This Tuesday, on a freezing morning, with Thanksgiving on everyone’s minds, fifteen students joined me in Hollybush, a nineteenth-century mansion on the main campus of Rowan University.
As planned, we assembled there to talk about primary sources related to the Glassboro Summit of 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin held two days of talks in Hollybush. Tina Doran, the operations coordinator in Rowan’s Office of University Events, had very graciously helped us reserve the building and had given me an advance tour.
Before our field trip, my students prepared by exploring the Glassboro Summit Collection, a project of Rowan’s Digital Scholarship Center. The DSC coordinator, Michael T. Benson, had visited my class a few days earlier to help students understand the collection, and to explain the work of archivists and digital humanists more broadly. I gave students an assignment that involved browsing the collection and then selecting three primary sources (a photograph, an audio or video recording, and an artifact of another kind) to write about before they visited Hollybush in person.
On Tuesday, now that we were inside the house, I gave students permission to explore the first floor of the house on their own. Then I distributed worksheets for students to use—first in pairs and then in larger groups—as a basis for discussion.
The questions on these worksheets asked students to compare their expectations with the reality they found when they arrived on site; to evaluate the house itself as a primary source; to reflect on additional information they would like to have in order to understand the 1967 conference better; and ultimately to talk about how visiting Hollybush in person, in conjunction with examining primary sources, has affected their thinking about the larger Cold War.
The responses I heard to that last question, when we compared notes as a full class, suggest to me that this project did help students conceptualize the Cold War in new ways. Just as importantly, it brought home the larger fact that history is not some distant thing—that one’s own backyard can be the focus of world events.