Teaching Preservation: Looking Back at Lincoln

Posted on: February 12th, 2009 by Guest Writer
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Notes from the Teacher's Desk

Today is a big deal for history buffs like me.

It is, after all, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.

As you know from my previous posts here, I teach a senior-level class at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio called Research History. Basically, my goal is to get students out from under the florescent lights (they generally don't object) and into the field for history and preservation-focused service learning projects. And, well, it's always on days like today that I simply can't resist a stroll down Memory Lane to reminisce about their contributions over the years to telling history, including Mr. Lincoln's amazing legacy.

Between 2004 and 2006, my students and I partnered with President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust historic site located in Washington, D.C. We were tasked by the site's curator and administrator to explore the Civil War era-burials at the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery. In doing their research, my kids matched burial data with data provided by the U.S. Quartermaster's Roll of Honor, which included regiment, company and rank information on original burials (approximately 5,200) between 1861 and the opening of Arlington National Cemetery.

To this day, it warms my heart knowing that the final data we provided to President Lincoln's Cottage was fundamental in their interpretation of the most significant historic site associated with Lincoln's presidency aside from the White House itself.

But this wasn't my course's first database project, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

During the 2001-2002 school year, my students researched Ohio grave registration cards, which were complied by the state to document all veteran burials. They mulled over the 100,000-card database looking specifically for African-American Civil War veterans, referred to back in the day as United States Colored Troops (USCT). Through our research, we identified approximately 3,050 USCT veterans buried in 86 of Ohio's 88 counties. From there, my students created a website documenting each listing, where to this day you can find veterans by county and then by cemetery.

Moving forward a few years on Memory Lane, my class partnered with the Gist Settlement Cemetery Project during the 2006-2007 school year. The Highland Gist Settlement was established in 1835 by the emancipated slaves of Samuel Gist. This unique community is located roughly 25 miles south of Washington Court House. During our project there, my students not only read and photographed all of the headstones, but also measured distances between the headstones to create a scale map of the cemetery. The final data was presented to the Penn Township Trustees and can still be viewed online.

Now, all of this looking back really gives me hope for what my students will accomplish this semester in our new partnership with the Wayne Township Trustees and Good Hope Cemetery. Thanks to the hard work of Alyssa and Lynne, we are already off to a running start with our 2,100-name database, which will (among many other things) document the military service of those buried in the cemetery.

I invite you all to stay tuned to PreservationNation.org and our blog over the coming weeks and months as our project continues to unfold. With any luck, the winter weather here in Ohio will get better, and you'll see more and more blog posts, photo essays, and maybe even a video or two of my students doing what they do best: preserving history and having a blast doing it.

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate “hands-on” classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned this semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, keep an eye out for future “Notes from the Teacher’s Desk” columns from Paul himself.

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