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Teachers study Civil War history in Harpers Ferry

July 18, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE
  • Amber Kraft is an education specialist with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- Catherine Bragaw, an education specialist at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, quoted a British philosopher to set the theme for 20 history teachers who came to the park to study Civil War history.

"Education is simply a soul of society as it passes from one generation to another," Bragaw said, in the words of Gilbert Chesterton.

She was one of four park education specialists leading the group of teachers assembled for a three-day workshop. It's part of an eight-week, online graduate course being offered in Harpers Ferry by American Public University of Charles Town, W.Va.

On Saturday morning, the teacher-students began arriving from nearby states and counties and from as far away as Oregon, said Amber Kraft, education specialist and spokesperson for the workshop.

This is the second year for the APU-park workshop program. Last year, in what Kraft described as a "trial run to work out the logistics," the focus centered on the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and his subsequent trial and execution in Charles Town.

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This year, students learned how Harpers Ferry residents dealt with the aftermath of Brown's raid, the politics of the time, news of the first Southern states to secede from the Union, the effects of Lincoln's election in 1860, the question of which side Virginia would take and the run-up to Civil War.

The workshop covers the period between January 1859 and April 12, 1861, the day Fort Sumter was fired upon by Confederate forces, the same day that Virginia seceded.

Lincoln's name was not on the ballot in the South with the exception of Virginia, said Jeff Driscoll, one of the park's educators. "About 2,000 Virginians did vote for Lincoln, but they were in the western part of the state that became West Virginia," he said.

The teachers took on character roles of Harpers Ferry citizens at the time, acting in vignettes at a half-dozen stops in the park, including a tavern, dry goods store, courtyard, arsenal square and the front yard of a home.

"This will be what it might have been like here in Harpers Ferry following the raid," Driscoll said.

Subsequent workshops will cover each year of the war to its end at Appomattox, Kraft said. The park, its facilities and interpretive buildings are serving as a living classroom during the workshops, she said.

The course is being taught by Steven E. Woodworth, historian, author and faculty member at Texas Christian University.

Melissa Stutt, a fourth-grade elementary school teacher from Lovettsville, Va., is taking the course because she believes in the use of primary sources in her classroom. "I use historical documents and news stories from the period," she said.

Pete Hawkins is a high school physics teacher in Bend, Ore. He's taking the APU course because he's working on a master's degree in history with a goal of teaching history in college when he retires. He said he's particularly interested in the nation's transition from peace to war in the mid-19th century.

Lori Clark teaches at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown. She said she is so impressed with the workshop that she plans to bring her students to Harpers Ferry. "It's so close," she said.

Zane Smith, an 11th-grade history teacher in Winston-Salem, N.C., is taking the APU course on a scholarship.

Melissa Tschida, a Littlestown, Pa., high school history teacher, said of the workshop: "This is a fun way to spend a weekend and get graduate credits."

All students who pass the course will earn three advanced-degree credits.

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