A Modern Take on Local History

A local English professor has partnered with the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh to introduce her students to some of Ohio County’s historical gems. The students, in turn, will introduce these sites to the world through digital stories that will be posted on the Internet.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, Christina Fisanick Greer – a Marshall County native who lives in Wheeling and teaches English at California University of Pennsylvania – hosted an overnight excursion at Oglebay Resort for 10 freshman in her honors composition course. That evening after arriving at Wheeler House, they were treated to a dinner hosted by Alpha Delta Kappa, a women educators’ organization, after which Dr. David Javersak, retired West Liberty University history professor, gave a brief presentation on Wheeling history.

During dinner, they mingled with representatives of local historical sites, and the next day, the students divided into pairs to visit their previously chosen and researched sites. Those sites included the Oglebay Institute Mansion Museum and Glass Museum, West Liberty University’s new rare book collection, West Virginia Independence Hall and the Ohio County Public Library Archives and Special Collections.

Austin Owens of Huntingtown, Md., said he and his partner chose Independence Hall and were looking forward to creating a digital story that will make Wheeling residents proud of where they live.

“We are using this (visit) as a primary source to interact with the people of the town and uncover something unique,” he said.

Felix Rivera of New York City wanted to focus on the Benwood Mine disaster and how the community came together in the face of that tragedy. If he can’t find enough information on that topic, he said he would research how the commuity rallied after the flood of 1936.

Steven Schrenkel of Brunswick, Ohio, planned to visit the WLU library and learn more about some of the latest rare additions.

“This was awesome. Especially getting here and seeing this,” he said, directing his gaze out the large picture window of Wheeler House that framed the rolling hills vibrant with fall colors. “It’s just so beautiful. I really appreciate this opportunity to make this trip.”

Kelsy Traeger, curator for the Museums of Oglebay Institute, said she, too, appreciates the opportunity to share the museums’ collections with the students and was curious what might pique their interests.

“I think they’ll bring a different perspective for the museum. … It’s a fresh look at the collection. I look at the collection every day. It’s great to have new eyes look at that and find new things that are different to present to different audiences,” Traeger said.

It also is good publicity, a major goal of the Heinz History Center, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Robert Stakeley, the center’s educational program director, said Fisanick Greer’s digital storytelling project provides great exposure for historical sites. He and Mariruth Leftwich, center education manager, work with 250 historical sites across the tri-state area through the History Center Affiliates Program.

“We help them achieve their goals and promote themselves,” Stakeley said. “This project gets students into an area or onto a site, someplace they’ve never been. … Any time we can get on site and make face-to-face contact, bring in professors, bring in students, bring a new audience for their site, it’s beneficial to all involved.”

Because the students ferret out their own focus for their projects, they often experience “a wow factor” that they are excited about sharing with others, Leftwich added.

After the site visits on Friday, Oct. 16, Fisanick Greer said she was proud of her students.

“Not only did they do an excellent job preparing themselves for our visit to Wheeling, but they also brought enthusiasm and professionalism to their site visits. The group of students who visited the Oglebay Glass Museum proudly exclaimed, ‘We got to touch pieces of glass that have been touched by only 12 people ever!’ The students who visited Independence Hall became so well versed on its history that they were able to lead Robert Stakeley and me on a tour later on Friday afternoon.”

The students are now tasked with turning their research into two digital stories, each three to five minutes long. One story will introduce the site, while the other will focus on the specific collection, story or artifact of their choice. Their projects will include video, still photos, graphics, music and narration.

To cap the assignment, the students will return to Wheeling for a showing of their stories at noon Saturday, Dec. 5, at Ohio County Public Library.

“The public is welcome and encouraged to attend,” Fisanick Greer said. The stories also will be available to view on Facebook and YouTube, and later will be archived on a site maintained by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Next semester, Fisanick Greer will bring a new crop of students to discover the history of her native Marshall County.