What a week!


Every post for NIAHD’s Pre-College Summer Program Session 1 from now on, may begin thus:


Or, to illustrate how exciting and bonding and packed full of learnin’ this week has been, let us turn to what one student exclaimed after her first day here: “I’ve found my people!”

Boy, were we (the other RPAs and myself) happy to hear that. Because we feel that way too.


At a glance, since the students moved in a week ago, they have:

1. Visited four historic sites

2. Attended four seminar discussion classes

3. Submitted drafts of their first essays

4. Planned a sports agenda for the session, kicking off the schedule with several games of Ultimate Frisbee

5. Celebrated two fellow students’ birthdays

6. Had one (of three) colonial dance lessons

7. Attended lectures by an archaeologist, a historian, and Thomas Jefferson (no, really!)

8. Burst into an impromptu performance of “Aaron Burr, Sir” in front of Bacon’s Castle. We knew the Hamilton references would come fast and furious this session, but this was better than we could have imagined. See NIAHD’s Instagram for the footage.

9. Participated in a real archaeological dig at the Fairfield Plantation site in Gloucester County, Virginia.


Days 1 and 2:

Sunday and Monday, the first few days of the program, were filled with orientation activities, including meetings with NIAHD Interim Director, Dr. Julie Richter, and the course instructors; a trip to Swem Library Special Collections to view “Rare Books of Early America;” and a lecture from archaeologist Dr. David Brown, the Co-Director of the Fairfield Plantation site where NIAHD students can dig on Saturday mornings.

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An orientation highlight for many of the students was Trainwreck, an outdoor running game that sends players darting across a large circle to find an open space if the question asked by whoever is “it” applies to them.  We learned who likes cats, the New England Patriots, and sour gummi worms, among many other things. One question that got all of us running: “WHO LOVES HISTORY?!”


Day 3:

On Tuesday, students from both courses got an early start. After breakfast, the two fleets of NIAHD vans diverged: one to the Pamunkey Indian Reservation and Museum, and the other to Yorktown.

It was a glorious – and uncharacteristically cool – Virginia summer day, and the Colonial Course was glad to spend some time outside along the Pamunkey River, learning from William & Mary alum and Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center director, Dr. Ashley Atkins Spivey. We visited the Pamunkey Museum, School House Museum, and Pottery School, before concluding our morning at the Fish Hatchery.

Pamunkey (12)

Pamunkey (14)

Meanwhile, the Civil War Course drove to Yorktown, Virginia to visit the newly-opened American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. There, they explored the museum’s exhibits. This included viewing the short film, “The Siege of Yorktown,” which is shown in a theater that includes sensory technology; the students were able to smell cannon fire and feel the rumbles of battle. Outside, the students entered a re-created Revolutionary War encampment where they heard about eighteenth century medicine in the medical tent, navigated an eighteenth century map, saw artillery demonstrations, and were recruited into the Continental Army.

Yorktown CW (8)

Yorktown CW (2)

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Day 3 concluded with a lecture on material culture by William & Mary professor Dr. Susan Kern. Dr. Kern demonstrated to students how “things” play a role in our lives, how we affect “things,” and how material culture, archaeology, and history can combine to create rich scholarship.

Day 4:

On Wednesday, the Colonial Course departed for nearby Jamestown Island. The site of the first permanent British settlement in North America, James Fort was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1996, and ever since, has been a site of ongoing archaeological excavation. Lead archaeologists and curators showed the students around the island, informing them about past, current, and planned digs. The students also received tours of the Archaearium museum, archaeology lab, and artifact vault. In the vault, they got to hold a seventeenth century chain that had been recovered from a nearby well!

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Jamestown Island 2017S1 (22)

The Civil War Course began their day in the capital city of Richmond. Walking from one site to the next allowed the students to imagine historic sites as interconnected parts of a community, rather than isolated destinations. Touring the Virginia State Capitol, the John Marshall House, and the John Wickham House, the students compared the architecture of the three sites and the messages their designs were intended to convey.

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Wednesday’s evening lecture was delivered in the historic Wren Building chapel, by Thomas Jefferson.

Okay, okay, so it was delivered by a Thomas Jefferson interpreter, Mr. Bill Barker, who has been Colonial Williamsburg’s Jefferson for almost twenty five years. Mr. Barker filled us in on some of Jefferson’s life and opinions, and then opened the floor for student questions. And trust us, when it comes to the NIAHD Pre-Col students, there is never a shortage of excellent questions!

