On August 20th and 21st the Historical Society hosted nearly 80 incoming freshmen from American University, presenting themes, concepts and resources to help develop the student’s appreciation for and understanding of their new home: Washington, D.C.
Discover DC, an orientation program developed by American University, is an “opportunity for new AU students to learn about Washington D.C.’s unique diversity by visiting various neighborhoods in the area and to consider the concept of civic engagement as it is lived by D.C. citizens.” HSW was asked to participate in this year’s program, offering four orientations over the course of two days.
The sessions began with an ice breaker, where students interviewed each other to see what they knew about Washington, D.C. There were no District residents in the group, and only two from the metro area. The rest of the students hailed from across the country; from France; and from El Salvador.
HSW Research Services Librarian Laura Barry, volunteer Brian Rohal, and Collections Manager Anne McDonough then led round-robin sessions during the students’ visits. Each table presented a concept and several resources for the students to explore. Students delved into the material, participated in facilitated discussions, and posted take-aways representing what they learned during the sessions.
Who’s a Washingtonian? explored the city’s demographics; Where’s D.C.’s Missing Piece? explained Alexandria City & County’s retrocession to Virginia; Who’s in Charge? discussed the intersection of politics and civil rights, particularly appropriate for a group of newly eligible voters; and How Do You Get From Here to There? introduced street cars, buses, and the Metro.
HSW Research Services Librarian Laura Barry, volunteer Brian Rohal, and Collections Manager Anne McDonough led round-robin sessions during the students’ visits. Each table presented a concept (e.g. Who is a Washingtonian? Where’s D.C.’s Missing Piece?) and several resources for the students to explore.
While the ice breaker revealed that there hadn’t been previous exposure to much beyond the monuments and the White House, the take-aways indicated that the students left the HSW knowing about Emancipation Day; the origins of D.C.’s Chocolate City moniker; retrocession; Home Rule; the impact of the development of the metro on neighborhoods; and much more.
The students also left with a “D.C. History Bucket List.” From “Dispel a Washington Whopper” – debunking the myth that the city’s low-lying architecture is due to restrictions based on the Capitol Building or the Washington Monument – to “Explain to Your Roommate the Difference between Washington and the District of Columbia,” the list identifies several tasks through which they can further explore D.C. and engage others in local history.
In addition to the resource tables, a photograph display was installed specifically for the group, showing images from the March on Washington; the 51st anniversary is just next week. The photographer? An American University freshman. The students were encouraged to document and participate in the changes Washington, D.C. will experience during the years they make their home here.
While HSW’s participation in Discover DC was a successful endeavor, and while HSW would like to provide this sort of orientation for all incoming classes at all local colleges and universities, it takes tremendous staff resources to produce. If you’d like to see more educational programming like this on offer, please consider making a donation in support of the Historical Society.