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Engineering an Empire
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this engaging educational show uses reenactments (some realistic, others computer-generated) to depict historical events including battles and, in one instance, human sacrifice. These scenes are usually mild, with only a hint of blood. Some shows may include descriptions of unusual socio-cultural practices, like sibling marriage or polygamy.
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What's the story?
ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE is an educational series that looks at history and culture through the lens of engineering feats. Hosted by actor and scholar Peter Weller (RoboCop), the show uses a variety of methods -- from reenactments to computer-generated blueprints -- to illustrate technologies that built great ancient civilizations, like Athens, Egypt, and Mayan Mexico. In the episode \"Greece: Age of Alexander,\" for example, viewers learn about Alexander the Great's use of catapults and special spears, which gave his army an advantage over its enemies and eventually allowed them to conquer outlying areas and spread Greek culture to Egypt and beyond. Location shots add interest to the lessons, like when Weller sits on the steps of an enormous Greek theater while describing its acoustics. Experts from universities in the United States and beyond provide detail and color commentary on aspects of the culture being examined.
Is it any good?
While some kids will be bored to tears by descriptions of ancient history, those interested in how things work will find much to hold their attention. Descriptions use some complex language, but Weller keeps things down to earth -- describing Macedonia, for instance, as the nerd in the class who wanted to join the frat boys of Athens.
Since much of empire building involves war, combat is one of the show's primary topics. Viewers learn about weapons and see some digital reenactments of violence, as well as some realistic scenes of slain soldiers or human sacrifice, though usually without much detail.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the connections between history and contemporary living. How do some of the engineering feats seen on the show affect life today? Are kids or parents surprised to learn where certain things originated? Can kids think of something in their lives that could be improved through engineering? What did you learn from each episode?