Teachers Travel on the Trails of History

This week’s guest blogger is Rhonda Newton, managing director of the Pennsylvania Heritage Society and project coordinator for PHMC’s Teaching American History initiatives.

PHMC has been involved with the Teaching American History program, a grant program funded by the US Department of Education, since its inception. Since 2002, teachers from central Pennsylvania have spent a week at the State Museum and State Archives as part of three grant projects in partnership with Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU), which is based in Lewisburg.

The participants in Keystones of the Federal Union, our current project, are K-6 teachers or librarians from the CSIU region as well as Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties. Last month, twenty-eight teachers spent three days in Harrisburg learning about colonial government, religion and politics in the American experience, and the French and Indian War. Then, we hit the road to learn about daily life in colonial America by visiting historic sites in Pennsylvania.

On June 23, we started at Ephrata Cloister to learn about daily life in one religious community. Museum Program Coordinator Andrea Glass-Heffner and Museum Educator Michael Showalter led us through an exciting and interesting morning, starting with the “Little Sister” program in the Saal. The program introduced the Cloister by following one sister through her day, from getting dressed in appropriate clothing to sleeping with that wooden pillow. Next, we broke into groups to explore the print shop with Andrea and colonial medicine with Michael.

PHMC/Ephrata Cloister, photo by Rhonda Newton

Finally, our teachers debated what they would pack in their chests if immigrating to America. Michael created this activity by assigning point values to each of the different things an immigrant might bring from Europe like food, nails, cloth, a clock, and the like. Each chest is limited to 100 points so participants have to prioritize what they think is most important. He then surprised us by quoting from a letter written back to family in Europe with advice on what to bring – things that weren’t readily available in the colonies so could easily be sold for cash on arrival!

PHMC/Graeme Park, photo by Rhonda Newton

We next journeyed on to Graeme Park to explore daily life in the country home of a colonial governor. Teachers toured the house, complete with trying on reproduction clothing, and learned about residents Sir William Keith and Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. Breaking into smaller groups, they played colonial games, learned about firing a musket, and tried their hand at writing with a quill pen.

PHMC/Graeme Park, photo by Rhonda Newton

It was a long and exciting day! Everyone was happy to get on the bus to head for our overnight stay in Bethlehem, where we toured the Colonial Industrial Quarter and Burnside Plantation on June 24.

Thank you to all of the staff and volunteers who made our short journey on the Trails of History so interesting (and fun)!


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