Field Trips and the Annual Richardson Lecture in American Studies

Field Trips and Events

Fall 2016 Field Trip to Mount Vernon

Our most recent field trip was to Mount Vernon, George Washington's home and estate. Recent alums, American Studies professors, and current students left early in the morning by bus. After arriving, we first toured the basement storage space of the main house- a room that can be seen in National Treasure! 

Next, we moved upstairs, where we were given a tour of George Washington's home. We saw the key to the Bastille, which he hung in his entryway as a reminder of freedoms won, as well as the rooms were he and Martha Washington died. His choice in wallpaper and color schemes was tres chic for his time- rooms were painted in vibrant greens and blues that had to be repainted frequently, showing his wealth. After touring his home, we moved outdoors, where we participated in a memorial service for one of the Mount Vernon slaves, a man named Caesar. 

The day ended with a trip to Gatsby's Tavern in Arlington, where I ate a delicious Monte Cristo and met younger American Studies students. The field trip was an academic adventure with friends old and new, the perfect example of what makes American Studies such a special, inclusive, and friendly learning environment. 

- Ellie Yaeger, Class of 2017

Spring 2016 Field Trip to the National Portrait Gallery

Our Spring 2016 field trip was to the National Portrait Gallery for a private tour of  "Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872" on February 27th. The field trip was especially timely for American Civilization II students, who are currently working on their Civil War Memory projects. 

The day began early when students met at the front gates at 9 am to make the trek to the Gallery together. At the Gallery, students mingled with each other while Professor Seamon divided them into two groups for touring the collection. Once everyone- faculty, students, alumnae, and friends- had arrived, Professor Seamon introduced the tour guides and the private tour began! 

First, a tour guide led students through the permanent collection of Civil War-era portraits, including oil paintings of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Ulysses S. Grant. After brief discussions with the docent about the paintings' artistic value and the importance of the men pictured, students moved on to the main attraction: the "Dark Fields of the Republic" exhibit on Alexander Gardener. In the exhibit, the tour guide and professors taught students about different forms of reproductive image-making, including the daguerreotype, reproductive printing processes, and early photography. Once the guided tour was finish, students were allowed time to explore the museum on their own, finding historical treasures such as a portrait of the four female Supreme Court Justices. 

The day concluded with a trip to the oldest Chinese restaurant in DC's historic Chinatown. 

Other recent field trips have included St. Mary's City, Maryland. a day trip to Jamestown (Fall 2014) and seeing The Widow Lincoln, a performance about Mary Todd Lincoln after her husband's death, at Ford's Theather (Spring 2015). Check out this booklet for more descriptions and pictures of past field trips and events: American Studies Field Trips, Events, and the Annual Richardson Lecture. 

A Visit From An AmStud Alum: an American Studies and DOYLE Engaging Difference Program Conversation on Education

"Teachers don't really give answers, but mostly ask questions." - Zack Zappone

On February 9th, 2016 American Studies and the Doyle Engaging Difference Program co-hosted a visit from an American Studies alum. Zack Zappone (Col '13) wrote his thesis on public school reform in Washington D.C. and then worked with Teach for America after graduation. Following his TFA experience Zack stayed on as an 8th grade History and English teacher at Park Middle School in Kennewick, WA. The lunch allowed an opportunity for Zack to share his experiences transitioning from being a student to an educator, the challenges and triumphs that come with working at a school where the vast majority of his students are not proficient in English and deal with an array of socio-economic and other challenges with students from the American Studies Program and beyond.

In addition to being an opportunity to see what an American Studies degree can look like in action, Zack's tenacious and enthusiastic experience as a teacher demonstrates the value and importance of being willing to try new things, even when the consequences are unexpected. Zack shared the experience of chosing to use a peice of contemporary poetry in his English class, and while his students connected with the peice, parents, school administrators, and eventually local news took the poem's controversial content negatively. Despite set backs and challenges, Zack exudes a sense of positivity, patience, and caring as a teacher and a person. Zack answered questions from the audience, and while he admitted that the first year of teaching is difficult, the chance to connect with students and impact their lives is valuable.  

Fall 2015 Field Trip: St. Mary’s City, Maryland

This semester, AmStuds took a two hour bus ride all the way to St. Mary’s City, Maryland, one of America’s best-preserved colonial archaeological sites. Our private tour began with a visit to a recreation of a Native American Indian wichott, the homes Native Americans constructed using local plants. One of the men in charge of researching and rebuilding the wichotts explained the influence of St. Mary’s geology on the building, and how changes in the land since the 16th century have drastically limited their ability to create truly authentic wichotts. After a toddler ran into the home and chucked a rock at one of the building supports, our guide took that as a sign to leave, and we moved on to learning how Native Americans skinned and tanned deerskin. AmStuds were even able to get their hands dirty- literally!- and used shells from the area to prepare the skins for tanning, just as the Native Americans would have done 400 years ago.

After skinning the deerskin, AmStuds moved on to more “civilized” activity, touring the rebuilt Jesuit church- the first Catholic Church in the New England colonies! The tour then switched to a less holy activity, visiting a small tobacco farm. Some actors with very fake British accents explained how the crops were gathered and the value of tobacco for the colonists. We then stopped for lunch, a delicious picnic featuring boxed sandwiches and cookies from Panera (yes, if you are an American Studies major, you get free Panera).

After Panera, the private tour continued on the other side of town, where we boarded the Maryland Dove (a ship replica made with 17th c. tools and methods). Some fake pirates showed us around, and then it was off to the town center, where we toured colonists’ houses and saw home goods from the 17th century. The trip ended with a quick question and answer session about adultery laws in the colony, and then we were on our way back to the hilltop.