NEGAUNEE - History, for most school-aged students, means sitting in class with a book. But there are other ways to learn about the past, particularly local history.
The Future Historians, a youth-oriented component of the education programming at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, helps engage students in grades four through 12 with hands-on, up close experience learning the history of the Upper Peninsula through workshops, speakers and even role playing.
"It's different than sitting in school," said Megan Goupil, 15, of Negaunee, who has been part of the Future Historians for three years.
A big attraction for the students, who attend meetings from around the U.P., is that the group allows its members to become part of the role playing at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor for three-day camps.
The students take on characters, like the children of lighthouse keepers, mine clerks and store managers, dressing in period costumes and helping visitors at Fort Wilkins explore what life was like in the 1800s in the Upper Peninsula.
"We talk to visitors and tell them what life was like," Goupil said.
The Future Historians are joined by adult role players as well, recreating 1800s life based on facts and census records.
"I like role play. I think it's kind of fun," said Future Historian Katie Edwards, 13, of Marquette. "It's kind of hard to memorize the facts your first year."
Each student, with over 50 participating in the role playing experience this past summer, is given a handbook about life in the late 1800s, covering everything from food to clothing to etiquette to games children their age would have played.
"They're all assigned a character based on an actual person," said Barry James, education curator for the Iron Industry Museum. "They know what to say when they talk to visitors."
Each of the students involved in the role playing is required to attend three of the monthly Future Historians meetings, as well as three special training sessions specifically about role playing.
When they're not at Fort Wilkins, the Future Historians meet once a month during the school year to listen to different speakers and participate in activities that help them experience local history.
September's meeting included a presentation on storytelling traditions, led by Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University.
This week, the Future Historians learned about lumberjacks and life in U.P. logging camps.
Meetings allow the students to not only hear from experts on local history, but also to examine historical photographs, artifacts and other primary source material.
The combination of the monthly meetings and the role playing experience has given the Future Historians a unique perspective of what life was like in the 1800s compared with their own lives today.
"How much money your parents had dictated what kind of friends you had," said Future Historian Jonathan Trombley, 14, of Chatham.
For the Future Historians, the benefits of being in the group are more than just a fun summer experience at Fort Wilkins.
"Many of the participants gain confidence in public speaking, research and writing skills," James said. "I think they get a greater appreciation that history isn't just names and dates. It's about people and events that we can relate to."
Those interested in learning more about the Future Historians program can contact the Iron Industry Museum at 906-475-7857.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.