Oakwood Cemetery Excursions - Beloit, WI

Susan Rice, Beloit College
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This is an exercise in observation, reflection and interaction with a new environment from two historical perspectives, designed to provoke questions about their new community that might become topics for an eventual research paper.

Learning Goals

Observation, listening, unstructured field notes, reflective writing, critical thinking in developing a possible research question.

Context for Use

FYI seminar, 16 students. Students completed the exercises during class time; the assignment was given during the fourth week of the semester.

Description and Teaching Materials

The class took two separate excursions to the city cemetery with two knowledgeable guides: a student who has spent several semesters working in the College archives and who directed our attention to graves of significant campus and community members, and a professor with a deep personal and research interest in military history and the graves of soldiers.

The excursion that focused on campus and community personages was preceded by a discussion of campus history aided by the college archives website and a handout prepared indicating which buildings on campus were funded by and/or named for significant members of the campus and community, with a brief history of each.

Each excursion was held during a class meeting and extended between 90-120 minutes; students were directed to take notes in their preferred medium and were encouraged to ask questions of their guides. They were then given several days to reflect on the experience and post to the Moodle forum, answering the following questions and commenting on at least 3 entries by other students:

  1. What did you learn about the "nature of looking" during our visit to Oakwood Cemetery?
  2. What did you learn about the city of Beloit?
  3. Think carefully about your experience, review your notes, and generate at least one "larger" potential research question that could be derived from this excursion.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Engaging guides who know the cemetery well and who can provide separate experiences linked to different lenses allows more students to connect with this particular experience, although all responded to the passion and insight which the professor brought to the experience.


Use of the Moodle forum for reflection on the excursions, as well as commenting on one another's observations was critical to the students' ability to contextualize the experience.

References and Resources