By STEVEN NALLEY
This summer, Mississippi State University is hosting several camps for elementary, middle and high school students in topics from engineering to biology to culinary arts, but teachers are continuing their educations there as well.
Social studies teachers from across the state have spent the past week with MSU’s Social Studies Teachers’ Summer Institute, building a stronger background in Civil War history through MSU’s experts, library collections and visits to battlefields around the state.
Sponsors include the National Park Service’s Shiloh and Vicksburg national military parks, MSU’s own Ulysses S. Grant Association and MSU Libraries. John Marszalek, Grant Association executive director and retired MSU faculty member, said MSU aims to improve on last year’s first iteration of SSTSI.
“We did a detailed survey after the event, and the responses from the teachers were universally positive,” Marszalek said. “Based on our experiences last year, we tweaked our successful Institute of last summer, and we believe we have made an already successful event even better.”
A key asset in the effort to improve has been the U.S. Grant Presidential Library added to MSU earlier this year, MSU Library Associate Elizabeth Coggins said.
“It’s enriched the tour of the library’s holdings and the Grant Association’s holdings, because we were able to display more artifacts and memorabilia and have a bigger presence,” Coggins said. “Due to increased funding... we were also able to provide the teachers with more materials to take back to their classrooms.”
Marszalek said the teachers also visited key Civil War historic sites in the state, including Shiloh, Corinth, Jackson and Vicksburg, and they interacted with such scholars as former National Park Service Chief Historian Dwight Pitcaithley and Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Mike Madell. Mississippi State University also has its own bastion of Civil War Scholars, he said.
“We believe ... (SSTSI) gives (teachers) the opportunity to gain insight and information which they can use in the classroom to inspire their students to look to history ... as a valuable tool to learn about themselves, their nation, their state, and their age,” Marszalek said. “The purpose of the Institute is to help these already excellent teachers become even better in their teaching of the history of the 19th-century Civil War to 21st century students. We hope they will take what we present to them and become re-energized in their own teaching and to energize their students about the importance of the Civil War for contemporary American society.”
Coggins said the visit to Jackson’s Old Capitol Museum was a new addition for this year, along with an overnight stay in Vicksburg just across the street from the battlefield. She said touring such sites not only immerses teachers in the Civil War era but also connects them with the resources they need to take their classes on field trips to the sites.
“We make sure they get good contact information for Vicksburg, Corinth and Shiloh,” Coggins said. “At each (site, teachers receive) communications materials. Most (sites) do have education specialists we work very closely with for the duration of the Institute.”
Another key element of SSTSI was a performance Monday by Bobby Horton, one of the country’s leading authorities on music from the Civil War period. Coggins said Horton’s performance drew strong attendance from the public, and Marszalek said a class Horton taught for SSTSI on Civil War music was a hit with the teachers.
“His enthusiasm for his music is infectious, and it shows the teachers that Civil War music can provide an added way for them to teach and inspire their students,” Horton said. “Last year as a result of seeing and hearing Bobby Horton at the public concert, MSU associate band director, Dr. Cliff Taylor, composed a ‘Shiloh Suite’ which the MSU student wind ensemble premiered this past year.”