‘All learning doesn’t happen out of a textbook’: MCC trips to Vicksburg, Nashville, Detroit & more encourage students, area residents to connect with history and country firsthand

Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Photo via Vicksburg National Military Park.

What does it mean to connect to history? To others who have lived so many years before us?

What does it mean to see the grave of a teenager who fought, and died, on a battleground that consumed the lives of those yet to see 20 years old?

At the same time, how do we connect to people living in very different places from ourselves now? To the worlds that exist outside of our own?

These are, of course, not questions answered simply, but perhaps they begin with experience. Perhaps they begin with us leaving our own day-to-day lives and venturing into places we have yet to know. With us leaving our comfort zones and saying: today, I will meet someone unlike myself. Today, I will listen to other people’s stories.

For Muskegon Community College (MCC) professors Kurt Troutman and George Maniates, this—the breaking down of barriers, the understanding of other people and places—is much of what they hope to encourage with three upcoming trips being organized by MCC’s Center for Experiential Learning. Both MCC students and the public are invited to these three trips, which will be held as follows:

  • Feb. 22, 2019: A visit to the Henry Ford Museum and Ford F-150 Factory Tour in Dearborn, Michigan. Click here for details.
  • March 1-5, 2019: A tour of Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi; Nashville, Tennessee; the historic architecture of Columbus, Indiana; and the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Click here for details.
  • March 16, 2019: A trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit’s Greektown, and John King Books, one of the largest rare and used bookstores in the country. Click here for details.

“All learning doesn’t happen out of a textbook,” says Maniates, an MCC history professor who has long led the college’s Experiential Learning trips across the country. “These trips engage all your sensory elements. This is important. Students, once they get out of the classroom, tend to emerge and learn in different ways. We see students come alive.”

Troutman, a professor of history and political science at MCC who too leads the Experiential Learning voyages, emphasizes that both students and members of the general public benefit from traveling together.

“We’re convinced there’s cross-generational learning done on every trip,” Troutman says. “Students learn immensely from seniors, and seniors are inspired by, and learn quite a bit from, students as well. There’s quite a synergy.”

Taking as many as 15 trips a year, Troutman and Maniates focus on cultural excursions that often align with classroom curriculum—whether that means taking a deep dive into Civil War history, the role of art in today’s society—and in societies past, and more. They’ve embarked on tours of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio; Mammoth Cave National Park and the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky; the Indianapolis 500; and much more.

“Many of our students have never been outside of Muskegon; this is now expanding their horizon,” Maniates says.

Historic cars outside the Henry Ford Museum. Photo via the Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum and the Ford F-150 Factory Tour

Up to 150 individuals will head to Dearborn to visit the Henry Ford Museum and embark on a two-hour Ford F-150 factory tour on Feb. 22.

“We’ll first descend upon the Ford F-150 factory,” Troutman says. “From 1903 through the 1980s, it was everything you think of: an old, dirty, dingy, industrial factory. In 2019, it’s absolute cutting edge; it has been entirely renovated. We’ll walk around the factory floor, looking at all the phases of industry; you cannot help but be impressed.”

Exploring the factory lends tour-goers insight into today’s industrial landscape, Maniates explains.

“It gives students a perspective on modern work,” he says. “You learn how industrialism and the industrial environment works.”

Visitors will then take the motor coach to the Henry Ford Museum, which not only showcases automobiles but immerses individuals in the United States’ industrial evolution, from steam engines to cars, planes and more. The museum’s collection features powerful pieces of U.S. history, including the Rosa Parks bus, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, and more.

The trip fee is $85 and covers motor coach travel and all admission fees to the museum and factory tour. Participants will be responsible for covering the costs of their meals. Registration is required by Feb. 1. To learn more about registering, please click here.

Reenactment actors at Vicksburg National Military Park. Photo via Vicksburg National Military Park

Battle of Vicksburg Civil War Tour

As many as 50 individuals are invited to participate in the Vicksburg National Military Park excursion, which too will include visits to Nashville; the historic architecture in Columbus, Indiana; and the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

“We try to incorporate as many different learning tools as we can; sometimes just going to a museum is good, but what else can we do?” Troutman says. “Vicksburg is a wonderful military experience, but we’ll augment that with a southern experience. We introduce students to different types of dining, different types of living.”

