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Professor Haase’s historical hijinks

Professor Kristen Haase

History has come alive at NCC because of one professor who has taken a unique approach toward the subject.

“History has a bad reputation of being the study of dates and rich, white people,” History professor Kristen Haase said. “I like to shake students out of maybe the History class they had in high school that they fell asleep in.”

Haase assigned her students a project where they must dress in costume and film a historical reenactment they perform. The students are not limited to routine reenactments; instead, they are encouraged to fuse history and popular culture.

“I think it teaches them more about history than reading something in a book,” she said. “People will sometimes go, ‘Why did you do that? What are they learning from that?’ To me, that shows a greater and deeper understanding of the historic event that they’re using to draw the parallels between the plot of ‘Rocky’ and the Civil War or ‘Star Wars’ and the coming of the Third Reich.”

“We have rap videos, we have infomercials, we have movie trailers, we have straight up reenactments, we have chat shows – I had a group at another college [who’s theme] was Jerry Springer,” she said. “They’re time-traveling throughout History. They have Donald Trump, which is an interesting wig, versus Obama versus Kennedy versus Lincoln versus Washington, and they’re all debating each other.”

“For one of my Western Civ classes, [they had] a Billy Mays infomercial. It was for flame-retardant clothing and if Joan of Arc had only had her flame-retardant clothing, things may have been very different,” Haase said. “It can be quite silly like that, but I’ve also had music videos.” One music video took the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and changed the lyrics around to reflect the Age of Discovery.”

Haase’s idea for this project stems from her own college experience. “How this started was when I first went to England to study abroad… The very first History class I had – the first day of class, it was a History of London class, and the professor who was at the time, probably in her 60s – she walked in dressed as Queen Victoria. That sparked my interest in History and teaching History,” she said.

The assignment not only serves to teach students History, but also teamwork.

“This type of project I learned in working with a corporate team building/leadership training company,” Haase said. “They take this project to Fortune 500 companies and government groups. It’s called Team Hollywood.”

“This type of program has been used with the corporate team building company. They’ve been using it for about 20 years. Some of my students now are interested in doing [current] movies like ‘The Hunger Games’ So, I’ve had to update it,” she said.

“This is generally a four-hour project. In the beginning of the semester they break down into teams,” Haase said. “They do projects throughout the semester with their team because teamwork is so essential to life, as well as to History and learning the dynamics to human beings. How they work together, or not work together.”

While Haase does try to breathe fresh life into a subject some find stale, some tropes of History classes do remain. “Throughout the semester, we do have projects that are sitting down and working out the factual information of history. With history, you can’t get around the objective dates and events that change the course of human history,” she said.

“The other group projects really break History down and take human nature into consideration, the psychology of people, and why these people are compelled to do the things they do,” Haase said. “And as far as moving forward with History, to perhaps prognosticate what may happen in the future or make sense and put into context things that are happening today.”