Original artwork, maps, comic strips, and board games—but not a single traditional research paper—were discussed during a pair of presentations given by students in Dr. Carrie Glenn’s History 103 and 199 classes. The sessions were held on Dec. 6, 2023, on the second floor of Niagara University’s library.
The numerous project options enabled the students to think about the intersections between their major, the practice of history, their hobbies, and other knowledge that they’re learning at NU, as well as to connect with the materials on a deeper level, according to Dr. Glenn.
“I wanted students to understand, first and foremost, that there are many ways that historical knowledge can be communicated,” she said. “Take the hula, for example, among the Kānaka Maoli. Dance is one strategy for conveying knowledge about the past. Song is another. I think students took that message to heart."
The projects were as varied as the topics they covered.
Golden Shores, a board game created by Joshua Walter, a senior history major from Wheatfield, N.Y., offers players a realistic view of the “Golden Age of Piracy,” as they strategize to establish their own society. Walter attempted to recreate the misfortunes, intrigue, and political landscape that pirates experienced, and included mythological creatures such as sirens and the kraken, to give insight into what it was really like to sail the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans between the 1650s and the 1730s. The fact that no one has yet won the game gives validity to the difficulty of a pirate’s life.
Michael Ruiz Taylor, a freshman history major from Lockport, N.Y., combined his passion for writing with his love of history to create a fictional diary documenting the Battle of Hampton Roads from the point of view of an infantryman stationed at nearby Fort Monroe. During the March 1862 battle, the author contemplates why the war was being fought as well as personal events that influence his actions.
The ill-fated voyage of the British slave ship Zong in November and December of 1781 and its aftermath were the focus of a project by Marissa Garver. The sophomore early childhood major from Niagara Falls, N.Y., used a world map to document the Zong’s journey from Ghana to Jamaica, during which more than 130 enslaved African people were killed by the crew.
Both Isabella Gunsalus, a sophomore social studies adolescence education major from Williamsville, N.Y., and Angelica Wijesirwardena, a senior early childhood education major from Niagara Falls, N.Y., created artwork contrasting the superstition surrounding the Salem witch trials vs. the reality. Gunsalus appreciated being able to share her interest in art through a trio of sketches which featured Sarah Osborne, one of the first women to be accused of witchcraft. Wijesirwardena drew a wanted poster for Sarah Goode, who ironically accused Osborne of witchcraft during her own trial. The superstition side was in black and white and depicted her supposed crimes, while the reality side was in color and listed the actual circumstances that influenced the judgment, such as homelessness and poverty.
Henry Brophy, a junior childhood special education major from Clarence, N.Y., created his documentary, “Washington Crossing the Delaware and its Relation to My Family History,” to learn more about the roles two of his ancestors played during the crossing and at Valley Forge. He discovered that Mullen Park in Winchester, Mass., was established on land given to his sixth great-grandfather, Archibald McMullen, after the Revolutionary War.
Sophomore Sean Dailor, a social studies adolescence education major from Honeoye Falls, N.Y., created a timeline of Bacon’s Rebellion, detailing the perspectives of both William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, and Nathaniel Bacon, a Virginia plantation owner, member of the governor's Council, and leader of the armed uprising against the governor.
Other projects included a historical simulation about early interactions between the Wampanoag and English colonists in the 17th century; a scrapbook of a middle-class housewife in the 1950s that provided a fascinating glimpse into gender, household labor, family, and feminism; an original dance inspired by the history of women's reproductive rights; and a magazine inspired by hippie culture and politics of the 1960s. One student even donned the "character" of a travel agent to entice settlers to travel to early 17th century Virginia.
Students identified their topics early in the semester and brainstormed how they wanted to represent their knowledge of that topic, Dr. Glenn said. They were required to check in twice during the semester to ensure they were staying on track, finding appropriate sources, and adjusting their projects as needed. In collaboration with Dr. Glenn, they developed unique assessment guidelines for their projects. The students also submitted short written explanations of their work to demonstrate how their projects were shaped by the scholarship of historians and the primary sources they found.
“The ‘unessay’ was a good vehicle for introducing students to historical research,” said Dr. Glenn. “They learned how to identify digitized primary sources online and how to find books and journal articles at the NU library.”