Tonawanda News

July 21, 2013

NCCC hosting national Erie Canal workshop

By Joyce M. Miles
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Niagara County Community College has landed the honor of presenting a “Landmarks of American History” workshop, concerning the Erie Canal, to grade school teachers from across the country.

The week-long workshop, titled “Clinton’s Ditch: The Erie Canal in Western New York,” begins today at the Sanborn campus.

It’s funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which awards grants to museums, colleges and universities to help teachers refine their approaches to instructing schoolkids about American history and culture.

The workshop has 40 K-through-12th grade instructors learning about the canal, its construction, economic, social and cultural impacts on the United States through lectures and daily field trips to Syracuse, Camillus, Pittsford, Rochester, Buffalo and Lockport. According to the workshop schedule, NEH “summer scholars” will spend two half-days, Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening, in the Lock City, taking in tours of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, Locks 34 and 35 and a canal cruise.

The workshop will be repeated the week of Aug. 4 for another 40 teachers.

NCCC is the only community college in the nation that received a Landmarks grant this year, according to Megan Stadler, director of the school’s grants office. The grant is worth upwards of $100,000, as NEH is paying stipends of $1,200 per teacher to cover classroom and field trip costs, food and lodging. About half of the scholars are staying in campus housing.

“It’s really cool that we’re able to do this. Anytime the college can be on a national stage, that’s a good thing,” Stadler said.

The Clinton’s Ditch workshop is designed to show scholars how the Erie Canal propelled advancements in transportation, communication and engineering that, altogether, transformed the United States from a set of distinct regions to a unified, industrial nation.

Guest lecturers including Tamara Thornton, professor of history at the University of Buffalo, will suggest that the Erie Canal’s linking of east and west sparked the first industrial revolution in the 1830s and, in the process, discouraged the spread of slavery to newer states in the union. In a separate lecture she’ll suggest how the “artificial river” propelled capitalist culture in 19th century America.

SUNY Distinguished Service Professor F. Daniel Larkin is coming from SUNY Oneonta to lecture on “New York’s Gift To The Nation.” Also from Oneonta, Roger Hecht, assistant professor of literature, will meet up with the scholars in Syracuse, where they’re touring the Erie Canal Museum on Tuesday, to talk with them about the canal in 19th century art and literature. Museum curator Daniel Ward will delve into the Irish experience on the canal.

Throughout the week, non-fiction writers Gerard Koeppel, Martha Kendall and Doug Farley, director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, will make presentations on canal construction, music and folklore. Approaches to teaching the subject matter to elementary and secondary students will be suggested by Lorrei DiCamillo, associate professor of education at Canisius College.

On Saturday, the last day of the workshop, scholars will be treated to a visit to Niagara Falls State Park and an “Erie Canal meal” at the NCCC-run Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

Eighty summer scholars were selected from a field of 156 applicants for spots in the workshop. Applications came from all over the country, Bell said.