Leaving Books for Battlefields

Courthouse pillar

A pillar at the Carlisle Courthouse shows damage from the "shelling of Carlisle," July 1, 1863. (Photo by Tony Moore)

Students craft Civil War documentaries for the Cumberland County Historical Society

by Tony Moore

Professor of Political Science Jim Hoefler finds that the most intense learning happens beyond the confines of the classroom, beyond the pages of a textbook.

“I’m a real believer in getting students outside the theoretical,” says Hoefler, explaining the groundwork for a project he assigned for his spring 2013 policy-management senior seminar. As Carlisle’s place in the Civil War comes into sharp focus this summer, with the 150th anniversary of the “shelling of Carlisle,” Hoefler and his class teamed up with the Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) to document the historic local invasion through a series of documentary-style short films.

Having policy-management students create documentary shorts about the Civil War may seem incongruous at first blush, but Hoefler finds that the real lesson is in making that connection.

“This type of project helps students develop real professional relationships,” he says. “They have to go out and interact with a real client. It becomes an envisioning exercise, almost like strategic planning, where students sit down and say, ‘What do you need? What is the organization, what are your challenges, what are you assets?’ ”

The project proved to be eye-opening for the students, a lesson in history as well as in forging relationships.

“We brought out a lot of history connected to the college and the community through the project, and I really wasn’t aware of any of it,” says Bernadette Brandt ’13, who partnered with Anna Alburger ’13 to produce a short film on Civil War medicine, which is now a part of the commemorative exhibit “1863: Invasion in the Valley” at the CCHS.

“It was less about making the video,” Alburger says, “and more about our interaction with the people at the historical society and putting it all together.”

“It’s an incredible opportunity to take on a lot of policy-studies-related themes and end up with a tangible product,” says Hoefler. “If we’re going to provide a liberal-arts education, ‘liberal’ means ‘freeing from,’ and I’m hopefully pulling down the barriers between these students and a part of the world that they’re not really used to. This is another opportunity for them to grow as people.”

Read more:

View the entire collection of student-produced Civil War short films.

View the Prezi on policy-management film projects.

Published July 24, 2013