A Thirst for Learning

On July 1, roughly 1200 people gathered to learn and recreate history.

On July 1, roughly 1200 people gathered to learn and recreate history.

When someone mentions history class, what do you think of? Do you picture dry and dusty textbooks? Do you think only of leaders and celebrities across the ages? Is it just a recitation of facts that never change? Do you wonder what it has to do with you?

This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to witness that history is NOT dead. July marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The National Park Service held a host of different free programs commemorating this tragic event. On the morning of July 1, I joined in on the Last March of the Iron Brigade, which partly traced how that Midwestern unit arrived and deployed on the field. National Park rangers Scott Hartwig and Dan Welch led this two hour experience.

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The rangers were meticulously prepared, as was the case with all of the programs I attended over the course of my visit. The amount of research they do is astounding. Stories of the individual participants in the battle and civilian witnesses are woven together, bringing to life in interpretation the every day man in addition to the generals.

When you think of a large crowd, maybe you first think of the noise like I do. Part of what made this a memorable program is the behavior of this crowd. The rangers had an amplifier, but that can only do so much against a large open space and that many people. So as the program started, a hush gradually spread across the group. We stood in near silence, straining to hear the stories of what happened where we stood, how men struggled, fought, died and endured. We walked the ground where they trod, pausing on the way as the tale of their events unfolded. Some even raised their voices in some of the marching songs of the day as we covered over a mile that warm sunny day while a reenactment group of the 24th Michigan led the way.

As an educator, I was left wondering about the power of choice in learning and the lengths people will go to learn about matters that they are passionate about. I want to know how to inspire that sort of thirst for learning, how to breathe life into what I teach.

Enjoy a small snippet of my Iron Brigade experience with this video from the National Park Service.

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Categories: History

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3 thoughts on “A Thirst for Learning

  1. My 8th grade history teacher had a habit of traveling around the US and taking pictures of important historical landmarks. He would then show us slides of all the things he had seen. I don’t know if he inspired us all to become history lovers (I didn’t become aware of my love until my sophomore year in college when I added it as a major because I realized there were way too many things I didn’t know). But, one thing that came across was how much he loved history and that always makes a lesson more inspiring. I’m glad you had such a positive experience at Gettysburg. I’ve never been there but always wanted to because I’m a huge, huge Lincoln loving dork.

    • There is something special about seeing a site. Some fifth graders at my school last year saw pictures of some of the places I’ve been. It helps it be concrete.

      • I agree. Another thing that helps is primary sources- I didn’t read a lot of primary sources until I went to college, and I remember thinking then: “why didn’t we read this stuff in school?” You have to be selective about it, of course, to make sure it’s interesting.. But, I really got into reading and listening to speeches in college. It made history come alive to me in a way that reading secondary sources never did. Sorry for all the comments- I’m writing a children’s book now, so I’m really more in touch w/ the English major side of me, but this post made me remember how much I loved being a History major as well.

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