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Encouraging a Passion for History

Earlier this week I travelled to Cooperstown to participate as a judge at New York State History Day. Sponsored by the New York State Historical Association, New York State History Day serves thousands of students in hundreds of school districts across the state. This year’s contest was the biggest ever, with over 400 students competing to represent the state at National History Day in June.

Students were engaged and passionate about their projects—and passionate about history. I spoke with students who simply bubbled over with enthusiasm as they discussed their projects and the history behind them. This year’s theme was “Turning Points in History” and a brief sampling of topics chosen by students included: the Titanic and maritime safety, the mass Irish immigration of the mid 19th century, Sputnik, and the work of muckraker Jane Adams.

One young middle school student, whose project focused on Upton Sinclair and the impact his book The Jungle had (and still has) on the meat-packing industry, shared how a work of fiction sparked a national movement to protect workers and monitor food safety. She was truly inspired that the efforts of one person could trigger so much change. Her enthusiasm for history and its practical application to life in today’s world was truly inspiring.

Engaging students and creating a life-long love of learning is the goal of school programs here at Fort Ticonderoga too! We are expecting thousands of students to visit Fort Ticonderoga this spring. Starting May 17th, students from schools in New York, Vermont, and elsewhere will travel to Fort Ticonderoga on field trips. Students will meet interpreters representing French soldiers from Languedoc who began construction of Fort Carillon in 1755. They will be able to watch as soldiers prepare their noon meal, visit the Historic Trades Shop to see the making of clothing and shoes, and explore the exhibits in the Museum.

Students take part in "To Act as One United Body"
Students take part in “To Act as One United Body” during a recent visit to Fort Ticonderoga.

Many students will take part in the “To Act as One United Body”program while at the Fort. In this immersive program, students form a platoon and learn about the training of soldiers at Ticonderoga in the weeks following the outbreak of the American Revolution in the spring and early summer of 1775. Students learn teamwork skills as they experience aspects of the lives of soldiers.

For some schools, their spring visit to Fort Ticonderoga comes after a visit to their school by a member of our Interpretive team. Our staff has visited numerous schools on both sides of Lake Champlain this winter and spring, bringing reproduction clothing and objects to help illustrate the lives of the Connecticut soldiers who journeyed to Ticonderoga in 1775. These programs have helped illuminate the story of the Fort while at the same time using language arts, geography, and math skills to help students grasp the enormity of the task of feeding and supplying an army in the northern wilderness. Thanks to support from the Walter Cerf Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, the Glens Falls Foundation, and Champlain National Bank, many of these programs were offered to schools at a greatly reduced rate.

Cameron Green, Military Program Supervisor, teaching in North Country classroom
Cameron Green, Military Program Supervisor, in a North Country classroom this spring.

These immersive experiences for school students have led to an expansion of programming for scouting groups too! Last year’s “Planting the Tree of Liberty” program for scouts is popular again as troop leaders make their reservations for 2013. New this year is an overnight opportunity for scouts. You can learn more about this and other programs for scouts in my February blog post.

New in 2013 is Girl Scout Day. Coming up on Saturday, September 7th, Girl Scout Day at Fort Ticonderoga offers a variety of programs and tours for girls from Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York. More details will be coming soon, but you can check out the tentative schedule here.

We encourage a passion for history in not just young people, but all our visitors. Whether it’s a passion for the French & Indian War among attendees at the War College of the Seven Years’ War or the passion evident in the teachers participating in our Fort Ticonderoga Teacher Institute, Fort Ticonderoga serves as a breeding ground for passion.

Our staff is passionate, our visitors are passionate, and I hope you are passionate about Fort Ticonderoga, the stories it has to tell, and all it can teach us about not just history, but life.

Rich Strum
Director of Education