Why participate in a day of history lessons – especially in the cold weather? What’s the value of studying history?
Peter N. Stearns authored an interesting article that appears at the American History Association’s web site (http://www.historians.org/pubs/free/WhyStudyHistory.htm). His article begins; “People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been? Given all the desirable and available branches of knowledge, why insist—as most American educational programs do—on a good bit of history? And why urge many students to study even more history than they are required to? … Historians do not perform heart transplants, improve highway design, or arrest criminals. In a society that quite correctly expects education to serve useful purposes, the functions of history can seem more difficult to define than those of engineering or medicine. History is in fact very useful, actually indispensable, but the products of historical study are less tangible, sometimes less immediate, than those that stem from some other disciplines.”
Peter Stearn’s article lists the many reasons to study history, but here’s a short list that resonate with our interest in visiting Valley Forge:
- History Helps Us Understand People and Societies
- History Helps Us Understand Change and How the Society We Live in Came to Be
- History Contributes to Moral Understanding
- History Provides Identity
- Studying History Is Essential for Good Citizenship
Taking a day to visit Valley Forge in the middle of Winter serves many purposes. It helps our scouts experience what it may have been like to serve as a soldier in the Continental Army or one of the colonial militias. They will recognize that things taken for granted now were not always so. People were treated differently and had different expectations for each other — learning about this should help us better value where we’re at today and recognize the need to continue to mature as a civilization.
They learn that while they’re wearing gortex lined coats and highly efficient boots and snow gear, the soldiers who were camped here had minimal supplies, scratchy wool clothes, little or no protection for their feet and none of our modern conveniences like heaters, plumbing, or MP3 players. They’ll see the medical tools of the time and learn how the doctors handled wounds, injuries, illnesses that are easily treated today, but may have had very different outcomes in the 18th century. They also learn about one of the earliest mass vaccination programs that helped save the Continental Army.
Experiencing this in person can help paint a stronger, clearer and more lasting impression of the hardships suffered. It could also help them better appreciate why the men and women who were encamped here were so very motivated to survive the Winter and further risk their lives fighting for a cause that we casually call “freedom”. Would our scouts be willing to make that sort of commitment and sacrifice if called to do so? This type of question is more thoughtfully answered following a day of “living history”.
For a scout, though, the main reason to attend is that it’s a LOT of fun. This year is also a special year to visit – it’s the 100th time that scouts have visited Valley Forge, and, according to the event organizers, “This is the Longest Continuous Scouting Event in the World!”
This year’s program honors “General George Washington” and like recent pilgrimage programs it will include special presentations throughout the day.
Following an opening ceremony, the scout units will form into eight distinct groups and travel throughout the park on foot or by bus. Each group will visit a station along the trail to learn about specific historical topics:
- Station #1 – Rifles and Skirmishing
- Station #2 – Revolutionary times Medical Treatment
- Station #3 – General George Washington
- Station #4 – The Woman & Followers at Valley Forge
- Station #5 – Artillery Program
- Station #6 – First Rhode Island African American Regiment
- Station #7 – Music of the Revolution
- Station #8 – Calvary
Each station will involve demonstrations, discussions, Q+A time, and opportunities for scouts to think about what it must have been like to be here all those many years ago.
In the afternoon, scout units will be able to participate in the Encampment Award program by visiting at least three additional educational areas in the park. The units will discuss questions in the award booklet, and discover more history — an opportunity to understand the past and how it shaped our present.
Last year, we met scout units from Texas, Colorado, Connecticut and other more “distant” locations who traveled to be a part of the program. If you’ve never considered the event in your troop, pack or crew’s calendar, maybe this year should be the exception.
The pilgrimage will be held on Saturday, 2/18/2012. The encampment will run from Friday 2/17 to Sunday 2/19. Details can be found at http://www.colbsa.org/pilgrimage-and-encampment/pilgrimage-encampment/pilgrimage-and-encampment-100th-anniversary.html
Reminder to our troop families – any scout or adult planning to attend must wear proper cold weather gear or risk being asked to leave the park. This unfortunate circumstance would likely affect our whole troop; therefore, please check with the adult leadership team, the Patrol Leadership Council or the committee on acceptable gear. Remember, no sneakers!