Trailheads presents information and details about the exhibits, events and programs hosted by the historic sites and museums on PHMC's Pennsylvania Trails of History.

Springtime brings new life to the Pennsylvania Trails of History® with the birth of farm animals, fresh green leaves sprouting on trees and shrubs and new shoots poking up in garden beds. At many of our historic sites, nothing says spring like the arrival of thousands of school-age students with teachers, parents and chaperones in tow. They come to explore history through tours, scavenger hunts, craft activities and role playing. Site staff and volunteers provide classroom programs in person or via distance learning to prepare students for field trips or, in some cases, where field trips are not feasible. Many historic sites, as well as our museums, offer summer camps, young historian programs and special events for students and their families.

College and university students on the Trails of History

As vital as our school programs are to the mission of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), teaching and learning are by no means limited to K-12 audiences. Opportunities for college students usually involve academic credit and provide real-world skills, professional contacts and career exploration. PHMC’s Keystone Summer Internship Program draws applications from students throughout the state and beyond who want to work with a staff mentor in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania State Archives, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Bureau for Historic Preservation as well as with one of our historic sites and museums outside the capital city. Students often complete internship projects as part of required coursework or community service during the academic year.

Last autumn a partnership between Washington Crossing Historic Park and Bucks County Community College (BCCC) provided field work experience for students in BCCC’s historic preservation program. They worked with John Evans, their professor and a historic preservation professional, to produce measured floor plans as a base of information for any future preservation efforts on the house.

In 2010 the Erie Maritime Museum and Flagship Niagara became part of an educational consortium that puts college students on board the ship for three-week sessions, focused either on history or science. Niagara operates as a Sailing School Vessel, with a mix of professional crew, volunteers and students. Describing the first summer of the consortium, Ian Binnington, associate professor of history at Allegheny College in Meadville, Crawford County, wrote his students “set out to study the War of 1812 and the historical life of sail. They accomplished that goal, but along the way they became part of a historical community of sailors and preservationists.”

Never stop learning

It will be news to no one who reads Pennsylvania Heritage that the educational value of museums and historic sites extends far beyond the years of institutional learning that most of us experience. If it weren’t for curiosity and the desire to learn new things, there would be no museum visitors other than school students who visit – somewhat against their will, if truth be told.

We might not have young student audiences at all if there were no adults who saw value in urging (if not forcing) them to visit. Historic sites and museums work hard to make sure teachers, including parents homeschooling their children, consider them educational partners, not just field trip venues. That includes relating site offerings to the Commonwealth’s academic standards, tailoring programs to meet specific curriculum needs and providing training for teachers for how to best use historic sites and museums to teach history, language arts or science.

During the past decade the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, organized formal training sessions for Pennsylvania teachers as part of the national Teaching American History initiative. Participants spent time at The State Museum and destinations along the Trails of History, in addition to visiting non-PHMC museums focused on specific eras in history to gain content knowledge and discover resources for making history come to life in the classroom.

Pennsbury Manor has partnered with its corporate neighbor, Waste Management Inc., to provide training to teachers in southeastern Pennsylvania on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) topics. As with many of our sites, part of the draw is that Pennsbury is a beautiful site and a healthy change from teachers’ day-to-day routines, but Pennsbury’s staff also take teachers on a tour of the 43-acre property during which they point out places where science and technological issues could be discussed. It provides both teachers and site staff with new perspectives on historic sites and their value as resources for teaching a wide range of topics.

Many – if not most – individuals who volunteer at a historic site or museum have either a general interest in history or a specific interest in the era or event it interprets. They usually possess some knowledge and expertise they wish to share but also desire to learn more. Guide training at attractions on the Trails of History is offered at many levels, from basic to advanced, enabling volunteers and staff to build their expertise and their skills in presenting history to our visitors.

The Winter History Class at Ephrata Cloister provides an annual update for guides but also draws an audience simply interested in the religious community’s unusual history. Speakers share updated research or new interpretations of dated research, provide in-depth exploration of aspects of Ephrata’s history or highlight objects from the collections in ways that are normally not part of the visitor experience. Senior Day at Graeme Park encourages attendees to learn more about the history of the site and its historical interpretation and lively reenactments. This past year the Pennsylvania Military Museum began offering small group tours of tanks and vehicles on the grounds led by experienced military personnel.

Adults who wish to learn new skills or advance to a higher level find many opportunities on the Trails of History. Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s Summer and Winter Institutes enjoy a long and enviable track record and a loyal following – many presenters and participants return year after year to teach or learn traditional skills from tinsmithing to open hearth cooking to basketmaking. Somerset Historical Center’s annual School of Coopering has taught many people historical techniques for making wooden vessels, passed down through generations of Somerset County coopers. Hands-on craft classes are offered seasonally at many other sites.

No matter the stage of your life or whatever your historical interests, the 25 historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trails of History are ready to help you learn more. And if you like, they can even provide opportunities for you to share your expertise and love of learning with others.

 

Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator based in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums, supporting education, interpretation and communications bureau-wide and at individual historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History. She writes an informative and entertaining weekly blog entitled Trailheads.