History Channel's How the Earth Was Made is a wonderful documentary series about geology and earth science. In the episode titled "Vesuvius," the series presents the violent history of Italy's Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed two ancient Roman cities. The episode is set up as a type of detective story, with evidence shown to back up hypotheses. The episode is available on YouTube
The video details the ancient history of Vesuvius with the modern day threat it poses to the millions of inhabitants of Naples. The eruptions of 1780 BC, 79 AD, and 1944 are compared, as well as the terrible deaths of the inhabitants of ancient Roman Pompeii and Herculaneum. Phenomena such as pyroclastic flows and debris (pumice), and implacable lava flows are explained, as well as the evidence indicating that Naples might lie directly in the path of a deadly pyroclastic flow should a modern-day eruption occur. The importance of historic witnesses to volcanic eruptions such as Pliny the Younger and Charles Darwin is emphasized, as well as the work of modern day volcanologists. These scientists study the volcano, its magma chamber, and also plan how to react to a future eruption in order to save lives.
The video worksheet handout is double-sided, and contains forty questions, mainly multiple choice and true or false. A key is included, as well as a link to download an MS Word version of the handout.
In summary, this episode represents a nice overview volcanic science and a poignant story from ancient history. It is appropriate for earth or physical science classes, as well as world history and social studies. I use the video for my earth science classes when we discuss volcanoes and plate tectonics.