Orenberg said attending the week-long institute will be instrumental in her teaching going forward.
"Having the opportunity to participate in The Lowell Experience will have a transformational effect on the way I teach social movements and reform in industrializing America," she told the Weekly.
"I will take back with me, and share with my students, the honor and privilege of 'spending time with' the young women and immigrants who worked in these mills, pouring myself into their letters and diaries in the place where they experienced it," she added.
The NEH Summer Institutes are held at different historic sites in order to allow teachers to study key themes and issues from U.S. history, government, literature, art, music and other humanities subjects in relevant locations. This particular institute, "Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell Experience," was held through a partnership with the Tsongas Industrial History Center at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
The workshop included presentations and field studies of Old Sturbridge Village and Walden Pond, allowing participants to look at changes in work, society, culture and the environment between 1820 and 1860, and their effect on reform movements related to labor, women's rights and slavery.
Lesson plan development using primary sources was a focus.
"Engaging with primary sources in a meaningful and regular way takes the mystery of history and trepidation of not understanding away," Orenberg said. "Students can see themselves in these stories: People with hopes and dreams; people with flaws; people who achieved wonderful and lasting legacies despite obstacles."
This is not Orenberg's first pedagogical research foray -- she has also participated in fellowships at Jefferson's Monticello, Mount Vernon and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning in Cleveland, Miss. She sees seeking out these opportunities as part of her job as an educator.
"Perhaps history itself doesn't change, but our perception of it certainly can based on what we learn and find," she said. "One of the most important things I can do as a teacher is remain a lifelong student and be open to new perspectives. If I want my students to be curious, investigate, and find their own voices, I should be continuously modeling it."
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