by Janet Lyons, Local & Legendary project consultant, Maine Humanities Council
Civil War-related activity in Windham has continued at a steady pace this spring as part of the community’s Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War project.
As reported in a previous post, Sabrina Nickerson, a teacher at the Manchester School in Windham, has been using The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick this year to teach the Civil War.
On Friday, March 14, author Carol Manchester (author of Joseph K. Manchester: Northern Son in the South, 1861-1863) visited the classroom and gave a wonderful presentation to 50 students and classroom guests.
Students had the opportunity to ask questions about the man who their school is named for and to try on pieces of a Civil War soldier’s uniform. Additionally, Local & Legendary team member Laurel Parker, Windham Public Library Children’s librarian, presented Ms Manchester with a pair of socks she had knit, similar to the socks that Joseph had requested be sent to him during the war.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was also the topic of two separate discussions at the Windham Public Library on Tuesday, March 18.
In the afternoon Libby Bischof, Associate Professor of History at USM, facilitated a thoughtful and educational discussion for a mixed group of middle school students and adults.
Libby started the discussion with a description of what a historian does when reading historical fiction. She looks for: 1) what’s true, 2) what the author is saying, and 3) why it matters.
She then encouraged the students to share what they knew about the Civil War, which proved to be quite a bit. Discussion ensued around transportation (Homer used all four types of transportation available in the 1860s: his legs, horse, train, and steamship), and the 1850 Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Act (both of which are true parts of the book). Slavery, abolition, Quakers, choice and States rights were all touched on as Libby encouraged participants to think about the book and the choices various characters made.
As the discussion drew to a close Libby asked the students three thought provoking questions. Why does Homer tell lies? Would you be friends with Homer? Would you do what Homer did to help/save your sibling?
Later than evening, USM Professor of History Adam Tuchinsky led an informal and wide ranging discussion later with a small group of readers. One woman read the book because she had participated in the Maine Humanities Council’s “Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the Civil War” discussion group and wanted to read more about the Civil War.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was used as a jumping off point to discuss history and change. When discussing the boats that Homer saw in Portland Harbor, a woman wondered what a “wherry” was. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology the group was able to quickly find the definition: a long light rowboat made sharp at both ends and used to transport passengers on rivers and about harbors. This lead to a discussion of the evolution of transportation and its impact on multiple levels, how it can change our perception of distance and our world view, and in the case of the Civil War, how access to rail travel increased the mobility of northern troops.
Journal writing, letter writing, the postal service, newspapers, and the telegraph were all touched on for their impact on communication during the Civil War and our study of the war. This discussion was a marvelous example of how a youth, or young adult, book can be used to stimulate discussion of complex ideas among adults.