For the general history of English, the classic is The Story of English, a nine-part television series coproduced by the BBC and PBS. Now dated, The Story of English blends travelogue and scholarship in a signature public television formula that both shows and tells the history, though occasionally clumsily (as in its episode on African American English). A later British production is The Adventure of English: The Life Story of a Remarkable Language, produced by Melvyn Bragg, an eight-part history of the English language presented as the story of a language rising to success as a global force; it focuses on vocabulary but also discusses issues of class, religion, empire, and globalization. Another general history is Seth Lerer’s History of the English Language, part of the “The Great Courses” series, which offers thirty-six lectures on eighteen CDs.
For those interested in American dialects, American Tongues, produced, directed, and written by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, offers a one-hour tour of dialect and linguistic diversity issues, though it too is now dated. The three-hour PBS video series Do You Speak American? sends Robert MacNeil north to south and east to west, alternating between interviews with scholars and chats with speakers of various American dialects—rural, urban, and ethnic. It has excellent production quality and a superb companion website offering curricula for high school and college courses, with quizzes, transcripts, bibliographies, and video clips. Though relatively current, the section on slang usage seems dated to today’s students.