Gettysburg PPT, Raffensperger version, for PowerPoint XP. Download “Gettysburg PPT, Raffensperger.zip” and unzip it.
On my Win2000 machine, the audio does not begin with the slide show. If you do not hear audio after a few seconds, press escape to immediately quit the slide show, then start it again. The audio should then work.
With old versions of PPT, the presentation has a few problems. First, the maps on slide 3 do not animate with the audio. Please do nothing until the end of the audio on slide 3. The maps will simply animate late. If you push the space bar during the audio, the audio will be interrupted. You can push the space bar after the audio to advance. Second, slides 18 and 19 during the oratory do not transition properly with the audio. Press the space bar to advance the slide. Fortunately, this does not interrupt the audio.
Parental warning: The presentation is rated at least PG-13. It contains disturbing images.
The presentation takes 10 minutes.
Microsoft PowerPoint (PPT) is a controversial product. I teach operations research here at the University of Canterbury, and I use PPT for my lectures. I do not think PPT is perfect, but I pride myself on producing readable and informative PPT presentations.
Peter Norvig, Director of Search Quality at Google, developed a PPT presentation of the Gettysburg Address (www.norvig.com\Gettysburg\making). He “imagined what Abe Lincoln might have done if he had used PPT rather than the power of oratory at Gettysburg.” The compelling result demonstrates just how badly PowerPoint can be used, and reminds many people in a humorous way of similar presentations we have seen in business and education. I agree with Norvig (and Edward Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”) – PPT lends itself easily to intellectual poverty.
Even so, I thought Norvig’s presentation was trivial, and did not do the software product justice. I casually thought I could make a better presentation of the Gettysburg Address, a PPT that would look a little more refined. I also felt a bit of academic curiosity. How can we use modern PC tools to present complicated information? A friend challenged me to try.
I started by learning about the Civil War and the Battle at Gettysburg. Unfortunately, after just a couple of hours collecting text and images, my naïve plan to create a “good” Gettysburg Address PPT began to unravel. As I studied Lincoln, the Civil War and the historic Battle at Gettysburg, I came to be more and more humbled, and awed, and moved.
I am an Illinoisan now living in New Zealand. I worked on this PPT project during the recent U.S. presidential election, when political feelings were running hot, and I found myself fending off barbs about the American mind from local colleagues. When Mr. Bush won the election, I found myself in the strange position of verbally defending democracy. Some people still believe that dictatorship is somehow wiser or more efficient than democracy. As an expatriate, I have become more patriotic, more appreciative of America’s strengths, and more grateful for those who died to uphold democracy.
The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in 51,000 people wounded, missing or dead. That is the equivalent of eighteen World Trade Center disasters. And Gettysburg wasn’t done to us by lunatic foreign terrorists. Gettysburg was a war of Americans against Americans, all of them thinking that they were defending American liberty. Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg Cemetery only four and half months after the battle. Dead bodies still lay in the Gettysburg battlefield. The Civil War still raged.
The more I learned about Gettysburg, the more I was offended by Norvig’s presentation. No one would ever use PowerPoint under such circumstances. I found that I could not write a “good” PowerPoint presentation for the Gettysburg Address. The best I could do was to try to write something about the Gettysburg Address.
Finding text and images was easy with Google (where Norvig works – many thanks for your work there, Mr. Norvig!). The U.S. government has a huge amount of information. The Internet has so much excellent material available for free that no one has any excuse for producing a plain text PPT.
The references credit www.civilwarphotos.net for some of the images. Given that site’s stated copyright notice, I requested permission to use the images, but have received no reply. Later, I was a bit peeved to find those images available on memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwarquery.html, which civilwarphotos.net did not acknowledge. In academia, we call that plagiarism.
In addition to the text and images, I wanted to add audio, since I intended to post the presentation on the web where I would not be available to speak in person. I first used my personal computer’s “Record Sound” feature, which produced bad quality, and for which I had no convenient editing software. I next used PowerPoint’s audio record feature, which also produced unsatisfactory audio. Eventually, I asked my teen-age son Peter to help me. Peter has been composing music with Cakewalk (www.cakewalk.com), which proved to be perfect for preparing the audio for this presentation. That solved the problem of recording my own voice.
