Many communities large and small across the nation have a monumental landscape. These silent sentinels are community reminders of what our forefathers and mothers have left us. Archives of local historical societies and public libraries often contain primary sources related to these monuments, their creation, and dedications. I know this first hand because much of the primary material I used for writing my book Summers with Lincoln: Looking for the Man in the Monuments came from just such institutions. I encourage you to reach out to your local historical sites, museums, archives, and libraries and work with the staffs there to build similar lessons for your students.
Local Internships and Service Learning
With senior capstone projects becoming increasingly popular in schools, students can also complete service learning and leadership activities by working at the type of repositories, sites, or archives I mention above. For more than two decades I have been teaching a senior elective course that I designed and call Applied History. After a fall semester steeped in rigorous examination of themes and topics in history, including several field trips, these students spend their second semester not with me in a classroom, but working as interns at local historic sites, museums, and other historical organizations in the Washington, D.C., area.
These include, among others, the National Park Service units Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site; Manassas National Battle Field Park; Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site; and Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.
At these sites students encounter the world of public history working as collections managers, providing costumed interpretation, performing curatorial work, and developing learning programs for young children. What I am most proud of is that, over the years, 36 of my students have turned their internships into positions as National Park Service rangers.
This type of direct involvement in both investigating history and exploring students’ own communities and interests is the best of all kinds of education. Students give back to the community while at the same time learning valuable history. Only the classroom is different – it’s the world.
Read Jim’s tips for Jumping into the Fray with Teaching with Historic Places
Read Case Study #1: Reeling Students into History Using Films Creatively