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Past is present

Ken Burns is America’s definitive documentarian, with a catalogue of footage that highlights the most important themes in American history: Art, Race, War, Innovation, Hardships, and Politics.

But for many, his work only exists on PBS and we needed to give him a way to be more accessible to younger audiences. Our idea, Unum, was to take his full body of work – 30 films and roughly 170 hours of footage – and turn it into a shareable, easy-to-navigate, interactive, digital destination that makes history relevant to the present, appealing to both buffs and laypeople.

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Ken Burns website collage

E pluribus unum was chosen as the motto of the United States in 1782. It means ‘out of many, one’, which captures the very soul of this project. It’s all one story. It always has been.

- Ken Burns
Ken Burns website

Transforming how people think about history

To change how people think about history, we had to change the way they experience it. We needed to create a platform that allows users to explore history in novel ways, uncover underlying patterns that span decades, and discover unexpected connections between past and present.

In the spirit of Ken’s films themselves

We didn’t want a platform that presented a singular narrative or experience, rather we wanted something that presented the facts and allowed users to build their own experience and engage with history on their own terms.

Ken Burns website section
Ken Burns website section

Surfacing connections between different time periods

To do this, we began by breaking Ken’s films down to the “molecular” level, creating dozens of short, snackable clips. We then organized them not just chronologically, but also by themes – giving people a new way to explore history.

Bringing the past to the present

We invited contemporary figures to lend their voices as commentary on the clips. From Barack Obama reflecting on the bravery of Jackie Robinson, to Glenn Beck discussing the dawn of the radio age, we brought together a diverse range of figures to help everyday people better understand present-day America through the lens of its past.

Ken Burns website section

I really felt it was time to stop and think about [my work] in a new way, and to understand and honor new media. I’ve never had a digital destination that allowed people to see the work in a different way.

- Ken Burns


The Shorty Awards
Best Mobile App

Appy Awards
Best in Show

Appy Awards
Best Entertainment App

The Digiday Mobi Awards
Best Mobile App, Editorial Content

IAB Mixx Awards
Gold Winner, Interactive Video

Best Entertainment Mobile Application

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