"Re-living the Restoration:" Experiential Learning across Church History Sites

 

Dr. Craig James Ostler

 

Brittany Armstrong, a 2017 participant of the Church History Travel Study, shared, “We are doing more than learning; we are experiencing. We get the opportunity to experience what Emma must have felt as she left her beautiful home and family to follow someone to whom she had only been married for a short time. It has given me the opportunity to prepare for whatever challenges are going to come in life because of the experiences and feelings that I have had in these sacred places.”

It began as the dream of three BYU Church History and Doctrine professors to help students to “re-live the Restoration.” Many individuals and families have the opportunity to visit early Church history sites, often in a haphazard fashion. However, few are able to immerse in the waters of the Restoration in a chronological order and with scholars that help the Restoration to live again.

Over the past decade BYU professors, Dr. Richard Bennett, Dr. Craig Manscill, and Dr. Craig James Ostler have directed programs that allow students to study the Restoration in the sites on which it rolled forth. The active experiential learning opportunities began as a week-long program during the fall semester and as part of an honors program. Students returned from studying on site in New York, Ohio, and Illinois wanting an even greater in-depth experience. In 2014 the program extended to a full eight-week summer term experience in which students enjoyed two weeks traveling to Church history and American heritage sites on the east coast, New England, New York, and Ohio, before living and studying in Nauvoo, Illinois, for five weeks, followed by visits to sties in Missouri and along the Mormon Pioneer Trail.

While in Nauvoo, students studied each morning in classes held a physical facilities building graciously provided by Nauvoo Restoration. In the afternoons they went into the community to serve. Nauvoo citizens benefitted from help in yard work, household repairs and upkeep, and beautifying the grounds of the Joseph Smith Properties, managed by the Community of Christ. The students reaped the blessings of getting to know the people of Nauvoo and contributing to a community that they soon learned to love. In addition, frequent visits to the restored homes and businesses of early Nauvoo Saints planted in the students’ hearts an understanding and appreciation for the lives and contributions of those early Church members. The Nauvoo temple became a place of special refuge and spiritual strengthening.

Today the program is sponsored through the Kennedy Center and has expanded to include opportunities during spring term to study from five to seven days in each of the major Church historical site centers in New England, New York, Ohio, and Missouri, with two weeks in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Brooke LeFevre, also a 2017 participant, saw her initial interests in Church history blossom into a deeper love and understanding of events and people involved. This past year she continued her interest and improved expertise in co-authoring an article with Dr. Ostler on the competition between the citizens of Nauvoo and Warsaw, Illinois, that eventually led to the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, as well as circumstances that led the Saints to leave the state and trek to the Rocky mountains. Several participants returned from their experiences to join a team of researchers under the direction of Dr. Manscill and a colleague, Dr. Ken Alford, to collect, transcribe, edit, and plan eventually publish the Hyrum Smith papers.

Strong support and commitment from the Religious Education administration provided a scholarship for each participant. Additional funds came from the BYU “Inspiring Learning” initiative, which seeks to provide thousands of students with life-changing learning opportunities.This commitment allows the unique learning experience to be enjoyed by students from many socio-economic backgrounds as they continue their education at BYU.

 

Apply for the Church History Travel Study here: http://kennedy.byu.edu/church-history-travel-study