Experimenting With History by Dan Marshall, Manager of Visitor Services

September 17, 2015 Published by Ryan Conary

American poet Mark Van Doren once said, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”   As an English professor at Columbia University for 39 years, he had extensive experience in that field.

When you really think about it, Dr. Van Doren’s statement is a great approach to teaching history. By providing people with the opportunity to do something new, we can help broaden their experience with the past.  Hopefully, we can entice them to explore how lessons from history can be useful in our modern lives.

Our newest museum program, The Living History Lab, opened in July and attempts to ‘assist discovery’, as Dr. Van Doren suggested.  On Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October, visitors can play both historian and scientist by experimenting with a variety of hands-on historical activities.  Perhaps they will write with a quill pen, card sheep’s wool to prepare it for spinning, touch and smell salted cod as they learn about 17th-century food, or play some Colonial games.

Over the course of the summer, we have had a great response to The Living History Lab.  Our skilled historical guides have received high praise as they have conducted the ‘experiments.’  Our guests have also been good observers, diligently filling out their field notes and giving us some wonderful insights about the program.  Here are some of the comments they have shared:

 

  • Sandy, after experimenting with Colonial toys, said her favorite part were “memories. Had these as a kid many moons ago.”

 

  • Eight year old Taylor’s favorite part was “smelling the foods.”

 

  • Anne felt that “touching the objects brings more reality to the explanations.”

 

  • “Dried fish – Yuck!” said Vanisha.

 

So, have our observations unearthed some long lost secret about the past?  Have we made a major breakthrough that will change the history books?  While I can’t be sure just yet, let’s say that the experiment is on-going and The Living History Lab is open for business.

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This post was written by Ryan Conary