Who Says Learning History Has to be Dull?

This spring we devoted several posts to the Pennsylvania History Bill of Rights, and even gave you a chance to vote on which provisions you think are most important (if you don’t recall or want to review for the test go here, here, or here). The first provision is that “Pennsylvania’s students understand history in the context of local, national, and world events.” There are so many examples along the Trails of History of site staff and volunteers working with students and teachers to help them broaden and deepen their study of history. Many, if not most, of our offerings are aimed at elementary schools, since that is where the demand for our services is greatest.

Photo of students and crew by Ian Binnington

But this week, we want to show you a program that offers college kids an extraordinary learning opportunity in a classroom far removed from the usual lecture hall or seminar room. Through a partnership announced in February, the Flagship Niagara became the venue for an innovative college consortium allowing participants to study maritime history and the Great Lakes through a combination of shore-based and ship-based experiences. Consortium members include Allegheny College (Meadville), Gannon University (Erie), Mercyhurst College (Erie), and Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio), partnering with the Flagship Niagara League and Erie Maritime Museum.

For the first year’s voyage (completed during a 3-week period this May and June), 15 students and 3 faculty members participated from Allegheny College, Edinboro University, and Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts). Students became sail trainees, working with Niagara’s professional crew and volunteers. They sailed from Erie to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, and back again, conducting day sails while in Ohio. Ian Binnington, assistant professor of history at Allegheny, led the shore-based instruction, while ship-board lessons were the responsibility of senior captain Walter Rybka.

Photo by Ian Binnington

Describing the students’ time in the program, Dr. Binnington wrote: “The seven students from Allegheny and Edinboro set out to study the War of 1812 and the historical life of sail. They accomplished that goal, but along the way they became part of an historical community of sailors and preservationists. They put themselves last, ship and shipmates first. They accepted leadership and led others. They accepted responsibility and saw their peers do the same. They came as close as one can to re-creating the nineteenth century community of sail. And they would all do it again, in a heartbeat.”

All students kept journals as part of the experience, and the Mount Holyoke students have blogged about their 3 weeks at sea. As is always the case, I can’t do justice in a small space to this outstanding educational effort, so please read some of the student accounts or the Ship’s Log —they may even make you yearn to take to the sea.

Pennsylvania students at the 2009 National History Day competition

Following on the educational theme is breaking news (from last week): Congratulations to the Pennsylvania students who placed in the top of their categories at the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland (College Park), which hosted nearly 1400 entries from around the country (and some from outside our borders). Nine Pennsylvania entries made it to the final round of judging, and two of them finished in first or second place nationally. For results from the state contest in May or other info about the program, visit the National History Day in Pennsylvania website.


Karen said...

This is great! My intern at Drake Well Museum is having a fabulous time, and she has learned how to be a blacksmith, along with handling assorted artifacts and records at the site. I think that all history majors (even those who are intending to become teachers) should work at these sites and see how history comes to life.

Amy Killpatrick Fox said...

Thanks, Karen. Look for a post in August about interns at Trails of History sites--your Drake Well intern will be included, along with a photo of her with the item she made.

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