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Historians for a Day A class of history students from Powhatan High School spent a day in Washington and Lee Special Collections and Archives, where they got to work with original materials from the vault.

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A history class from Powhatan High School recently visited Special Collections and Archives at Washington and Lee, where their lessons about the Civil War were enhanced by a deep dive into related materials housed within the vault.

The high school class is taught by Robert Cook, a former part-time collections assistant at W&L, who knew his students would be fascinated by the historical materials housed in Special Collections. Cook reached out to W&L last semester to arrange the field trip, which included not only a look at Civil War materials, but also a primer on how the collection is maintained.

During their visit, the students heard from Special Collections Head Tom Camden, Assistant Director Seth McCormick-Goodhart and Senior Library Assistant Byron Faidley, who explained the practice of digitization and how it’s done at W&L. They also received an introduction to the collection, a tour of the vault, and a show-and-tell with some of the most interesting items housed within.

After lunch on campus, the students sat down for a group project that involved transcribing a piece of original Civil War-related material from the collections. This turned out to be an interesting exercise because many of the students are not familiar with cursive handwriting, but print materials were also provided. Students then presented their transcriptions to the class and received feedback from Special Collections staff.

Faidley said the students were highly engaged in the activities. “One student who previously said he couldn’t care less about history was completely enthralled and really seemed to connect with it,” he said. “He couldn’t believe he was working with Abraham Lincoln materials.”

Although Special Collections staff have visited local high school history classes, this was the first time a class spent the day in Special Collections. “It really gave us an opportunity to reach out to students, allow them to work with some primary resources, and show off some of the items from our collection,” Faidley said.