Time Travel

Public history students learn & teach by creating walking tours of Boston
 
Nora Zientak, Professor Kathryn Lasdow, and James Tsumagari in front of Old State House in Boston
Professor Kathryn Lasdow, James Tsumagari, and Nora Zientak in front of the Old State House in Boston. Students research the city's history and teach it to others by creating walking tours that explore the past and relate it to the present.

New Yorker Nora Zientak discovered an ideal way to become familiar with the Boston area when she enrolled in the “City of Stories: Walking Tours of Boston’s Past” history course during her first semester at Suffolk University.

“It really intrigued me because I wanted to learn about the city of Boston and its history,” she said. And by creating a walking tour of the Boston waterfront, Zientak also got to teach others about its important role in the city’s history.

The course teaches students public history research and communication techniques, which they use to tell revealing stories about Boston’s past and its impact through time.

The students develop their own walking tours of Boston based on field trips, group projects, personal reflections, and discussions. They reach a deep understanding of the city and share it step-by-step, incorporating content that employs smell, taste, touch, and sound.

Making history relatable

“Students are taking these tours as critical thinkers as opposed to tourists,” said History Professor Kathryn Lasdow, who teaches the course, which fulfills the Creativity & Innovation requirement. “For example, they are not looking to become experts on the American Revolution when walking the Freedom Trail. Instead, what they are trying to do is understand what makes a good tour. Is it engaging enough? Does it resonate with them on a personal level? Is it responsive or hold contemporary relevance? And does it tackle tough historical topics such as race, culture, class, and gender?”

For Zientak, Class of 2022, the course not only helped her get to know Greater Boston, it also provided an opportunity to improve writing, interactive, and public speaking skills, as well as to see history in a new light.

“Unlike other history courses where you do research and write about what you found, this course gives you room to be creative with the material,” she said. “We even got to reteach history to other students in the class as part of our final walking tour projects.”

Tapping creativity

To promote their walking tours, students working in small groups designed “pitch presentations” for marketing to a broad audience.

Zientak’s group, which included students Erin Buckley, Alberto Davila, Nancy Cuadra Martinez and James Tsumagari, focused on the Boston waterfront and promoted the tour through “The Harbor,” a 30-second video inspired by The Office television show.

Marketing video

Their promotional piece whisks viewers through of their tour stops—from the Rose Kennedy Greenway, to the Boston Tea Party Museum, to the Boston Harbor Hotel.

“We all had different roles, and everyone worked to make our project as good as it could be,” said Zientak.

“The video shows them having fun with what they learned,” said Lasdow, director of the Public History concentration. “They managed to combine a knowledge of history, some skills with a Go-Pro camera, and their knack for finding quirky spots around Boston into a charming pitch for their project.”

Proximity to campus

For Tsumagari, Class of 2021, the City of Stories course was a perfect fit.

“There’s just something about history that flips the switch for me,” he said.

He particularly enjoyed learning about Boston’s history on short strolls from Suffolk’s downtown campus, an approach he finds more engaging than opening up a textbook.

“This course helped me to interact with history by going out and visiting historical buildings and neighborhoods in Boston and seeing what they are all about.” said Tsumagari, a history major who hails from Washington, DC. “It expanded my knowledge of the city’s history in the context of its contemporary settings.”

Lasdow will offer the course next fall in collaboration with a public history initiative dedicated to Boston’s maritime heritage.

“Students leave my class understanding the value and purpose of research, collaborative work and recognizing the ways history has shaped and continues to shape our interactions with the city of Boston,” she said.

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