When I told some of my teacher colleagues that I was planning a field trip to The Henry Ford's Greenfield Village for my world history classes, many reacted with surprise. They asked, “What does Greenfield Village have to do with world history?” At face value, their reaction seems justified. What does the Model T or the Wright Brothers have to do with the development of writing and agriculture? Well, Greenfield Village has the ability to make both ancient and modern history come alive.
With a little creative planning, the buildings and artifacts on display in Greenfield Village were the ideal companion to my current world history unit. I’m teaching about the Neolithic Era of world history, which is from approximately the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago) until about 3,000 BC. The Agricultural Revolution began around 5,000 BC. It is when humanity moved away from hunting and gathering, instead domesticating animals and beginning to plant crops. They also developed tools like the plow and used canals to irrigate crops and fields.
My students do not have a very concrete understanding of agriculture, as they come from an urban/suburban area. They have seen farms on television and in movies. But they have not had the personal experiences that would bring the agricultural revolution to life.
Fortunately Greenfield Village allowed my students to experience in person a farm that employs principles of the agricultural revolution, like using domesticated animals as a source of power. Using Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, my colleagues and I constructed a “farm-focused” field trip as a component of our world history course.
The people, animals, and artifacts at Firestone Farm made our world history unit come alive. The employees and volunteers were happy to explain how and why farmers have used and interacted with domesticated animals. The students were excited to see the Merino sheep, draft horses, pigs, and chickens in and around the barnyard at Firestone. They gained a greater understanding of the tools and technology created during the agricultural revolution by examining the plows, seed drills, and other pieces of equipment in the Firestone Barn. Reading about a barn, or seeing one on TV doesn’t compare to actually stepping foot in one. Holding the tools, watching the animals, and smelling the barn did far more to impress upon my students the rigors of farming more than any textbook could.
The Henry Ford is, and should be, a favorite destination for American history field trips. But with the help of The Henry Ford, creative teachers can also make textbooks come alive for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), art, economics, civics, world history, and English language arts.
Matthew Mutschler is a veteran teacher currently teaching middle school in the Warren Consolidated School District. He has been involved with The Henry Ford for a number of years, and is an alumnus of both The Henry Ford Teacher Fellow Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.
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