Eight students presented the culmination of their year-long course in historic preservation on Tuesday evening to an audience of parents, students, faculty, and Museum of Old Newbury members in the Frost Library. "If These Walls Could Talk: Historic Preservation Case Study" was offered to students this year as part of our ongoing Visiting Professionals Series. This year, Bethany Groff Dorau, North Shore Regional Site Manager for Historic New England, led the course which investigated the Atwell House, an eighteenth century house on our campus that is currently undergoing renovations. Students, ranging from tenth to twelfth grade, also heard from guest lecturers throughout the year, and worked closely with Ms. Slater, Archives Manager at the Academy.
The Visiting Professionals Series provides students and faculty with access to experts in unique fields of study who can excite and educate them. These popular seminars explore areas of passion for students or examine important national or world issues. The program is generously funded by a donor and is overseen by Elaine White P'16, '21, Academic Dean & Assistant Head of School.
Of the program, White said, "Students readily shared their passion for this new-found love, and I think that commitment for historic preservation grew so distinctly this year because of the mentoring that they received at the hands of Bethany primarily, but also the special guest lecturers. That is at the heart of this program--bringing in experts who can inform, inspire, and mentor our students. Bethany and her crew of talented professionals did that in spades this year, and our students are so much better for that experience."
The course focused on the premise that an old house faces significant renovation in order to make it suitable for modern use. In this case, the Atwell House. The house has been lived in for centuries, added and changed, and now it is a mystery – a labyrinth of clues. A group of historic preservation professionals led by Groff Dorau walked students through the process of "reading" an old house, documenting its structure, and researching its past inhabitants.
Groff Dorau had nothing but positive things to say about her experience in teaching the class, "The smiles on the faces of the other professionals in the audience said it all. This is why we do this work - because we are inspired and hope that we can pass this on to the next generation. I have never, in my professional career, had the opportunity to interact so deeply with high school students, and to explore aspects of my life's work that are impossible to cover in a field trip or house tour. It was a profound and moving experience for me, as a practitioner in the field, to share this time with engaged, adventurous students and supportive faculty."
Groff Dorau is the author of A Newburyport Marine in World War I: The Life and Legacy of Eben Bradbury (June 2018, History Press), A Brief History of Old Newbury (History Press), and a primary contributor to the Defining Documents in American History Series.
She is the North Shore Regional Site Manager for Historic New England, based at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, and a recipient of the Pioneer in Preservation Award from the Essex National Heritage Commission and the North of Boston CVB Leadership Award. She has also published articles in the New England Quarterly, the Encyclopedia of American History, and Historic New England Magazine.
Past seminars in the Visiting Professionals Series have included: The Graphic Novel, Documentary Filmmaking, Middle East Think Tank, The Art of Sculpture and Installation, The Amazon Effect, Drafting Legislation, Water Wars, and Architecture Creativity Workshop.