The power of place: the impact of experiential learning for King's history students
May 18, 2022
Following the footsteps of Canadian soldiers along the rugged coastlines of Normandy, France, is not the typical experience of an undergraduate history student. However, it is for history students at King’s during their European battlefield tour in the new experiential learning course, World Wars in History, Memory, and Reconciliation.
“This is a course on the history and memory of the two world wars, which is why we’re here in Normandy, France. There is a power of place that gives our students at King’s University College the opportunity to engage with contested landscapes of history and memory,” says Dr. Graham Broad, Associate Professor of History. Dr. Broad designed this course with Katrina Pasierbek ’12, PhD candidate, King’s history alumna and course co-instructor.
“Students get the unique opportunity to learn from experts in the history and heritage field, as well as one another, as they present their research and we explore the museums, cemeteries and memorials across the Western Front and the beaches of Normandy,” explains Pasierbek.
Their journey began in Ypres, Belgium, and took them through the battlefields and cemeteries of the Somme region in France, eventually landing on the beaches of Normandy, which is also the site of the Juno Beach Centre. The emotional and meaningful impact on the students who visited these locations was undeniable.
“Everything changes when you’re standing here and seeing things in front of you,” says Avery Campbell, who is completing her fourth year with a double major in History and English Language and Literature. “You can picture what those on the front lines of war were seeing because you’re seeing it too. It’s extremely impactful and powerful.”
For the students, seeing the cemeteries, large and small, scattered along roadways throughout the French countryside, walking through rows upon rows of headstones and crosses, allowed them to fully appreciate the cost of war. Experiencing the impact of war in person, and then listening to the stories of the lives of individual soldiers profiled by each student, learning about their families and hometowns, seeing their photographs, or hearing excerpts from their journals and war diaries, humanized the world wars.
Dr. David Malloy, King’s President, joined the group in Normandy to participate in viewing the students’ research on display at the Juno Beach Centre. The exhibit, From Dieppe to Juno: Exceptional Destinies, is part of a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. Displayed in the lobby of the Centre, it features 10 profiles, and can be viewed for free until 2023.
“The student research that is on display here is outstanding and will be seen by thousands of people, visitors and locals. To actually have students here seeing the beaches, seeing the towns, and seeing the bunkers in real life is so important to connect theory to practice; it’s an excellent opportunity for all of our students,” says Dr. Malloy. “I’d really like to thank the Juno Beach Centre Association for providing some of the funding for our students to be here and supporting their research.” Students were awarded the prestigious Juno Beach Centre Fellowship, and received $7500 to assist with their research work and travel to Belgium and France. Students also received an additional $3000 from an Experiential Learning Award from King’s International and from King’s itself to assist with travel costs.
The course was postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19 and many were unsure of the fate of this year’s program. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation among the students and professors alike for being able to complete the overseas component of the course once travel restrictions were lifted.
“This experiential learning process has been amazing, to bring the knowledge from our textbooks and our classrooms and apply it to the real world,” says Calvin Klooster, a fourth-year student who is completing a double major in History and English. After graduation, Klooster will continue his history studies in a master’s program adjacent to the King’s campus, at Western University.
The 12-day trip in May 2022 was a unique and invaluable experience for these young historians, who could tour the battlefields of Belgium and France with world wars experts Dr. Broad and Prof. Pasierbek right beside them.
“I think what makes this program unique is the chance to study with an incredibly dedicated group of professionals and study how the perception of historical events has evolved,” says Morgan Fyn-Riley, a fourth-year student who is also completing a double major in History and English, and is a MA History candidate at Western. “The ability to actually go to these sites has really added an extra element to this experience. We are able to directly interact with the sites and landmarks that played a key role in the evolution of the commemorative process.”
To see highlights from their journey through the battlefields and memorials of Belgium and France, visit their Instagram account @kingswarhistory, @history_kings on Twitter and @HistoryatKingsUniversityCollege on Facebook.