Southeast Students Kicking Off Summer with Experiential Learning at Historic Preservation Field School


Beginning May 14, Southeast Missouri State University historic preservation students will be rolling up their sleeves in Ste. Genevieve County for an up-close, two-week experience where they will explore French culture and architecture and learn to interpret, understand and preserve their findings.

Each summer, graduate and undergraduate students in Southeast’s historic preservation program attend the Summer Field School to get hands-on experiences in a historic landscape.

Held at authentic 18th and early 19th century buildings at the Felix Valle State Historic Site in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, the students learn how to document, interpret and preserve the historical environment and buildings.

The goal of the field school is to acquaint students with the broad array of skills and techniques affecting historic preservation issues and historic site management, said Dr. Steven Hoffman, coordinator of Southeast’s historic preservation program and professor of history.

“We can talk about what you would do in a classroom context, and you need that theoretical background, but the experiences of actually being in the real-world and real environment and actively working on projects, there’s no substitute for that,” he said.

As part of the field school the students conduct research and gather data; create an interpretive exhibit in one of the building sites; learn how to hand-hew a log cabin; restore historic wood windows; and conduct archeological excavation.

The knowledge and skills they gain helps students not only expand their own education but prepares them for how to educate audiences and visitors through fun activities, such as how to weave baskets or marble-paint inside book covers.

“You have to find ways to engage new and young audiences,” Hoffman said. “Learning how to use fun, educational activities can connect audiences to the past.”

Another important interaction students have during the field school is with the staff of the Felix Valle State Historic Site, who teach many of the workshops.

“The students get to see how the site administrators run a historic site and do their job,” said Hoffman. “Students may one day be a part of a site’s staff or have to run their own site, and the field school gives them a real sense of what that’s like.”

The field school provides a wide variety of experiences in a short amount of time to better prepare students to, one day, have effective careers at a real historic site, said Hoffman. Many of his students were able to use their experiences during the field school to land jobs after graduation.

“One of the powerful things about Southeast’s historic preservation program is the variety of interests and options students can explore, and no matter what career path students are interested in, the field school gives them essential hands-on skills and knowledge,” he said.