For History Class, Local Historical Centers Are the Classroom

March 23, 2011

TJ Fisher
Photo by Laura J. Cole

Over the course of the semester, TJ Fisher (Class of 2013) has been conducting research at the Orange County Regional History Center on Central Florida during World War II to create a presentation that will be added to the Center’s existing exhibit.

Forty-three years after beginning his rewarding teaching career at Rollins College, Professor of History Barry Levis still gets excited about his classes and his students. Part of that excitement comes from setting high standards for his students and, as a result, seeing them grow over the course of a semester. Upon completing one of his courses, students gain life-long study skills and practical application of the material that prepare them for future endeavors and lead many students to enroll in multiple classes with him.

As part of those courses for many years now, Levis’ students have participated in community engagement projects, including working with organizations such as Planned Parenthood and volunteering at anti-abortion clinics in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the different ideologies that exist in today’s society.

Currently, Levis’ class Decade of Decision: England and America in 1760—an introductory history course that explores the causes of the growing rift between America and Britain that led to the American Revolution—is engaged in service at one of five historical centers across Central Florida. Each student in the class has to complete 20 hours of service at Orange County Regional History Center, Winter Park Public Library, Winter Park Historical Association, Maitland Historical Society or Olin Library. During their time at the centers, students have been working with primary sources and learning archival skills, such as how to catalogue documents and handle artifacts.

“Most history courses are on national history rather than local history, so this is a great opportunity for students that doesn’t arise often,” said Levis. “Each one of these little communities in Central Florida is full of history that most students have never been exposed to, so it’s great for them to learn about the history and people of Winter Park and to work with first-hand sources that help them piece together the stories of these communities.”

One student in the class, TJ Fisher (Class of 2013), an anthropology and history double major, has been working very closely with the Orange County Regional History Center. Over the course of the semester, she has been conducting research on Central Florida during World War II to create a presentation that will be added to the Center’s existing exhibit on World War II. Fisher discovered that finding the time to do the research has been difficult due to her large course load and active participation on campus, but one of her greater challenges has been actually learning how to work with primary sources.

“It’s been a long process of learning how to use primary documents in order to construct a presentation,” said Fisher. “In the past, I have always done research from encyclopedias and articles on subjects, not by actually looking at primary sources. That part has been a challenge, but the biggest reward has been dealing with those kinds of challenges because they will make me better prepared for a future in history.”

Fisher believes that she and some of her classmates will definitely continue with their service in the future, especially those who wish to pursue careers in the history field.

“The project has been an incomparable experience,” said Fisher. “I'm learning a lot that I wouldn't necessarily be able to learn in the classroom or on the Rollins campus.”

Levis is proud of his students for the work that they’ve completed thus far and believes that a lot of really good things have come from this particular project.

“Rollins has a strong emphasis on service-learning, so this is something I intend to continue as part of my courses in the future,” said Levis. “I hope that students really understand the benefit of getting involved and see that even a little bit of their time can not only make a difference in the community, but also increase their knowledge and encourage their exploration of new opportunities.”

Learn more about the Department of History and the Office of Community Engagement.

By Sarah Hartman (Class of 2011)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact

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