Salem or Bust!

The Junior class hits Salem, MA, for a literary, historical and maritime tour. 
As a member of both the English and History Departments, Barbara Whitlock, Director of Student Learning & Leadership; Humanities Coordinator, is a strong proponent of interdisciplinary learning. For the Junior class, studying Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in English classes as well as Colonial America in their U.S. History class, this means being treated to a field trip tour-de-force. Venturing to Salem, MA, the class itinerary included a stop at the Custom House, the setting of Hawthorne’s classic; a visit to the Peabody Essex Museum, including the Salem Witch Trials exhibit; and a garden tour at the House of Seven Gables, the Hawthorne family’s homestead. Historically, Whitlock refers to Salem as “the maritime giant of the colonial world.” As Hawthorne’s birthplace, it boasts rich literary roots as well.

Currently, the Custom House is not open to the public, due to Covid restrictions. But Whitlock and her students got to attend a teaching session led by a National Parks Ranger, who outlined the history of slavery in Salem through the lens of a primary source, the Derby family. Standing beneath the shadow of the Derby mansion, students listen, their surroundings allowing them to envision the reality of the slave industry. 

“It really drives home how important the slave economy was to all of colonial America and not just to the Southern large plantations,” Whitlock said, acknowledging that she continues to learn new pieces of the story with each visit there. “It was in Salem that the first ship was built that carried the first African slaves to the British colonies in the New World.” At the Peabody Essex Museum, the Juniors go on a scavenger hunt in three different galleries: the Witch Trials exhibit, the American gallery, and the Asian Exports exhibit. Among other historical tidbits, they learn that Parker Brothers, the makers of the Monopoly board game, was started in Salem by brothers George, Charles and Edward Parker in 1883. At the House of Seven Gables, they see where Hawthorne was born, stroll around the gardens and visit the site of Salem’s original bank. How to wrap up their historic and literary journey? A stop at Salem Wharf to visit the ice cream shop, the candy shop and the coffee shop, of course!