School history trips to Washington DC take students to the centre of contemporary US power: the seat of the US President in the White House. It is also a city marked by its nation’s recent events, and, as such, is an excellent destination for students seeking to understand the role of the United States of America in the age after European colonialism. The National Museum of American History, the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, the Arlington National Cemetery and many other sites provide a full and fascinating itinerary for students.
The National Museum of American History
Belonging to the Smithsonian Institute of nineteen museums, nine research centres and a zoo in Washington DC and New York City, this museum in Washington DC is one of the foremost institutions in which students can learn about recent events in the US. Its collections encompass numerous facets of the nation’s cultural heritage, including: nearly forty prints from three government survey missions to the American West in the 19th century; Chinese American clothes from the Virginia Lee Mead Collection that provide insights into the cultural lives of Chinese immigrants; a sampling of objects that illuminate the huge Mexican presence in the US; objects relating to women mathematicians in the late 19th century, and much more. Students on school history trips to Washington DC could spend days examining the museum’s collections. It also houses special exhibits on specific items or groups of items pertaining to US cultural heritage.
Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
The Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site preserves Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House in Washington DC, the two sites where the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 played out. On 14 April 1865, President Lincoln and his wife watched a performance of Our American Cousin at the theatre, during which John Wilkes Booth entered their box and shot him. The gravely injured President was carried across the road to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning. While visiting Washington DC on school history trips, students can experience these seminal events and see items associated with the assassination, including the Derringer pistol used by Booth and the coat President Lincoln was wearing on the night.
Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery is a vast military cemetery where soldiers who took part in the nation’s many conflicts have been buried. It was established during the American Civil War, and saw burials from that war as well as casualties and veterans from all of the wars since, up to the current War on Terror. It is an arresting reminder for students on school history trips that the recent events in the US have been shaped by a high number of wars.