The most difficult element to acquire was an audio file of the Address. I felt that my own squeaky voice was not up to the task of Lincoln’s oratory. The web has a few audio versions. One which bears mention is the magnificent version by Jeff Bridges from the movie Gettysbury. (Well done, Mr. Bridges!) I found this on www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gettysburgaddress.htm, but I object to that web author’s use and posting of copyrighted work. Since I wanted to post my PowerPoint presentation, I wanted everything public domain.
I wrote to Illinois Representative Timothy Johnson (www.house.gov/timjohnson) to ask him to do the reading. As I mentioned, I was born and raised in Illinois. I think Rep. Johnson’s district includes Lincoln’s boyhood home, and he has expressed a special concern for veterans affairs. He even looks a bit like Lincoln. However, Rep. Johnson never responded.
I therefore decided to produce my own version. American accents are in short supply here in New Zealand, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my University colleagues, Bob Manthei from over in the Education Department, University of Canterbury, doing television coverage of the Olympic basketball games. I eventually asked him to do the recording, and he graciously agreed. With Peter’s help running Cakewalk, we did ten “takes”, and finally stitched together the first half of the 9th and the last half of the 10th. We also removed a few pauses. Peter occasionally flashed through some sequence of dialog boxes so quickly that I couldn’t work out what he was doing. He just told me, “You wear makeup on TV, so that you look more natural under the bright lights. I’m doing the audio equivalent.”
For the music, we downloaded a MIDI file of “My Days Have Been so Wondrous Free,” sequenced by Lesley Nelson-Burns (www.contemplator.com/america/daysbeen.html). From his web site:
This tune was written in 1759 by Francis Hopkinson of Philadelphia. It was published in 1788 in a collection of songs dedicated to George Washington, a personal friend of Hopkinson's.
Hopkinson was one of the first American composers. He was also a lawyer, poet, inventor and painter. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence (for New Jersey) and helped design the American Flag. He served as judge of the Pennsylvania Admiralty courts and was later a judge for the District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania.
The words to the song, also from Nelson-Burns’ web site:
My days have been so wondrous free,
The little birds that fly
With careless ease from tree to tree,
Were but as blest as I,
Were but as blest as I.
Ask the gliding waters,
If a tear of mine
Increased their stream,
And ask the breathing gales
If ever I lent a sigh to them,
If I lent a sigh to them.
I selected this music because of Hopkinson’s connection to Pennsylvania and to the founding of the country, because the music is sufficiently unknown that it would not distract, and because the tranquil words have an ironic contrast to the martial tragedy. Peter helped me edit the MIDI file. We rearranged the music to have it fit the words. He mixed it with Bob’s reading of the Address, and converted it to MP3 format, which I then inserted into the PowerPoint file.
Once the main pieces were in place, I wanted to animate the presentation. I use PowerPoint all the time for lectures, but I rarely use timed animation. Instead, I advance the show with a press of the space bar. (In tutorials, I sometimes write something on the white board, erase it, write it again, erase it, and write it again, then tell the students that it is an animation.) For this Gettysburg PPT, I wanted to automate the show since I cannot be present when most people play the presentation.
The most difficult part was adjusting the animation so that the audio followed the maps and Address. I found PowerPoint’s animation interface generally annoying. The software is confusing, with too many dialog boxes. More than once, I wished I had used SVG, but that would have defeated the purpose of using PPT!
Once I had the animations right, I found that some animations do not work with Microsoft’s PPT viewer or earlier versions of PPT. With versions of PPT earlier than XP, the maps on slide 3 do not animate with the audio. Similarly, with earlier versions of PPT, slides 18 and 19 during the oratory do not transition properly with the audio.
Conversion to HTML was also frustrating. When saved as MHT format, in the most Microsoft-centric way (“People who view this will be using Internet Explore 6”, for example), the audio did not play past the first slide of the Address. I therefore split the Address audio into three files for the web version. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Windows Media File Editor, which worked fine. That program converted the files to WMA format, which I didn’t mind. I am discouraged that the music at the end is chopped, but don’t know how to fix it. Another problem came up with the file size, as the MHT file was 10 megabytes, so starting the show was quite slow. I therefore saved it in a format for older browsers, which starts faster. But the animations and audio were still unsatisfactory, so I finally gave up on conversion to HTML.
