In a new history course for ninth-graders, students use the Northfield Mount Hermon campus — and its “experts” — as a kind of living laboratory for uncovering knowledge of the past. The half-credit elective course, titled “NMH History in Context,” launched in the spring 2023 semester and was taught by Tim Relyea, chair of the NMH History and Social Science Department.
“NMH is rich in history,” Relyea said. “A part of this class is learning how to ‘do history’ — this often involves sleuthing, talking to people, and being observant and curious. One of my goals is to get students thinking more deeply about the places and people they see on a regular basis and using them as resources to reveal stories and histories.”
One day, the class of 14 freshmen toured the campus woods with Jake Morrow, NMH’s farm program director, to learn about the region’s natural history. Another day, NMH science teacher David Reeder pointed out how geology shaped the landscape and then showed students the school’s collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints. Relyea led students on a field trip to nearby Turners Falls to learn about the early paper mill industry at the time of the founding of NMH. Students also visited the NMH Archives, housed in the basement of the Schauffler Library on campus, and met with NMH Archivist Peter Weis. In Memorial Chapel, students learned about the school’s founder D.L. Moody and the school’s origins in Christianity and its evolution to a secular school from NMH Chaplain Lee-Ellen Strawn.
“The class is not just just studying NMH history,” Jane Namusisi ’26 said. “We go deeper, learning about the early settlers of the land, colonial rule, Indigenous people, the history of New England and European settlers, and changes that occurred in society and how that affected NMH. We learn by interviewing people, making projects, and doing research in the library and archives.”
Relyea explained that having students move around campus and take short field trips enriches their learning, and can be especially important for younger students at NMH.
“It provides a spark of energy and interest,” Relyea said. “As fairly new students, it’s important for them to feel connected to this place and its histories, so going to actual places and interacting with others here is an effective way to do that.”
Namusisi likened it to a science lab. “We get to do and see everything, and when we move around campus it’s hard to forget the stuff you’ve learned because you get to see and touch. And meeting people like other teachers, the archivist, and the chaplain gives you the chance to get to know people and ask all kinds of questions.”
“When I learned that this class existed I jumped at the opportunity,” Andrew Burns ’26 said. “I thought it would be a good idea to learn the history of the place where I would be spending the majority of the next four years of my life. I am very in favor of the rather mobile nature of this class. It is very rare when doing historical research that you can see things first hand so having almost everything you’re going to cover in about a mile radius around you and being able to explore is an incredible opportunity. The most memorable part of this class was when we walked into the woods to find the old stone walls that used to be for sheep farming.”
Visiting the chapel and learning about alumni memorialized on plaques hanging on the walls at the back of the building was an especially meaningful part of the class for Grace Huang ‘26.
“I discovered that some NMH alumni went overseas to China and unfortunately died due to the Boxer Rebellion,” Huang said. “I had one of those ‘aha’ moments where everything came together. I was able to connect the Boxer Rebellion unit from my old school and the lessons we had in religious studies to this plate in front of me. My great-grandmother was also taught by an American missionary and I was truly in awe of how NMH’s history connects to my own homeland and roots.”