Setting sail with the History department

The History department is offering a new three-week experiential internship course from May 15 to June 4. Sailing with a trained crew, students will eat, sleep, work and learn onboard the “Flagship Niagara,” a replica of the sailing warship that fought at the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.

The Erie Maritime Museum, which is where the “Flagship Niagara” is based, is partnering with six undergraduate history programs from the area. Students from Edinboro University, Pennsylvania State University (Erie), Gannon University, Mercyhurst College and Walsh University will join with Allegheny College to form a class of approximately 20 students who will participate in the summer program, earning credit for a 300-level history class.

Captain Walter Rybka, the captain of the “Flagship Niagara,” believes that learning through experience is indispensable.

“[Students] will become their own first person documents, through having shared the life experiences of a seaman in the age of sail,” Rybka said. “They will live, albeit briefly, in the vanished wooden world of the sailing ship, which for about five hundred years was the dominant form of worldwide transportation.”

Each day will be filled with experiential learning opportunities, and the day’s events and tasks will vary, according to Assistant Professor of History Ian Binnington, who will be lecturing onboard.

“It partly depends on what watch you’re assigned to,” Binnington said. “There are three watches, so each student will be on duty one-third of the day and off duty two-thirds. Those who are on duty will be responsible for keeping a lookout, cleaning the ship, getting the sails up, and they can go aloft if they want to.”

Along with the experiential learning side of the program, there will be some light reading throughout the three weeks and students will be expected to keep a daily journal. There will also be a paper due following the excursion.
“Both the captain and I will lecture on Lake Erie,” Binnington said. “I’m going to offer some broader context on American history of that time.”

Bryan Sciulli, ’11, is a history and philosophy double minor who is interested in participating in the summer program.

“I was intrigued by being on a ship for three weeks and learning about the historical period,” Sciulli said. “By being in a hands-on situation that’s not offered here at Allegheny, I think it will be beneficial. It would be a lot of fun and I’ll get history credit for it, too.”

There will be some free time for students in locations such as Erie, Pa., and Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

“The outstanding lesson the crew comes to realize is that the greatest resource they have onboard is each other,” Rybka said. “They do get the chance to challenge themselves learning to work aloft. No student is required to climb the rigging, but all are encouraged to try. Standing on a rope with the whole structure moving under you is one of life’s greatest thrills.”

“There are certain things we just don’t experience anymore,” said Franklin Forts, assistant professor of history. “Being out there will give people a chance to experience the daily life of a nineteenth-century sailor.”

“It’s going to be great,” Binnington said. “Students are going to get an immersive, historical experience-they’re actually going to live it. You can’t do that in a classroom.”

Students who are interested in participating will go through the normal application process for an EL seminar online. There will be an informational meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 12:30 p.m. in Arter 216, where a pizza lunch will be provided. The deadline for the online application is March 1, 2010.