Nonfiction DVDs for background?
December 8, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

DVD recommendations needed - boxed sets of documentaries and historical/cultural overviews to put on in the background while I'm working.

When I'm working or cleaning up my house, I like to throw on nonfiction DVDs that you can listen to without actually needing to look at them.

I've had a great time watching the box set of A History of Britain, but by now I've thrown it on dozens of times and I'm looking for something new.

Any recommendations for nonfiction DVDs (documentaries, history, cultural concepts) that are good for background noise? I'm especially looking for overviews of American and world history (to balance out all the British history that's filled up my head) and for multi-part boxed sets.
posted by cadge to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Ken Burns? You don't really need to see the camera panning around a picture over and over again, after all, so you should be fine just listening to it.
posted by fidelity at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2008

posted by mandal at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2008

It doesn't fit your historical requirement, but Carl Sagan's Cosmos series is great for this. 70s synth music, Sagan's soothing baritone, and not so deep and complex that you have to give it your full attention.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2008

I second Ken Burns. "Civil War" is a magnificent piece. Also "Jazz", which, obviously, is terrific for listening.
posted by tzikeh at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2008

I recommend The Up Series. It's a set of British docos about a group of 7 year old kids from the lower, middle and upper classes, tracking their life as they get older. It started back in the 60s and every 7 years the filmmakers return to interview the kids (who of course eventually become adults) and see how their life is panning out. It's insanely interesting stuff and while it would be useful to watch and listen, I think you could easily just listen and not miss out on much. I did a Metafilter post on the series once if you want to learn more.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2008

My wife and I enjoyed A History of Britain. We also liked Medici: Godfathers of Europe, Egypt's Golden Empire, most of Ken Burns' stuff, and so on.

If you have an Xbox 360 and a Netflix account (or a Roku box or something), you can find a slew of documentaries that will play on demand. Or if you're just interested in the noise, you can use hulu for their documentaries.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2008

Check out the Teaching Company.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:30 AM on December 8, 2008

It seems to me that audio programs are better suited for listening to while you work around the house than video programs. I listen to podcasts on my iPod while I work whenever I can. Programs like This American Life and 60 Minutes are available as podcasts and work well.
posted by daser at 12:41 PM on December 8, 2008

These are great suggestions! Thanks, everyone!

Good point about podcasts - I'm so used to working at the table facing my TV that my brain is in "background noise = DVDs" mode. I should look into NPR podcasts.
posted by cadge at 1:46 PM on December 8, 2008

Wow, I do the exact same thing, right down to the doc choice - A History of Britain is great. I also really enjoy Connections by James Burke (all three series - 1978, 1994, and 1997).
posted by clerestory at 1:57 PM on December 8, 2008

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