Professor Brad Cross and a group of St. Thomas University students used New York City as a classroom in October.
Cross said one of his areas on interest is material history, which is studying history using real, tangible things alongside regular texts and printed sources.
“New York City has some incredible institutions,” he said.
“History museums, fine arts museums, but even just the city itself, so that was really a great opportunity for me to take students to New York as a kind of enrichment process.”
Cross has been taking students to the city since 2002 as a way to come in contact with the resources he uses in his own research and take students along on the journey.
The trip blends Cross’ students with those from other disciplines such as English, drama and fine arts. This year he partnered with professors Robin Whittaker and William Forrestall, taking approximately 35 students across the border.
The trip’s itinerary changes with the respective course Cross is teaching, whether it be world or U.S. history.
“So, when I take my world history students, we go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we look at Egyptian temples and Babylonian monuments and Greek and Roman stuff,” said Cross.
“When I teach urban history, I go to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Ellis Island, so there are an incredible number of facilities in New York, so I can adapt it to almost any course that I teach.”
Students also recalled places such as the New York Historical Society, Broadway and off-Broadway theatres, the 9/11 memorial site and One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station and the United Nations Headquarters, among others, as highlights of the trip.
Courtney Pittman was in one of Cross’ history classes last year, but wasn’t able to afford the trip until this time around.
“I really wanted to go my first year because I have never been to New York … so, this year when he announced the trip again, I couldn’t pass it down,” she said.
Pittman said her favourite part of the trip was getting to attend a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
“He was hilarious,” she said of Fallon.
She said the Brooklyn Bridge “was absolutely beautiful.”
“The view of the city was perfect.”
Pittman said it was a good learning experience as Cross knows a lot about the city, so she could get a good gauge on the city’s past and present.
“The trip showed me all of the history, and all of the future that the city can hold.”
Third-year student Hannah Blizzard is studying English with a concentration in drama. She said New York, “the epicentre for theatre in North America,” allowed her to see three shows: Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and The Humans.
She said every opportunity to view theatre “expands my own experience as well as works in conjunction with my degree.”
Fourth-year student Brandon LeBlanc got involved with the trip through one of Cross’ U.S. history courses.
LeBlanc, who studies political science and human rights, had planned to take advantage of the university’s exchange program in New York. Although previous plans fell through, his desire to travel didn’t stop.
“It being my fourth year, I decided I wanted to go on at least one academic trip before I graduate, and I had never been to New York City, so this was the perfect opportunity,” he said.
LeBlanc said his favourite experience was going on the Staten Island Ferry.
“During the ride, you see Manhattan and all its tall buildings from afar and pass by the Statue of Liberty and several nice bridges,” LeBlanc said.
“On the ferry, and on Staten Island, are two very peaceful and quiet places in New York City.”
Cross said he had a lot of fun getting to know this year’s group of students on the trip. He said it’s always interesting to see things like how the students adapt to using the metropolis’ subway systems so quickly.
“I think that in the classroom there are distinct limits to what I’m able to provide as source materials for students when we study whatever the topic of the subject is,” said Cross.
Cross said it’s important to maintain the meeting of minds the trip provides.
“One of the things that I think is most important about this trip is that I do partner with other faculties from other disciplines, and it’s those conversations with students … about a shared experience they’ve had but from their own particular perspectives,” he said.
“So, I know that they’re integrating their studies as they come to terms with the experiences that they’re having on the streets of New York.”
When asked if the trip will continue, Cross said he couldn’t confirm whether it would be for this fall or next, but said “it will go on again.”
“I think it’s one thing to read either theoretical or historical works about a certain place, but then when you go there … it provides new avenues for interrogation, for research and [students] generate new ideas and new questions that wouldn’t have come just from within the classroom.”
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