Pohanka Chair Matthew Pinsker Gives Students Chance to Work with Civil War Expert
September 23, 2011
Brenna McKelvey '12 and Matt Pinsker, Brian C. Pohanka '77 Chair in American Civil War History, review primary resources for her research on the shelling of Carlisle.
As the holder of the Brian C. Pohanka ’77 Chair in American Civil War History, Matthew Pinsker has served as a visiting fellow at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He was appointed to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission’s advisory committee by Gov. Ed Rendell. The Organization of American Historians named him a distinguished lecturer, and his classes have been featured on C-Span. House Divided, the online Civil War study tool he helped create, has been lauded by the Civil War Times.
But to students at Dickinson, he’s just another collaborator.
That’s because Pinsker doesn’t just teach history—he gets students involved in teaching history as well. As co-director of the House Divided project, for instance, he put to work several students who gained as much from the experience as they contributed.
“It’s great to take what I’ve learned and put it to use,” said Leigh Oczkowski ’11. “I’m researching battles I’d never heard of and really broadening my knowledge of the Civil War.”
Launched last spring, House Divided offers K-12 teachers multimedia clips, online photos and documents, calendars, timelines and interactive tools that make Civil War history more accessible to their students. Getting the online resource up and running took a team of faculty, staff, and students managing more than 2,000 documents and several thousand images related to the 1840-1880 era.
“I really wanted an internship that would give me experience in my field,” said Brandon Rothenberg ’11, another history major who served as an intern on the project. “We are doing so many different things. Right now I’m researching the class of 1860 and writing essays and historiographies.”
In addition to Rothenberg and Oczkowski, Jake Rainwater ’11, Becca Solnit ’12 and Brenna McKelvey ’12 also collaborated with Pinsker and House Divided co-director John Osborne, associate professor emeritus of history, on everything from Google maps of Pennsylvania cemeteries to essays on the shelling of Carlisle and a massive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
“We’re learning how to produce fast and accurate work that people can actually use,” said Rainwater. “It just keeps building.”
The project is an example of how gifts that support Dickinson’s faculty essentially have a double impact on students. Not only do those gifts allow the college to attract and retain top scholars dedicated to one-on-one teaching—but, because Dickinson faculty often involve students in their research, those gifts also allow students to work on cutting-edge projects in their field.
“We call it class-sourcing rather than outsourcing,” said Pinsker with a laugh.
And by working on projects like House Divided, Pinsker’s students have had the opportunity not only to get involved in real history—they’ve had the chance to contribute to the way history will be taught in the 21st century.
“You definitely got the sense that in a few years this will be not only a staple of historical tours, but a revolutionary tool that will be used throughout various aspects of life,” said Laura Hechtlinger ’12. “I was blown away.”