“We incorporate a lot of art into our programs, a lot of architecture; we ask what we can do that’s diverse as possible to avoid endless military glorification,” Troutman continues.

Vicksburg tour participants will learn of the pivotal battle that took place there during the Civil War, which paved the way for the Union’s ultimate victory.

“Vicksburg was more important than Gettysburg,” Troutman says. “Students are interested in battles, but they’re so abstract that reading about them in a book has limited value. Here, we get to walk the battlefields. Students will understand the role of a 19-year-old soldier. We forget sometimes that our wars are fought by children.”

Following the trip to the national park, the MCC tour goers will head to the Old Court House Museum, where individuals can see documents, artifacts and more from the Vicksburg battle. Too, they’ll visit the Mississippi River and see the leveespart of 3,600 miles of levees that make the Mississippi River basin the most extensively controlled river system in the world.

“We’ll talk about how barges and ships navigate this wonderful river that bisects our country, and how this is a highway to the sea,” Maniates says.

During the Vicksburg trip, participants will also stop in Columbus, Indianaa small city that’s a giant when it comes to modern architecture. Modernist titans, including Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Alexander Girard, Robert A.M. Stern, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, and Cesar Pelli helped to shape the area that draws people from around the globe to experience the location that’s been nicknamed “Athens of the Prairie.”

Nashville, Tennessee likely needs no introduction here, but tour goers too will explore this metropolis, including a visit to the Ryman Auditoriuma live music venue best known as the original home to the Grand Ole Opry.

“They’ll get to experience Southern culture and Southern food,” Troutman says.

Before they head home, the group will visit the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois—the town where Lincoln began his law career and where he met and married his wife, Mary Todd. At the museum, individuals will get the chance to see Lincoln’s story brought to life through immersive exhibits and original artifacts.

“We’ll also talk about Abraham Lincoln and the struggle has as a president had,” Maniates says. “In July 1863, before the Vicksburg battles are fought, probably three quarters of the country would’ve been happy to see him go.”

Registration for the Vicksburg trip is required by Feb. 8. The trip fee is $825, which includes motor coach transportation, hotels, breakfast, and all admissions at the various venues. To find out more about registering, please click here.

The Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo via the DIA.

Trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts

One of the most visited museums in the world, the Detroit Institute of Arts has one of the largest and most significant art collections in the United States. With 65,000 works of art that date from the earliest civilizations to the present day, the museum has more than 100 galleries featuring African American art, European art, indigenous American art, art from Asia and the Islamic world, and much more. Check out a painting by former President Barack Obama’s portrait artist, Kehinde Wiley, see Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Self Portrait”—the first van Gogh ever acquired by a U.S. museum, witness Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s stunning “Detroit Industry” mural that Rivera worked on from 1932 to 1933 as a tribute to the city’s manufacturing base and labor force, and more.

“We have a prolonged discussion about what it means to have the public’s trust: when you take an art piece in, why it’s important to have it on display,” Maniates says. “We have a discussion about who really owns these pieces of art and why it’s important to have them on display.”

After the art museum, the group will head to John King Books, an independent bookstore that’s one of the largest rare and used bookstores in the country. With more than one million books spread over four floors and 900 categories, this book shop housed inside a former glove factory is truly a mecca for any bibliophile. (If you want to learn more, check out this great interview with John King, the owner who started the Detroit institution.)

“When you tell students we’re going to a bookstore, you’re met with quite a bit of trepidation,” Maniates laughs. “But when they leave, they come out with bags of books.”

The Detroit expedition will end with a final stop for dinner in Greektown, an area established by Greek immigrants in the 1880s that has gone on to become a thriving entertainment center and haven of Victorian-era architecture. Participants can choose from more than 20 Greek restaurants before heading back to Muskegon.

The trip is $80 for students and $85 for community guests, which includes transportation to Detroit, admission fees to the museum, and a snack on the bus. Participants are responsible for paying for their own meals. Those who wish to go must register before Feb. 15. To find out more about registration, please click here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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