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"City as Text" - a Look at Charleston, S.C.

March 30, 2011

Averett's Honors Program has nearly doubled its growth in the last year. With that growth, Dr. Bill Trakas, history professor and director of the Honors Program, has looked for new ways to expose honors students to other cultures and cities. Following a growing nationwide trend called "City as Text," Averett honor students have studied cities in-depth through textbooks, novels, newspapers, magazines, individual research and movies. This semester the students have been studying Charleston, S.C. Over spring break (March 7-11) they had the opportunity to visit the historic city.

Prior to the trip, students read a history book on Charleston, conducted group projects, watched several films, including "Porgy and Bess" and "The Hunley," and read several novels - "Lady Baltimore," "South of Broad" and "Three O'Clock Dinner." The class revolved around open discussion and lectures.

"The study of Charleston's history and traditions before the trip really helped me become more familiar with the city, and appreciate the places that we visited when we went there," said junior Ariola Bardhi. "The most interesting things I learned while studying Charleston's history were probably related to the Civil War. We had the chance to go to Fort Sumter, as well as visit house museums at the Battery, where well-known aristocrats had seen the first attack from their piazzas. Personal experiences of important people at that time, life style, architecture and historical facts were all blended together."

"Our studies definitely allowed us to come to a fuller understanding of how important Charleston was," said sophomore Owen Hayden. Hayden enjoyed the entire trip, particularly their visit to Fort Sumter and Drayton Hall.

"Being able to stand where the Civil War started was quite an experience," Hayden said of the group's visit to the fort. "Drayton Hall was beautiful because they've chosen to preserve it, not restore it. So you can still see the pencil drawings on the walls that the Civil War soldiers made. It was a gorgeous house right on the river."

During their trip to Charleston, students visited Fort Sumter, which is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the firing on the fort; the South Carolina Aquarium, where they "adopted" a river otter; two plantations, where they learned about the families that owned them and about the horrors of being a slave on a rice plantation; an art museum and a history museum. At Drayton Hall, one of the plantation homes, the students made a contribution toward the continued educational efforts of the home. They also had the opportunity to sample a lot of low country cooking.

"It was a great experience and I cannot wait for our next trip," said Miranda Conner, a freshman. "You have to see the Hunley Museum when you are in Charleston. It holds the Hunley submarine, which is the first submarine to take down a ship. It was great to see something so old and full of history."

Charleston was not the first city honors students had the opportunity to study and visit. In the spring of 2010, students spent the semester studying Vienna, Austria - its history, art, music, equestrian training and psychology. At the end of the semester, they went to Vienna for eight days. In addition, freshmen and sophomore students have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. every year for an in-depth look at the nation's capital.

"Averett has always encouraged students to experience the larger world," Trakas said. "There's a big difference in what you think it will be like and then actually being there and walking around and interacting with the natives. The city itself is another textbook, a living textbook that teaches us about where we are and what it would be like to live there."

The costs of the trips are subsidized by the Alexander B. Carrington Jr. Scholarship/Honor Program. It is available to students who are traveling and participating in some type of study.

Along with the opportunity to explore different cities and cultures, seniors in the program conduct a year-long research project on a subject of their choosing. Their findings must be presented at a local or regional conference. March 30-April 2 a group of students will travel to Little Rock, Ark., for the Southern Region Honors Council Annual Conference. Senior Joshua Fox of Danville will be presenting his topic, "A Brief History of the Computer." Then once the group returns, Fox will also present his research to faculty, staff and students at the University.

Plans are already underway for next year's trip, which will be to foreign country. Students are requesting to study, and then go to, Florence and/or Rome, Italy.