In August, 2012, we held a Making Freedom summer institute called “The World Brought Ashore.” In this program we explored the influences of Massachusetts’ involvement in global trade during the first half of the nineteenth century on life here–”How was the world brought ashore and how did it change Massachusetts society, politics, economics, and family life?”
During the 5-day institute we learned at the Peabody Essex Museum, got out on the water on an historic reproduction, toured the Ralph Waldo Emerson house, the Concord Museum, Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow cemetery, and learned from a Margaret Fuller re-enactor at The Old Manse. We also had focused tours of the New Bedford Whaling Museum and saw the park film at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.
We then spent two days exploring the history of Nantucket on foot and bike, visiting historic homes (including the Maria Mitchell House), the Whaling Museum, and touring the island with a descendent one of the original families as our guide.
The central pedagogical theme of the institute was an exploration of using literature in the teaching of history, so we read a hefty novel called Ahab’s Wife in the month prior to the institute. The author, Sena Jeter Naslund, met us on the island and conducted a workshop and a couple of other sessions with us, including a writing workshop in the library of the Maria Mitchell Association (across the street from the Maria Mitchell house).
Our overnight lodging was a National Historic Landmark and perfectly suited for a group of our size and means–the International Youth Hostel on the island was a former LIfe Saving Station.
In April The Movement of Stars, a new novel inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell, was published. A group of participants from last summer read the book and traveled to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester to see hear author Amy Brill talk about the research she conducted there and how it informed her manuscript. Afterwards she was gracious enough to spend quite a bit of time with us answering questions and letting us tell her what we had done (see picture, above.)
It was great to see the enthusiasm from the group and continue processing what we learned last summer with new layers of information, but most of all it was great to see the participants jump on an opportunity to reconnect with each other and share another learning experience. Over dinner we discussed the book before heading to the lecture and regrouping at the end with the author.
Although the grant itself is ending, I feel that the end of the Making Freedom project is not so black and white. At dinner we came up with an idea for a program that could run next year, which is something that we always do at some point during our programs and is part of the philosophy of shared ownership. Burlington, where I’ll be working next year on the social studies curriculum, is involved with many cross-district professional development initiatives now and I believe we’ll be able to continue to offer programming that brings people together for learning experiences outside of the classroom that undoubtedly make their way back to students.