Most students go to Center City when they want to leave the Penn bubble. But for students who truly want an escape, there’s another option — rural New Jersey.
On Friday morning, a handful of students piled into a van outside the Penn Museum and headed to various towns in New Jersey to study historical sites, such as early Quaker and Swedish settlements. These students are enrolled in Anthropology 219, taught by Robert Schuyler — a class divided in to two sections that travel every Friday or Saturday.
Students learn about prehistoric New Jersey and then examine significant sites from the 17th to 20th centuries. They also visit important environmental sites, such as the wetlands along the Jersey shore. The class also visits historically significant sites like Cape May and the estate of Joseph Wharton, the founder of the Wharton School of Business.
After 11 years of excavating historic sites in the planned community of Vineland, New Jersey, the class shifted its focus to above-ground archaeology. From 2001 to 2012, students participated in the Vineland archaeological dig in the fall semester and could continue their work during the laboratory course in the spring. Current students will visit the Vineland excavation at the end of the semester.
Interested students can still register for the spring laboratory component, ANTH 220, in order to continue the study of Vineland artifacts, which were dug up by the hundreds of Penn students who took the class in previous years.
“It’s not just an exercise, it’s the actual collections. They’re part of an actual project run through the anthropology department,” Schuyler said.
No previous archaeological experience is required, and the class fulfills the Humanities & Social Science Sector for the College of Arts and Sciences.
College junior Marisa Reeves, an anthropology major concentrating in archaeology, registered for the class to gain field experience that will be relevant to her academic interests. As a New Jersey native, she is also looking to learn more about her home state.
“I really love learning about the past of where I grew up, because I’ve lived in South Jersey my whole life,” she said.
Anthropology majors make up a minority of students enrolled in the class. Others enroll to fulfill the sector requirement or because of the unique structure of the class.
Wharton sophomore Aaron Schapira had previously taken an introductory archaeology class and wanted to learn more about the subject in an applied setting.
“I personally think that the whole model of the lecture as a class is a little bit outdated in the sense that — for me — there’s very little a lecture gives that I could not get online, on my own,” he said. “To have a really hands-on class provides me a learning opportunity that I definitely could not get in the classroom.”
Most recently, the class visited historic sites in Greenwich and Salem.
In Greenwich, the class stopped at a monument commemorating New Jersey’s version of the Boston Tea Party — the 1774 Greenwich Tea Party, in which 40 patriots dressed as Native Americans and torched a load of tea.
College senior Jason Won took the class to learn about events like these. A Seoul native who also spent ten years in Mexico City, he had little exposure to American history and culture before coming to Penn. Throughout the course, he has already learned a great deal about Revolutionary War history.
“I have never taken American history — I know absolutely nothing about American history — so this is a good opportunity to learn about it. I didn’t know anything about the Tea Party,” he said, referring to the professor’s explanation of the Boston Tea Party.
Won also enjoys seeing another area of the country, outside of busy Philadelphia and in a more rural area of the United States.
“All of the rural places I’ve been to are either in Korea or Mexico,” he said. “It’s a lot different — the style of the architecture, the general feeling.”
This is exactly the experience professor Schuyler hopes students take away from his class. International students often take the course, but even American students rarely venture to this part of New Jersey prior to taking the class.
“A lot of the students who have never been off the Penn campus — away from Philadelphia — have not seen the rest of the Delaware Valley,” he said. “And Salem County is the most rural county left in the state of New Jersey, so they get to see all the farm land — a very different environment.”
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