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Ken Burns' The West

Where to Watch Ken Burns' The West

One Sky Above Us
As settlers race to claim tribal lands, Native Americans try to restore a lost way of life until their hopes are crushed at Wounded Knee. The new century marks a new era, but the West remains what it has always been, a world waiting for a dream.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 9 Now

Ghost Dance
By the late 1880's, Americans were astounded by the changes they had brought to the West. Mining towns such as Butte, Montana were now full-fledged industrial cities, magnets of opportunity to workers from around the world, but also places where the landscape itself was under assault.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 8 Now

The Geography of Hope
Newcomers arrive by the millions, bringing a new spirit of conformity to the West. Yet the legend of the "Wild West" lives on, thanks to the greatest showman of the age.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 7 Now

Fight No More Forever
The federal government tightens its grip on the West, but three bold spirits remain defiant - Sitting Bull, Brigham Young, and Chief Joseph.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 6 Now

The Grandest Enterprise Under God
The transcontinental railroad opens a new era in the West, carrying homesteaders and cowboys, helping give women the vote and sending buffalo hunters onto the plains, where they drive a symbol of the West - and a way of life - to the brink of extinction.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 5 Now

Death Runs Riot
Civil war comes early to the West. The war between North and South unleashes brute savagery in the West, and leaves behind an army prepared for total war against the native peoples of the plains.

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The Speck of the Future
The Gold Rush brings the whole world to the West, as 49ers from Asia, South America and the eastern states scramble for "a share of the rocks". But in the push to strike it rich, many are violently pushed aside.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 3 Now

Empire Upon the Trails
Americans head west along many pathways -- the fur trade, self-determination, religious freedom, or a better life. But whatever direction they travel, they move closer with every step to a "Manifest Destiny" that will make the West their own.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 2 Now

The People
The West begins as the whole world to the people who live there. When Europeans arrive it becomes a New World, shaken by incompatible visions.

Watch Ken Burns' The West Season 1 Episode 1 Now

Ken Burns' The West is an awe-inspiring documentary mini-series that was first aired on PBS in 1996. Directed by Stephen Ives and produced by Burns, this nine-part series is an ambitious and comprehensive look at the history of the Western United States. True to Burns' trademark style, The West incorporates an expansive range of firsthand accounts, expert commentary, stunning visuals, and historical narratives that present a well-rounded, intricate examination of an iconic American feature: The West.

The series is centered on the integral elements of the Western United States, its diverse people, prominent figures, eventful history, and breathtaking landscapes. It covers more than a century's worth of history, from the early 1800s and the Lewis and Clark expedition to the dawn of the 20th century. Spanning nine hours, The West serves as a historical exploration of a cut of the American tapestry that's been romanticized, misunderstood, and hard-fought, and yet continues to captivate imaginations across the world.

One of the show's striking aspects is its vivid storytelling. Enriched with diary entries, letters, and historic documents, the narrative is shared through a spectrum of perspectives, shedding light on not only triumphant settlers but also native tribes, Mexican-Americans, African Americans, women, and Chinese immigrants - individuals whose voices are often sidelined in conventional historical accounts.

The series provides a profound look at the mythology and realities of the famous Westward Expansion, the gold rush, the building of transcontinental railroads, the Indian Wars, and the lives of notable figures like George Armstrong Custer, Crazy Horse, and Buffalo Bill Cody. Also, it intimately preserves the West's epic stories of survival, heartbreak, triumphs, and disappointments. Yet, it never loses sight of the glory and grandeur of the landscape, filming across ten states and showcasing the diversity of the West's dramatic natural backdrop.

Ken Burns' The West also possesses a scholarly depth, enlisting the help of historians, writers, and experts for insights and explanations. These commentators, widely recognized in their fields, interpret the broader happenings that unraveled throughout the series, rendering a broader context to the personal accounts. They expound on the relevant sociopolitical climates, economic trends, wars, technical advancements, and other historical events that contributed to moulding the West.

A show that prides itself on being conscious of the complexity of history, The West offers an unvarnished account. It doesn't shy away from addressing the dark times during the colonization of the West, the displacement and brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples, the racial and ethnic conflicts, and the devastation of natural resources. However, it balances these sobering moments with the tales of resilience, spirit, and the shared dreams of people seeking prosperity and freedom.

To contribute to the series ambiance, it features an original soundtrack that perfectly underscores the gravity, intensity, and range of emotions evoked by the different narratives. The music, atmospheric and poignant, adds another layer of storytelling, drawing viewers further into the saga unfolding on the screen.

What makes Ken Burns' The West even more noteworthy is its extensive usage of visual materials – more than 1000 photographs and paintings were incorporated. Some of them are intimate family portraits giving us glimpses into ordinary people's lives, while others offer grand scenic vistas that help us understand the allure this land held for so many. This is complemented by stunning live cinematography, capturing the majesty and raw beauty of the western landscape today, effectively bridging the gap between past and present.

The West is a monumental feat of video storytelling, a beautifully crafted journey into a time and place ingrained deep within the American spirit. Its frank and multi-faceted approach humanizes real-life characters, challenges stereotypes, and gives viewers a comprehensive understanding of the West far beyond Hollywood's portrayal. It invites audiences into a profound discourse of history, humanity, and the environment while pushing them to reflect upon modern implications.

This documentary series is a testament to Ken Burns' ability to breathe depth, life, and relevance into history, depicting The West as a vivid tapestry of diverse stories, woven together by the shared quest for a new life in an untamed land. The West, thus, stands as an invitation to immerse oneself in the saga of a timeless landscape and the people's dreams, struggles, and triumphs that defined it, while also contemplating the past's relationship with the present and future.

Ken Burns' The West is a series categorized as a . Spanning 1 seasons with a total of 9 episodes, the show debuted on 1996. The series has earned a mostly positive reviews from both critics and viewers. The IMDb score stands at 8.4.

Peter Coyote, N. Scott Momaday, Murphy Guyer
Ken Burns' The West is available on .