National Endowment For The Humanities Expands Its Support Of WNET's Award-winning History Game Series, Mission US

New grant will help fund the series' seventh mission focused on the civil rights movement

Jul 29, 2015, 14:37 ET from WNET

NEW YORK, July 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Public media provider WNET has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for Mission US: No Turning Back (wt), the seventh interactive experience in the award-winning series of free online role-playing games giving middle and high school students a humanities-driven, first-person perspective on American history. This grant is the third and largest NEH investment to date in the digital history gaming experience. 

The Mission US series engages young people in the exploration, discovery, and understanding of U.S. history by casting them in the roles of peers from the past. Through a collaboration with scholars and game designers, No Turning Back will offer a rich, experiential understanding of the African American struggle for civil rights and the crucial role of young people in the movement. Told primarily from the perspective of a teenage African American girl, the game narrative uses a local struggle unfolding in the South to illuminate how "ordinary" African Americans helped to change the meaning of equality in America.

"NEH is proud to continue to invest in the growth of Mission US. The project is a great example of how leading humanities scholars and educational designers can work together to support innovative new ways to teach history to the next generation of students," said NEH Chairman William Adams. "Mission US offers audiences a wholly unique way to engage with the humanities through historical and critical thought, two attributes vital to our role as citizens in the contemporary United States."

"No Turning Back will provide a first-hand look into a significant moment in American history in a way that is engaging and empowering," says Neal Shapiro, WNET President and CEO. "WNET is honored and delighted to be a grant recipient and to continue our commitment to develop projects that make an impact."

Each new Mission US game represents an evolution in the series. In No Turning Back, three new features will provide more perspective and opportunities for reflection. "In Their Shoes" will enable the player to switch characters and recount events from another perspective. "Newsflash" will embed actual newspapers, news footage, and radio speeches in the game. And "Write & Reflect" will allow players to reflect on the choices they made during gameplay.

Launched in 2010, Mission US ( is developed by THIRTEEN Productions, LLC, in association with WNET, historians and educators at the American Social History Project/Center for Media & Learning at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and educational game developer Electric Funstuff. Formative research is conducted by Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology.

"This game [No Turning Back] will make the civil rights movement tangible and meaningful through an inviting, accessible approach that encourages players to think of themselves as actors," says Emilye Crosby, professor of history, State University of NY Geneseo and editor, Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.

Crosby will serve as a content advisor on No Turning Back along with other prominent historians such as: John Dittmer, professor emeritus, DePauw University and author, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi; William Pretzer, senior curator for history, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Komozi Woodard, professor of history, Sarah Lawrence College, and co-editor, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America

In addition to the expert and historically-accurate research, the project will also draw from historical and cultural collections to create the game's many authentic objects and media artifacts, such as newspapers, TV clips and radio sound bites.

Currently, there are more than 1.1 million registered users – and growing – of Mission US. The first game in the series, "For Crown or Colony?" puts players in the shoes of a 14-year-old printer's apprentice in 1770 Boston. "Flight to Freedom," the second in the series, follows the journey of a 14-year-old enslaved young woman who escapes to the North in 1848. In "A Cheyenne Odyssey" players become Little Fox, a fictional member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, who must learn to adapt to all the impacts of westward expansion in 1866. The fourth mission, "City of Immigrants," enables players to experience life as Lena Brodsky, a Russian teen who emigrates to New York City in 1907. The forthcoming fifth game will allow players to take on dual roles, as a brother and sister struggling to support their family during the Great Depression. A sixth mission will address the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

For educators, each Mission US game includes a collection of educator-developed resources that embed students' gameplay in rich historical contexts. These materials, like the games themselves, are available at no cost and include document-based questions, primary sources, class activities, vocabulary builders, standards alignments, writing prompts, and visual aids. Professional development videos help teachers integrate the games into the curriculum successfully.

Feedback from educators nationwide has been quite positive. For example, New York City teacher Topez Patterson writes, "Mission US exposes [my students] to history in a completely different way from reading and traditional research. They are placed in situations where they can truly consider many of the factors that have impacted the history of our country. I cannot thank you enough."

Mission US has earned a Parents' Choice Award, Common Sense Media ON for Learning Award, two Gold Medals from the International Serious Play Awards, and a Webby Award Official Honoree designation. "A Cheyenne Odysseyreceived the 2014 Games for Change Award for Most Significant Impact. "Flight to Freedom" won the 2013 Japan Prize Competition, honoring the best in educational media.

Mission US is produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC in association with WNET. Sandra Sheppard, THIRTEEN's Director of Children's and Educational Media, is the Executive-in Charge. Jill Peters is Executive Producer. Michelle Chen is Producer. Funding for Mission US is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research program.

About WNET
As New York's flagship public media provider and the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children's programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state's unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore App where users can stream PBS content for free.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:


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