Young historians taking part in last week’s Chautauqua Camp at the Morton James Public Library learned the value of additional research.
Camp participants spent the week researching prominent Nebraska City figures from the WWI era, writing a script, choosing a costume and performing a one-person show at last Friday’s Nebraska City Chautauqua. At the end of the performance, students told the audience sometimes additional research is needed.
The young historians were guided through a week of research and character development by Ann Birney and Joyce Thierer of Ride into History. The Kansas-based duo travels the country as historical performers who also lead workshops on creating first-person narratives.
The women partnered with library staff to engage students with history, help them hone their research skills and prepare them for performing publicly.
Birney and Thierer, both accomplished scholars, insisted students view them as colleagues rather than teachers. This sense of ownership helps student performers fully embrace their characters, the research process and the history involved.
“Our method is to let campers make decisions because decision making is history,” Birney states.
Students were fully involved in making decisions about costumes, scripts and their performances. Thierer says the students’ humor and their eagerness to find answers were her favorite parts of the camp.
Brooke Chaney’s daughter, Lucy, took part in the camp, and Chaney says it was beneficial for her daughter to learn more about research methods.
Jazmin Rodriguez, who recently participated in National History Day in Washington D.C., says the event gave her the opportunity to polish her skills as a performer.
The camp also served to enhance student understanding about the importance of history.
During the student performance, Rodriguez stated, “In order to create the future, we have to learn about the past.”
Hollie Feickert, whose son, Ryland, attended the camp, knew nothing about Chautauqua when librarian Tom Boeche suggested she register her son for the event. Feickert then researched the history of Chautauqua to better understand its historical significance.
The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 in New York State as a means of providing educational opportunities for a wide variety of people. At its height in the early twentieth century, approximately 100 lecturers traveled the Chautauqua circuit across America, giving talks on literature, politics and religion.
Notable Chautauquans include William Jennings Bryan, W.E.B. DuBois, Jane Addams and Edith Wharton. These famous historical figures came to life last week in Nebraska City with performances by professional re-enactors.
The Nebraska City Chautauqua focus on WWI was complemented by student research and performances about prominent Nebraska City residents from that era.
Camp participants learned the same techniques used by professional re-enactors to conduct research, craft a script and prepare a performance. Pat Friedli, Nebraska City Chautauqua Committee co-chair, says it is great to see kids performing based on the research they have done.
Librarian Denise Davis, who helped guide students through the research process, says seeing the kids learn unexpected things about Nebraska City was her favorite part of the camp.
Birney and Thierer view last week’s Chautauqua Camp as a beginning, not an end. They consider the students experts and professional historical performers.
Both women encourage local groups to utilize camp participants’ expertise and to view the young historians as a community resource.
After a week of research and historical performance, students realize they have much to learn about history. They don’t know everything yet, and that’s okay. Birney and Thierer taught the young historians it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m still researching that.”
With life-long learning as the goal, camp participants are now well-equipped to conduct research, write creatively and perform for an audience.