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Students in Robert Kodosky's "Varieties of History" and "Modern American Military History" courses are not just learning history in the classroom. They are experiencing what historians do in the field.
This past semester, West Chester University students who are studying history are also engaged in research at the American Helicopter Museum just outside West Chester. As part of a course assignment or in some cases, to earn publishing credit, the students selected and researched an artifact or one of the museum's 35 civilian and military helicopters, autogiros or convertiplanes. While the project generally reflects Professor Kodosky’s own research interests and expertise in American military history, he says he developed this challenge for his students so they would “experience the work of historians in a 'real word' setting, ‘doing’ history as opposed to just consuming it."
Kodosky is hoping to develop a long-term relationship with the museum and to build this research component into a second course in the spring. In the meantime, this collaboration eventually will result in a bonus for the museum as well.
By the end of the semester, students will have produced three scripts for audio guides explaining the history, mission and technology behind the objects they have researched. Each guide will be targeted to the museum’s visitors by age group, namely, young children, teenagers and adults. And, all the scripts are being checked for accuracy by local experts.
Third-year student Max Twer, who participated in the research project, selected the Sikorsky S-51 model, one of the first helicopters to be marketed for civilian use. "Sales started slowly," says Twer," so the company re-directed its attention toward the military.”
Twer also learned that this model was utilized in the mid-forties for "Operation Highjump," the U.S. Navy Antarctic Developments Program aimed at establishing a research base in the Antarctic.
The Holland, Pa. student has twice flown on helicopters, but admits he preferred studying them rather than flying in them. "I enjoyed the experience of researching history this way outside the classroom," says Twer. "And, I liked being able to share what I found with others."