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Day 5:

Thursday brought the Colonial Course back to Jamestown. This time, however, they visited Jamestown Settlement, a living history recreation of James Fort and nearby Powhatan Indian settlements. The students got to play games at a Powhatan village, hoist a sail on one of the two docked ships, try on seventeenth century armor (very heavy!), and engage with costumed interpreters.

Jamestown Settlement 2017S1 (47)


Jamestown Settlement 2017S1 (23)

Meanwhile, the Civil War Course drove west toward the mountains to visit two presidential residences. At James Monroe’s Highland, the students learned about the archaeology that led to the discovery of the homesite. They also viewed artifacts that belonged to America’s fifth president, his family, and his enslaved workers. At Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, the students relaxed on the president’s front lawn for a while before touring both the mansion and the reconstructed slave cabins on the property. They also got up close and personal with a caterpillar a Monticello gardener had found on a tobacco plant.

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Monticello 2017S1 (44)

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Day 6:

Friday for the Colonial Course began with a ferry ride across the James River. Students were able to get out of the NIAHD vans and explore the boat once we were safely aboard. You can spot a few of them waving from the bridge below. (Note how aptly named our ferry was!) Once to the other shore, we drove to Bacon’s Castle in Surry County. The “castle” (really just a large brick home) is so-called because it is one of several Virginia residences that were used as forts by the men of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. Built by Major Arthur Allen in 1665, today the house is not only the oldest brick dwelling in the United States, but also the country’s only surviving structure in the High Jacobean style and surrounded by the oldest English formal garden in North America. In short, the place claims many titles!

The students received a tour of the residence and slave quarters, and then the NIAHD instructors led a discussion on the exterior brickwork, using Lego models to illustrate the different bricklaying patterns.

And, of course, during some down time outside Bacon’s Castle, several students broke into a rendition of Hamilton, which can be found on NIAHD’s Instagram. They do us proud.

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Bacons Castle 2017S1 (29)

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Bacons Castle 2017S1 (2)

The Civil War Course students stayed closer to home, visiting the Colonial Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg, and the Hot Water Free Black Community a few miles away. After a 1698 fire destroyed the Jamestown Statehouse, the colonial capital was relocated to Williamsburg. The existing Williamsburg structure is the third capitol to stand on the site; it was completed in 1753. A costumed interpreter described the function of the building to the students, and then they were able to take their places in the courtroom.

The “Hot Water Tract” was the name of a parcel of land given to the slaves freed by William Ludwell Lee between 1803 and 1818. This free black community, one of the first in the country, was still in existence at the beginning of the Civil War. The NIAHD students explored the settlement, measuring houses to compare their sizes as they learned who would have lived in each type of house.

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Hot Water Day 2017S1 (2)

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Hot Water Day 2017S1 (6)

Friday evening, Dr. Jenna Simpson led an English Country Dance Lesson for the students. Have you seen Pride and Prejudice? It’s that kind of dancing. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the gaiety because everyone (RPAs included) was too busy dancing! Two more dance lessons will be offered during this session.

Days 7 and 8:

Weekends in the Pre-Col program include more free time, which students may use to relax, explore campus and Colonial Williamsburg, and of course, to study! Students had essay drafts due at noon on Sunday, so much of Saturday was spent writing. However, many students took a break to drive to the Fairfield Plantation archaeological dig site in Gloucester County. There, Dr. Brown and his associates taught the students how to remove shovelfuls of dirt from a marked-out square of earth, tipping them into screens that more students could then use to sift artifacts from dirt clods and rocks. Almost every shovelful turned up something! The students found broken bricks, broken glass wine bottles, buttons, nails, ceramics pieces, and more. We were all hot, sweaty, and tired at the end of our three-hour dig, but with lots to show for our work. Students will have another opportunity to dig at Fairfield next Saturday.

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Fairfield Week 1 2017S1 (25)

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Fairfield Week 1 2017S1 (48)

On Sunday, students had the opportunity to attend religious services. In the evening, Colonial Course students were given a tour of Colonial Williamsburg by William & Mary professor and architectural historian Dr. Carl Lounsbury.

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Stay tuned for more blog posts! And for frequent updates on the students’ adventures, check out the NIAHD Instagram and Facebook page.


Contributed by Holly Gruntner

Published in: on July 7, 2017 at 10:27 pm Comments (0)