Watson Chronicle


Student Opportunities and Student News

Secondary Students Explore 1898 History through Interdisciplinary Project

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Each year, faculty members in Watson’s Secondary Education program collaborate on an Interdisciplinary Project that takes students out of the classroom and into the community. Thirty students enrolled in undergraduate and MAT programs participated in the project this fall. The 1898 Wilmington Coup and its lasting impact was the focus of this year’s project.

“The Interdisciplinary Project is one of the hallmarks of our Secondary Program,” said WCE Professor Robert Smith. “We want secondary students to be able to work together across disciplines, learn to use community resources and include an equity focus.”

To start, students explored events leading up to the Coup of 1898. An incendiary 1897 speech by Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, an editorial response written by Alexander Manley, editor of The Daily Record, the White Declaration of Independence, political cartoons published in the News & Observer and voter records were among the historical documents they reviewed and discussed.

On October 20, the students joined Smith and Associate Professor Denise Ousley-Exum on a Memory Walk in downtown Wilmington. Cara Ward, WCE Assistant Professor and expert on Wilmington’s 1898 history, led the tour.

The Memory Walk began at St. Stephen AME Church, where leaders were threatened early in the melee by a Light Infantry crew armed with machine guns who viewed the church with its black congregation of 1,600 as an organizational threat to whites. Other sites visited included the Bellamy Mansion Museum, the Wilmington Light Infantry Building, the New Hanover County Courthouse and Thalian Hall. The group also stopped on Market Street to review language on the Historical Highway Marker installed in 2019 to commemorate the events of 1898.

Following the tour, students used the experience to collaborate on lesson plans that encompass social studies, literature, science and math.

Faculty members say the interdisciplinary project is effective in getting students to broaden their thinking, make connections to the local community and understand the importance of collaborative teaching and learning.

“High School teachers need to prepare students academically, but also for life beyond school and that involves helping them to acquire knowledge and skills to work across disciplines as well as within them,” Ousley-Exum said. “In this project, we encouraged students to explore a range of issues including faith, rumor, communication, propaganda, even art, music and local culture that influenced the events that occurred. We asked them to consider, ‘What questions did you have as you explored this history? ‘What parallels can you draw to events unfolding today?’ And, ‘How can you use the experience to develop lesson plans that are engaging for your future students?’”

The interdisciplinary project is offered each year and always includes a field-based component. Past projects have included a study of the Cape Fear River, a tour of the NC Battleship and visits to Oakdale and Pine Forest cemeteries.

“Wilmington’s 1898 history provides a rich topic and Dr. Ward’s expertise added depth to the project this year, but the location and topic selected are not what’s most important,” Ousley-Exum said. “The goal is to help students think differently about their approach to teaching. The questions that are raised and the dialogue that ensues when students get out into the community and collaborate on a project is what stays with them and makes an impact.” 

Students described how much they valued the experience.

“I enjoyed the Walk immensely,” said Lee Jewell, MAT, English. As a native Wilmingtonian, all of the structures and sites we visited were familiar to me, especially the white, marble building that used to be the library. But, while I visited the former library frequently when I was small, I had no idea the role it played in the Massacre. The visit was very educational.”

“It was a wonderful way to make the material ‘come alive’ in a meaningful way and that is a vital element of pedagogy,” said Brian Schorr, MAT, Social Studies. “This experience opened me up to new and innovative ways to teach history and I cannot say enough about how valuable this event was to developing me as a teacher. If we can use any tool to grab the emotions of students, then their intellect will follow.”

About Watson’s Secondary Education Programs

UNCW’s Watson College of Education offers a two-year licensure program for undergraduate students majoring in mathematics, science, history or English at UNCW; a one full-year Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program for students with an undergraduate degree in math, science, history or English; and a five-year bachelor’s/master’s combined program.
The programs, designed for students who would like to teach at the high school level, are all offered in a cohort model and feature small class sizes and dedicated faculty with extensive high school classroom teaching experience. During the final semester, students participate in full-time student teaching under the guidance of a mentor teacher and faculty supervisor.

For more information visit the program websites: