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MTSU history students put classroom learning into practice

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Brenden Martin

The next time you visit a national historic site, stop to consider the quality of the exhibits and the way the information is presented to you.

You might be learning something from an MTSU student.

Some MTSU history majors left their mark on the future by illuminating the past May 10-31 at the Jekyll Island National Historic Site off the coast of Georgia.

It’s called a field school, and it gave these masters’ and doctoral degree candidates an opportunity to put their classroom learning into practice.

In a mere three weeks’ time, the students:

• Set up three exhibit projects.

• Conducted four oral history interviews.

• Developed an interactive multimedia website.

• Developed a booklet interpreting African-Americans’ contributions to local history.

• Initiated a records-management training program for new employees.

• Developed an outreach program for schools connecting local history to science, technology, engineering and math disciplines, as well as projects related to archival and records management.

Their professor, Dr. Brenden Martin, could not be more proud. He said curators told him that the MTSU group had accomplished more in their first week-and-a-half of work than all other Jekyll Island field schools combined.

“They’re begging us to come back now,” said Martin. “I think it would be a tremendous opportunity to go there again.”
Jekyll Island’s uniquely rich history includes Native American and Spanish and English colonial cultures.

In addition, the Du Bignons, a family of French Huguenots who moved there during the French Revolution, established plantations and introduced slavery to the island.

In 1888, the descendants of the original Du Bignons sold the island to a private group of wealthy investors, who established the Jekyll Island Club for their exclusive use.

Martin said the curators’ main interpretive focus has been on the millionaires. His MTSU students instead gave voice to women, servants, children and other marginalized people — the ones who enabled their wealthy employers to relax in their two- and three-story cottages and enjoy what the privileged class called “the simple life.”

Students Rachel Lewis and Jenna Stout created a tactile, interactive display in Mistletoe Cottage to show tourists what the servants’ lives were like.

Lewis said she and Stout created a table setting based on the rather complicated, detailed instructions the servants had to follow.

They also invited tourists to pick up an empty wooden crate, which is heavier than it appears, to given them an idea of the physical burden of carrying those same crates, filled with goods, in the heat and humidity.

Working with curator Gretchen Greminger and Dr. June Hall McCash, MTSU professor emerita and founding director of the University Honors Program, the budding historians added an experience to their resumes that will serve them well in the job market.

“They can sell their time in school as ‘professional work experience,’” Martin said.

“It’s extremely gratifying to be able to see something that you’ve worked very hard on, that your peers have critiqued and have helped you bring to fruition, up on the wall,” Lewis added.


Participants in the MTSU Jekyll Island National Historic Site field school pose for a photo at Indian Mound Cottage. Shown on the front row, from left, are MTSU students Torren Gaston and Jenna Stout, Dr. Brenden Martin and students Mark Mullen, Caleb Knies, Katie Brammel, Veronica Sales, Kayla Pressley and Aleia Brown. On the back row are, from left, MTSU student Lane Tillner; Dr. June Hall McCash, MTSU professor emerita; MTSU student Lindsay Hager; Jekyll Island Museum program coordinator Andrea Marroquin and curator Gretchen Greminger; and MTSU students Rachel Lewis and Beth Rouse. Not pictured is MTSU student Michael Fletcher. Photo courtesy of Dr. Brenden Martin

Tagged under  Aleia Brown, Andrea Marroquin, Beth Rouse, Caleb Knies, Cottage, Dr. Brenden Martin, Dr. June Hall McCash, Gretchen Greminger, Historic, History, Indian Mound, Island, Jekyll, Jenna Stout, Katie Brammel, Kayla Pressley, Lane Tillner, Lindsay Hager, Mark Mullen, MTSU, Museum, Rachel Lewis, Torren Gaston, Veronica Sales

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