Students explore five centuries of history in Europe

September 6, 2017
students at museum in Poland
Students at museum in Poland
Students working on stained glass
Students building and testing a battery

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Twenty-three University of Wisconsin-Platteville students explored more than 500 years of history during two sessions of a short-term education experience in Europe this summer entitled, “The History of Science and Technology in Europe.”

The trip was co-led by Dr. Adam Stanley, professor of history at UW-Platteville, and Elizabeth Holden, lecturer of engineering physics at UW-Platteville. This was the sixth year they have led the trip.

On their adventure, students examined the modern scientific and technological history of Europe over the past five centuries, especially the ways in which those developments have been intertwined with Europe’s wider political, economic, social and cultural history. They examined objects and documents related to the history of medicine in France, viewed the lab where Marie Curie did her research and visited the former home of Albert Einstein. In addition, they saw the first globe that included America following Columbus’ expedition and explored a museum dedicated to the history of science and technology.

During their travels, students gained an enhanced comprehension of contemporary European societies. In addition to guided tours of academic sites in Krakow, Poland; Berlin, Germany; and Paris and Lyon, France, students had the opportunity to explore the cities on their own, which allowed them to interact with European societies and cultures more directly and intimately than during the more structured group tours and class discussions.

Kellie Clinton, a junior mathematics major from Palatine, Illinois, said she especially enjoyed the group’s tour of Maison des Canuts, a silk museum in Lyon, because it gave her a deeper appreciation of the contributions of Canut silk-workers, the invention of the Jacquard loom and the realities of the modern textile industry.

“The tour was very interesting to me because I never realized how detailed and intensive the work is,” said Clinton. “The workers have to memorize all of the patterns used in a fabric and remember them for three to four months because the fabric takes that long to make. This experience made me appreciate fabrics and materials that I have never paid that much attention to.”

The students also toured the Auschwitz concentration camp outside Krakow, Poland – an experience that had a deep impact on them.

“Visiting Auschwitz was an emotionally draining day,” said Ramsey Beckmann, a junior sustainable and renewable energy systems major from Kiel, Wisconsin. “It’s one thing to see pictures and read about it in a book, but to see the camp in person and try to imagine what it was like during World War II ... it was an extraordinary experience.”

Beckmann said he enjoyed visiting the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin because it was intriguing to see the development of textiles, transportation and communication technology over the last few centuries.

For Winnie Redfearn, a junior history major from Hazel Green, Wisconsin, it was fascinating to see where various historic events occurred in Europe.

“It was interesting to see how the Eiffel Tower stands at one end of the Champ de Mars, an area that held a few events during the French Revolution, including the Champ de Mars Massacre and the Fête de la Fédération,” Redfearn said. “I enjoyed learning how and why the Eiffel Tower was built, as well. This education abroad experience enriched my education in ways that textual sources cannot.”

The course also gave students the opportunity to participate in a service-learning project to benefit the Platteville community. Following their return to the United States, students are designing hands-on activities based on their experiences in the program. This fall, they will use those activities to teach Platteville elementary and middle-school students about the history of European science.

One group of students will be replicating a hands-on activity from the study abroad program in which, at an engineering museum in Krakow, Poland, participants built and tested a battery using similar materials and methods utilized by the scientist credited with inventing the battery, Alessandro Volta. Another group of students, using the knowledge they gained about the engineering challenges surrounding the building of the Eiffel Tower in the 19th century, is designing a hands-on activity for Platteville students to confront similar challenges in foundations, materials and the height of a structure – on a significantly smaller scale.

Stanley said that study abroad experiences provide students with opportunities and sources of knowledge and cultural literacy that one simply cannot replicate in a traditional classroom.

“Beyond academic knowledge, students’ experiences being in a different country, on a different continent, unavoidably enriches their global awareness and perspective, which is so vital for graduates to have in the world of the 21st century,” said Stanley. “From infrastructure and transportation to culinary culture and questions pertaining to wealth and poverty, students get a chance to observe, comprehend and appreciate the realities of life in a society markedly different from their own, in a way that a normal classroom environment cannot provide.”

Holden agreed, adding, “It's a life-changing experience that broadens your perspective, letting you see your own life and your future with fresh eyes. For example, a student from our first program (in 2012) emailed me recently to let me know that it was because of our program that she became a biology major and pursued a career in science. She reported that she is now working in a lab setting, doing something she loves, and that it was the content of our study abroad program and the experience itself that gave her the impetus to pursue this career path.”

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, Communications Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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