Holly Benison

Holly Benison

When History Comes to Life

Holly Benison

When she was in the sixth grade, Holly Benison’s class visited the Gibraltar Lighthouse on Toronto Island as part of an overnight trip. The lighthouse was reputed to be haunted by the spirit of the first lighthouse keeper.

“I was fascinated by the story and wanted to know how much of it was really true, so my dad called the museum and arranged for me to be able to visit the archives, which were like a secret vault,” says Holly, who has just finished her second year of a History Major with Music Minor. “The archivist helped me look up their names so I could learn more. I loved that he took my request seriously. It really changed how I thought about history – I was seeing my city’s past come off the page and meet me in the place that I lived.”

Holly found the B.E.S.T. Project Fund page on the Bishop’s website when she was researching universities. “I remember thinking that I would never have an idea for a project on par with the ones I saw profiled. But a couple of years later, I was doing research for an unrelated project and stumbled on the 1861 Girls School Program in Tennessee, and the pieces began to fall into place. Professor Barker offered me his full support and told me to go for it!”

During her week-long immersive experience at the 1861 Girls School, located on an authentic 300-acre plantation, Holly will find out what it was like to be a young woman attending finishing school in the American South in the early days of the Civil War. “We’ll have academic discussions and lectures combined with period-appropriate activities, such as lessons on etiquette, needlework, penmanship and archery – all of which were designed to prepare young women for their debut in polite society,” explains Holly. Adding to the authenticity: no cell phones or technology are permitted and all the participants will be wearing period clothing they have made themselves.

For Holly, this experiential learning opportunity is the closest thing to time travel that exists. “I’m excited to look at history in a completely different way. My career aspirations are to work as a museum curator, archivist or director, and I’m really interested in how to make history interactive, especially for a younger audience. What I learn at the Girls School will help drive my ideas for living history spaces as I work towards my career objectives.”

Holly feels fortunate that experiential learning is so well supported at Bishop’s. “I marvel at how the B.E.S.T. Project Fund gives students the opportunity to explore the most niche of subjects. It’s so encouraging to be given the chance to craft our own experience in a personal and non-traditional approach to learning.”