Professional Development Portfolio: Digging Through History Workshop
By Peter Stokes, Middle School History Teacher
In July 2011, I participated in a professional workshop for teachers exploring the historical resources of Valley Forge and Independence National Historical Parks. The workshop sessions featured various primary sources such as archaeological digs, laboratory research, artifact collection and exploration of archival sources. We were given the opportunity to view and participate in behind-the-scenes experiences of two of the most outstanding historical sites in American History.
There were many highlights for me in the workshop; one of the brightest was taking part in two archaeological digs. The first dig site was located directly behind General George Washington’s Headquarters at the Valley Forge Winter encampment. There we dug and conversed with archeology graduate students from Temple University. The digging involved uncovering foundations of structures that were added to Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1777-78. We uncovered numerous artifacts and structural foundations. Imagining Washington and his Generals meeting in bitter cold weather to discuss strategies with little chance of success was ever present in my mind. Historical conversations were an interesting part of the dig. I particularly enjoyed speaking with the graduate students about their studies and their views of how to best communicate the important lessons of American history to students.
During the workshop, there were many ‘wow’ moments for me. As my students know so well, I truly enjoy sharing times that I am wowed by learning new and interesting historical knowledge. The greatest one this summer was discovering that the “Justice Bell” is on display at The Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge National Park. This remarkable bell was used in the campaign for women’s suffrage. The name “Justice Bell” came from the fact that the suffrage movement looked upon a woman’s right to vote as a matter of justice.
The bell was the brainchild and gift of Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger of Strafford, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Ruschenberger was an active suffragist and she devised a plan to call attention to the battle for women's suffrage. She commissioned the casting of a duplicate of the Liberty Bell, except this one was inscribed with “Establish Justice.”
I have visited Valley Forge National Park numerous times to cycle, hike, canoe, and fish. Educational programs and events at the park have taught me many things about Americas’s history. But I never knew the park celebrated the rights of freedom from more than just the King of England.