted to the showing of the film at the time—a response that included protests and police riots.

The second film project came about after the “Birth of a Movement” creators shared Cathcart’s interview with producers at the National Geographic Channel, who were working on an eight-part documentary series. The series, titled Origins, chronicles “the breathtaking story of the rise of mankind,” according to a website announcing the project.

Cathcart was interviewed for three or four episodes in the Origins series, which is set to air on the National Geographic Channel in March 2017.

While sharing her expertise on African American history, Cathcart collected a few new strategies for the classroom.

Origins gave me some ideas for teaching, like taking an artifact of some kind and having that stimulate discussion,” she said. “I actually tried that in one of my last classes and it went quite well.”

Cathcart also has been invited to appear on a panel of experts to discuss the PBS project at a public screening at Harvard University in late January.