Colonial Williamsburg class, trip gives students opportunity to experience history

Abby Laner

Kent State students interested in history now have an opportunity to see history in the making. The year 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of the Williamsburg class at Kent State.

“This course gives the students a chance to see history in action; it is very different from simply reading it in a history book or watching a movie,” said Leslie Heaphy, associate history professor and course instructor for the program.

The Williamsburg class is offered at the Stark campus but is open to all Kent State students and aims to give each student a chance to learn about Colonial Williamsburg and other neighboring historical sites. The course is offered each spring and counts as either a lower-division arts and science credit or an upper- division history credit. Students can still sign up for the class but will be charged a late registration fee.

The class was started in 1977 by former Stark campus dean William Bittle and current associate history professor Thomas Sosnowski and offers students a real world perspective along with traditional teaching methods. Students meet only four times during the semester, but take a five-day trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon and Monticello.

“Students have a chance to see costumed individuals at Williamsburg who behave exactly as if they were in that particular time period. They are well-trained and never break character, so it gives students a chance to see and ask questions about what is going on,” Heaphy said.

Williamsburg, which is about a mile long, offers students various activities to participate in while visiting the historical site. Some of these include debates over the newly written Constitution, a public march from the Capitol building to the Courthouse and trade demonstrations by colonists.

“I think when students watch the colonists perform their trades, they gain a different perspective on things. It definitely adds a certain ambiance to the trip when they see people dressed up and acting the part,” said Sosnowski, who is teaching the course again this year.

Prior to the trip, students are required to watch a variety of films about Williamsburg and read historical texts. This provides them with a sense of background and understanding of the time period before arriving at Colonial Williamsburg. Heaphy said typically 15 to 20 students enroll for the class each spring.

Senior history major Anastasia Gates said she is looking forward to taking the course this semester after having to drop it last year because of scheduling conflicts. Gates, a full-time student and mother of four, hopes to learn more about the Williamsburg culture and share her experiences with her classmates and children.

“I am anxious to see all the places I am reading about right now; Williamsburg is so accurate with the architecture and artifacts from the time period so I think it will be interesting to see all the specific details,” Gates said.

Sosnowski estimates 1,000 people have gone on the Williamsburg trip since its creation in 1977.

“The other day I actually ran into a former student from one of our first trips, and she asked if we were still doing the program. She told me how much she enjoyed the trip and was happy we still offered it to students,” Sosnowski said.

The class leaves April 18 and makes a stop at Mt. Vernon along the way to give participants a chance to view the site and learn more about George Washington’s home. On Thursday, students follow tour guides around Williamsburg and learn about the culture and history of the colony. They visit the Governor’s Mansion and Capitol building and spend the entire day together as a group.

On April 20, students visit Jamestown. They are encouraged to explore the original archeological site and visit the various exhibits and museums in the area.

The next day students can re-visit any sites and independently explore the area. Their findings are recorded in a class journal and later used for a review essay.

“There are about 88 buildings in Williamsburg; you can’t see them all in one trip so we allow the students to have some down time to pick and choose what they want to see,” Heaphy said.

Before returning home, students visit two large plantations and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. Heaphy said the Berkeley Plantation, one of the plantations visited, is family-owned and gives students a chance to see the difference between privately owned historical sites and publicly owned sites.

“It shows a difference in the way history is presented when students see both types of historical landmarks,” Heaphy said.

The cost of the Williamsburg trip is $450 per person and includes lodging fees, chartered transportation, admission fees and interpreter costs. For more information about the Williamsburg class, contact Heaphy or Sosnowski or visit the class Web site at

Contact regional campuses reporter Abby Laner at [email protected].