At a Glance


Priya Chhaya and Jin Prugsawan give examples of emotional/visual "hooks" that help history come alive for students visiting historical sites—specifically, the Arlington House National Memorial and Antietam National Battlefield.

Evoking the Past

Evoking the Past <

Video Transcription

  • Evoking the Past

  • 3:01
  • Priya Chhaya: For me the valuable thing about traveling outside the classroom to go and learn about history is really about—basically it takes the words on the page and makes them real. So it's, I mean to—Antietam this past weekend, it was supposed to be the Antietam illumination ceremony, and it snowed, unfortunately. But when you go there you see the battlefield after reading about it for a couple of days, and when you have words on a page you learn that 23,000 people died but you don't really understand what that means. And then, when you go to Antietam, where they have this illumination ceremony and they put a candle down for every single person that's died on the actual battlefield, it actually becomes very real and very tangible and you're able to actually recognize, "Oh, 23,000 people is a lot of people."

    And the great thing about place-based learning is that you are actually seeing things instead of just reading things. And I think that makes a very different connection for people; and it also helps students—I know for me it helped me remember things longer and make a bigger impact on me long past just reading a textbook.

    Jin Prugsawan: It got you outside of the classroom and that's really more what I remember, is being outside the classroom. I think the coolest thing for me just trying to learn the information was experiencing it. Where you talked about the prep-work beforehand. You can learn about it, read about it, but when you go there you pick up on things that you read and you bring that to the place that you're visiting; so once they say those key words it kind of hits you and then it's going back and re-instilling what you're trying to learn. For me what works is repeating that information in a different way, so you don't just read it but then you experience it and then you remember it, and it adds meaning.

    At the Arlington House there's a little pane of glass that's right off the front of the house to the left and it has a signature inscribed, it says, "R.E. Lee, June 17, 1859." People will visit the Arlington House and they'll say, "Oh well, this is nice, it's a big empty house"—we're in the middle of a restoration. And they know that Robert E. Lee lived there for 30 years prior to the Civil War, they can get that idea of it, but then you show them this pane of glass. And usually I take people over to it and I ask them just to look at the pane of glass and if they notice anything, what is it?

    And they go over to the pane of glass and they look at it and they stare at it and you just see this totally new expression on their face and they say, "Oh, that says Robert E. Lee, June 17, 1859!" And the signature on the glass it really connects them, because they can walk on the same floorboards that Robert E. Lee walked on, but seeing a signature that may have been his—but it's actually his son's—seeing a signature in the glass like that really makes it real for them.