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.
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.