ENACT Teach-In Documentary

In April 2020, the Environmental Justice HistoryLab released the documentary film The Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT) Teach-In of 1970 to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of the ENACT Teach-In and the Earth Day movement.  Watch the documentary, produced by eight undergraduate students at U-M, here:

Created by Erin Arsenault, Rachael Fotis, Seeta Goyal, Jake Hutnik, Vikram Mohan, Kevin Rubba, Jana Shemano, Preston Vanalstine, and edited by Matthew Woodbury.

As part of the events leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, eight students in Matthew Woodbury’s course “Historical Filmmaking: Environmental Activism at U-M” studied the Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT) Teach-In held on the University of Michigan campus and in the Ann Arbor community in March 1970. In addition to focusing on this pivotal era in American environmental history, the course provided an opportunity for participants to gain hands-on experience making their own historical documentaries. Activities included storytelling workshops, archival visits, and time in the editing studio. Working collaboratively, the student teams researched, compiled, and edited fifteen-minute films examining the people, ideas, and legacies of ENACT’s landmark event.  The above documentary is a fusion of these team projects. 

Filmmaking appears only rarely in the syllabi of history departments. Though engaging an unfamiliar medium, students drew upon the same research, expository, and analytical skills that are fundamental components of the historical craft. In addition to establishing a foundation of technical knowledge about filmmaking, the documentary projects also created opportunities for the seminar members to share their perspectives about the past, present, and future of student-led environmental organizing. Teams were amazed by the ambition and scale of the Teach-In, recognized conversations that remain ongoing within their own activist communities, and also reflected critically about ENACT’s limited engagement with racial and gender inclusivity. 

HistoryLabs emphasize the importance of collaboration, and teamwork remained fundamental through all phases of the project. Generous financial and in-kind support from U-M’s Center for Academic Innovation provided opportunities for participants to develop technical capacities, consider the form and purpose of narrative structure, and manage their workflow. Partnerships with the Bentley Historical Library and the Ecology Center allowed students to engage with multiple facets of a complex project. Historical work is often done in isolation, but these undergraduate students saw how historical inquiry can also blend creativity, collaboration, and humanistic research in ways that provide a perspective on a defining crisis of our time.

The Documentary Production Team

From left: Kevin Rubba, Jana Shemano, Preston Vanalstine, Erin Arsenault, Rachael Fotis, Seeta Goyal, Jake Hutnik, Vikram Mohan–pictured with the original “Give Earth a Chance” podium seal from the 1970 ENACT Teach-In.

Dr. Matthew Woodbury, the instructor of “Historical Filmmaking: Environmental Activism at U-M” and editor of the ENACT documentary. Woodbury is a research associate at the University of Michigan and served as a project advisor and contributor to Environmental Justice HistoryLab during the 2019-2020 academic year. Trained as a historian of Britain and the British Empire, his research interests focus on how communities learn from, utilize, and seek to regulate environments at both local and global scales. In addition to teaching courses in environmental history, he has written about the history of Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center as part of the Ecology Center at 50 series, developed in partnership with the Environmental Justice HistoryLab.