Knox College student Margaret Spiegel traveled 1,000 miles to a
prestigious summer research fellowship at Historic Deerfield, Inc. --
a museum and historic site in Massachusetts. But her love of history was
inspired in part by something much closer to home -- the Bishop Hill State
Historic Site, just minutes from where she grew up in Kewanee, Illinois.
"I distinctly remember my 4th grade field trip to Bishop Hill," Spiegel says. "It was my first experience with 'living history.' Classmates and I dressed in period costume, and we actually performed tasks the colonists did. We baked with an iron stove, churned butter, picked and processed rhubarb, and hauled water with a yoke and wooden buckets."
Similar to Bishop Hill, Historic Deerfield promotes tourism at its restored 18th-century houses. Historic Deerfield also sponsors in-depth research projects, utilizing its museum and collection of some 28,000 artifacts from colonial New England.
The Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship program is a nationally competitive museum studies internship that accepts only seven undergraduates a year. During her fellowship this summer, Spiegel studied "marking samplers - stitchings made in the 1820s by two daughters of a prominent family - the Coltons - in nearby Northfield, Massachusetts," she explains.
"I also studied the Colton Family papers, which were donated to Historic Deerfield in 2008," Spiegel says. "The courting correspondence of Edward Wells Colton and Susan Heard - letters they exchanged between 1859 and 1861 - shows how Easterners perceived the American Midwest." Coincidentally, Edward Wells Colton is a distant relation of Chauncey Sill Colton, the merchant who established the first store in Galesburg, helped bring the first railroad line to Galesburg and later was a trustee of Knox College.
"It is difficult to say where my interest in history first began," Spiegel says. "I just have always been curious about how people lived before all of the modern conveniences we are fortunate enough to have, and how these circumstances affected their thought processes."
About a dozen miles from Kewanee, Bishop Hill is a restored Swedish immigrant village, founded as a utopian community in the 1850s. "Bishop Hill is one of my favorite places and I've spent a lot of time there," Spiegel says. "I worked the Bishop Hill Ag Days throughout high school -- we made clay bricks one year and apple cider another. It gave us a chance to interact with and inform the public about a colonial trade or practice." In the summer of 2008, Spiegel worked as an administrative intern for the Bishop Hill Heritage Association.
"My experiences at Bishop Hill certainly helped cultivate my ideas about history and the public's role in experiencing history," Spiegel says. "My father also shares an interest in history, and I remember mini history lessons at the dinner table growing up when my dad would read out of the encyclopedia to answer questions I had about what we were studying in my social studies class at school."
Spiegel credits two Knox faculty - assistant professor of history Catherine Denial, and associate dean and professor of history Stephen Bailey - with facilitating her application for the fellowship. "Professor Denial found the information and encouraged me to apply. Dean Bailey helped me apply for a Richter Scholarship to cover my transportation costs. I would not have made it here without that financial support." Richter Memorial Scholarships are funded by a grant to Knox from the Richter Memorial Foundation to support independent research by Knox students.
Spiegel and Denial, along with another Knox student, Erin Souza, will lead a workshop for teachers, "Exhibiting History: Making the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Come Alive," at the Conference on Illinois History, October 1-2 in Springfield, Illinois.