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Ensuring that Present and Future Generations Learn From History

Fort Ticonderoga states that our mission is to “ensure that present and future generations learn from the struggles, sacrifices, and victories that shaped the nations of North America and changed world history.” While many museums and historic sites have some version of “preservation and education” in their missions, Fort Ticonderoga steps out on a limb—not only do we want our visitors to “learn about” our history, we want them to “learn from” that history.

We all know the saying about “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” but how often do we take that mantra to heart? For many of us, our idea of relaxation is a nice comfortable chair and a good history book. But I’ll be truthful—when I’m reading a history book, I’m usually looking to learn about rather than learn from what I’m reading.

But at Fort Ticonderoga, we are learning from history everyday. And that learning starts with the staff. Whether it’s the tailor trying to replicate a uniform for the first time or our carpentry interpreters constructing a soldiers’ hut based on written descriptions, “getting there is half the fun.” It’s one thing to read about how something was done, it’s quite a different experience to try to do it.

Experiencing history is what Fort Ticonderoga is all about. Everyone who sets foot on the Ticonderoga peninsula walks away learning something. Our challenge is taking it to the next step—how do we get them to apply what they’ve learned in their daily lives?

That’s a tall order, but we see examples of success everyday.

My own experience this past summer dealt mostly with working with a great group of teachers from New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, California—33 states in all. Over the course of three weeks in July 80 teachers took part in week-long workshops at Fort Ticonderoga. These workshops focused on the American Revolution at Ticonderoga and on the northern frontier. Teachers took part in lecture-discussions with a great line up of visiting scholars, experts in their areas. They examined documents and artifacts, analyzing them and developing lessons and activities based on them to use with their students back in the classroom. Teachers had the opportunity to experience what it was like to pull on the oars of a bateau as they crossed Lake Champlain to Mount Independence. They worked in the carpentry yard, hefting axes to help square posts for our new pit saw area.

Educators hammer home that the more involved a learner is and the more senses they use, the more likely he/she is to walk away with a memorable experience. We continue to endeavor to give every teacher that experience to then take home to all parts of the United States to share with their students for years to come. We estimate that the teachers that each spent a week at Fort Ticonderoga this past summer will impact over 65,000 students over the next ten years. And that’s just the 80+ teachers who were here in 2014. We’ll have another 80+ teachers coming to Ticonderoga in July 2015 to take part in our NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers and our Fort Ticonderoga Teacher Institute.

Working with teachers is one of the rewarding parts of my job. I could go on telling you about our great programs for teachers, but let me conclude with some words from participating teachers:

“Much appreciation for a fantastic week of learning that will be passed on to 100s of students in California! A great experience!”—California teacher

“Thanks so much for a reinvigorating content experience! I am excited to teach the Revolution again thanks to your program.”—Maryland teacher

It’s been a rewarding summer, but there’s still much work to be done.

Rich Strum
Director of Education