My presentation is more complicated technically than Norvig’s. Norvig’s file is 30 kilobytes in size; mine is 2.5 megabytes with links to another 4.3 megabytes of audio. Mine does not play properly on versions of PPT previous to PPT XP. The file did not convert to HTML as smoothly. The presentation took much longer to create. As this project was done over several months, I lost track of how long it took. I would estimate 160 to 200 hours for the 21 slides, well beyond my usual benchmark of an hour per slide.
While some people may be quick to point out that these are additional problems with PowerPoint, thus justifying the stupidity of the software, I would argue that these are problems of usability and creation, not problems of cognition and perception. I have found open source software much worse.
Norvig succeeded in demonstrating the weaknesses of PPT at its worst. His and Tufte’s point is well-taken, and I concede that PowerPoint is grossly and frequently misused because misusing it is so easy. I reluctantly support his message about PPT. If I have anything to say from an academic point of view, it is just “Use a tool for what it is intended, and learn to use it well.” PPT is easily misused, but it does not require misuse, any more than any other form of media.
I am sure that other people who are more skilled in the visual and audio arts can improve on my PPT. At this point, it is too hard to keep thinking about the Gettysburg tragedy, and I can’t really bear to look at the PPT anymore. After poring over those horrible images and hearing the Address again and again, after thinking deeply about the meaning of freedom and its cost, I came away from this project rather depressed about the whole pointless PowerPoint debate.
I suppose I could be accused of “not getting it” – of course PPT should not have been used for the Gettysburg address; the point is that PPT is easily misused. Neither would Lincoln have used rap music (which is as silly at its best as PPT at its worst), or a hand puppet, or even an ultra-high resolution beautifully typeset color printed graphic that would look great in Tufte’s next book. No one would use such devices to deliver a message surrounded by grieving families, with the dead yet unburied, during wartime. They are simply the wrong tools. Norvig raised a straw man.
I mainly wish Norvig had chosen a different subject. Lincoln said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” Norvig made his argument about PowerPoint with Lincoln’s Address; he remembered Lincoln’s words, but I think he forgot what the soldiers did. Gettysburg is too awful to parody.
−John F. Raffensperger, Christchurch, NZ, December 2004.
12 February 2005. Happy 196th Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!
28 February 2005. Censored by Tufte. My post to Edward Tufte's bulletin board on PowerPoint was deleted. In the post, I simply asked that, since PowerPoint isn't going away, shouldn't we be teaching people how to use it? Ironically, Prof. Tufte and I are almost entirely in agreement. I like and recommend his style and his materials. Further, I recognize his right to control his bulletin board. Nevertheless, I was amused.
10 March 2005. Norvig's other PPTs. Mr. Norvig has produced PPT files other than the Gettysburg PPT. What is so ironic is that his other PPTs have problems that Tufte condemns, such as bullet lists, generic headings, and meaningless graphics. Some were even made for NASA, though fortunately only as post mortem to minor loss, not preliminary to major tragedy. See, for example, www.norvig.com/lisp_talk_final.htm, www.norvig.com/design-patterns/, www.norvig.com/lisp_talk_final.htm, www.norvig.com/adaptive/index.htm, www.jpl.nasa.gov/marsreports/mpiat_report_1.pdf, www.jpl.nasa.gov/marsreports/mpiat_report_2.pdf.
I wish to underscore that I have great respect for Tufte and Norvig. Tufte's work on graphics is brilliant, and Norvig's contributions to computer science equally so. It is just this PowerPoint controversy that I think is misguided.
21 March 2005. Now it's personal. To my amazement, I discovered yesterday that East Cemetery Hill − which saw a key part of the Battle − was so named only afterwards. During the Battle, that place was called Raffensperger's Hill. Coincidentally, the owners of that tragic place had the same names as two of my children, Peter and Rebecca. I suppose I should amend the PowerPoint for historical accuracy, but I don't think I will indulge my narcissism that far.
13 February 2008. Abraham Lincoln's 199th birthday yesterday - actually today, as Christchurch is a day ahead of Illinois. Coincidentally, Bob Manthei's retirement was held today. And I've just posted this to my personal web site with Google ads. Ah, the ironies!
23 Nov 2013. I presented this at my work for the 150th anniversary of the Address, and I found I needed to update a few bits, such as my email address.