emoment with carl

As someone who’s always loved history, I’ve been saddened by the many people who’ve told me that they hated studying it in school. I’ll admit that being given a boring list of names and dates to memorize is unlikely to excite anyone, young or old. Learning to do history, however, is often exhilarating. Historian Jean-Paul Benowitz, who also serves as Director of Student Transition Programs and Prestigious Scholarships and Fellowships at the College, teaches history by doing history in what’s known as community-based research. Partnering with the Elizabethtown Historical Society, he’s constructed courses in which his students mine treasures in archival collections, conduct oral history interviews to round out the stories uncovered in primary documents, carry out field work to interpret architecture, and identify historically significant properties and create public awareness of historic preservation projects.  The hands-on experience that his students acquire gives them opportunities to do internships, offers valuable skills for the job market and graduate school, and teaches them the importance of partnerships.


As Benowitz explains, "There is value to the student in learning the craft of the historian, but there is also value in students discerning how their contribution to the historical narrative is a contribution to the local community." His students also mentor local public and private high school students with their projects for National History Day. This kind of course, along with other classes in global awareness and digital humanities, recently helped the College win a $300,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support curricular innovation. To top it off, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation learned of the work Benowitz and his students were doing and asked him to help create an electronic story map, using geographical information systems (GIS) technology to assist the Department in its public works planning. Check it out here:





Ramon R. Rios, III ’17 described his local history class with Benowitz as “the most rewarding academic experience I had in my four years at Elizabethtown College.” Ramon, now enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in a master’s program in Higher Education Administration, said “These local history classes and projects were so valuable to me because my work was actually being used to help the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. This kind of civic engagement and the sense of pride which comes with these projects truly makes these courses valuable, not to mention the skills gained in working with primary documents, writing, and publishing papers, which have carried over to my graduate studies."  Real world learning. And exciting history in the making. 











Historian Jean-Paul Benowitz takes his students on walking tours of Elizabethtown as a way to teach them how history is rooted deeply within both the community and the people who live in the area. 

Enjoy the moment,

Carl J. Strikwerda,

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