Study Abroad in Costa Rica, January Term 2020



Over J-term 2020, Dr. Lara Martin Lengel, School of Media and Communications, and I took 14 students to Costa Rica for a study abroad experience, under the auspices of a cross-listed course, HIST 4950/COMM 4060/HONS 4900, Cultural Studies in Costa Rica. After landing in San Jose, the capital, the group spent four days at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center in Turrúcares, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. There, the students cared for animals including parrots, macaws, howler and spider monkeys, sloths, and kinkajous. We learned about the local flora and fauna from the Center staff, including Dr. Andreas Perez, the Center veterinarian. While at the Center, the group took day trips to Manuel Antonio National Park, and Volcan Irázu, Costa Rica’s highest volcano. A highlight of the Irázu trip was playing soccer on the side of the volcano.

From Turrúcares, we went to the Central Pacific Coast, to Jacó, a tourist destination noted for its excellent surfing. There, we discussed Costa Rican history, sustainable tourism, and efforts to protect the region’s sea turtles. We also enjoyed Jacó’s beaches! After three days in Jacó, we traveled 50 km south to Playa Palo Seco, a beautiful, secluded island with the Pacific on one side and a mangrove river on the other. We learned from about the importance of mangroves to the environment, and in preventing storm surges from flooding the inland areas. A boat tour of the mangrove allowed the group to see native flora and fauna, including the mangrove trees themselves, spider monkeys, crabs, and fish.

Leaving Playa Palo Seco, we proceeded into the Southern Pacific region, to visit a University of Costa Rica campus at Golfito. On the way, we toured the Finca 6, or Spheres Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian indigenous people created a number of perfect stone spheres, ranging in size from a softball to three or four feet in diameter. They served as geographic signs, status symbols, and astronomical markers. Once in Golfito, our host, Dr. Randall Blanco, arranged an evening lecture on the environmental challenges facing the region, and the Golfo Dulce, a large gulf near the Panamanian border. The following day, Dr. Blanco arranged a boat tour of the gulf, which provided another trip highlight. During the tour, we passed through a pod of about 100 dolphins, frolicking and playing in the water.
The next leg of our trip took us to Térraba, in a territory allotted to the Brörán people, an indigenous group in Costa Rica. We enjoyed traditional meals, learned how ceremonial masks are made, and learned about the challenges of preserving the Brörán language and culture. We also encountered the largest insect we’d seen in Costa Rica, tropidacris cristata, the Costa Rican giant flying grasshopper. Harmless, but unsettling! Before we left Térraba, we hiked to a mountain river protected by the Brörán ancestors, and were able to swim in the clearest, cleanest water imaginable.
After leaving Térraba, we traveled to the Orosi Valley, an area close to opportunities for whitewater rafting and ziplining. On a free day, some of the group went rafting, others ziplining and rappelling, while others came with Lara and me to the Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica’s most important archaeological site. Guayabo, a major city from about 800 AD to 1400 AD, housed, in its heyday, 10,000 people. It boasted mounds with large conical structures, aqueducts, and an impressive stone causeway leading to the city.

Our final destination was Alajuela, the site of the country’s largest airport, and home to Costa Rica’s national hero, Juan Santamaria. As a teenager, Santamaria fought to expel William Walker, an American adventurer who became president of Nicaragua in 1856 and attempted to annex more Central American land in which he hoped to reestablish slavery. A museum in Alajuela commemorates Santamaria, as well as other aspects of Costa Rican history. After the museum visit, we enjoyed a farewell dinner at Jalapeño Central, a Tex-Mex restaurant owned by a Colombian-American who grew up in Queens, New York.

The trip was a great success. Everyone, including me, learned something about Costa Rica, or, through comparison, our own culture. Lara’s and my many previous visits to the country made it possible to visit places off the standard, touristic track, and learn something distinctive about Costa Rica. We plan to repeat this trip in January 2022; and we’ll keep everyone posted about our next venture.  Pura Vida!

Reflections on My Work at Heritage Sylvania

By Katie Nowakowski

I have been very grateful for my opportunity to work with Heritage Sylvania, a history center and museum in Sylvania, Ohio, in 2019. Because it is such a small organization, I got to witness in depth how it is managed, what kind of workers are involved, and how a non-profit operates financially. Heritage Sylvania is run primarily by the executive director and I was the only other “office” employee. For this reason, I had a variety of tasks that were all important to the organization.

As an intern, I took inventory of some of our items, cleaned and organized closets, and kept exhibits in order. From this I learned how important it is for a museum to keep track of its artifacts and inventory and where they came from. My boss told stories about how important it is to have a record of the people who have loaned the museum items for displays, because people might call wanting their items back years later. Therefore, my boss said she always keeps records and has a waiting period before she gets rid of anything.

I enjoyed meeting the group of ladies that takes care of the inventory and records. They are known as the Sylvania Historic Society and have existed since 1993. Recently, with the merger of three separate organizations their official role is to keep track and document all inventory. They are a group of passionate volunteers and because we are a non-profit, the work they do is vital. They conduct research and also organize the records so that the public can have access to them upon request. I have learned that their work is invaluable because they graciously donate their time and keep the museum organized and efficient.

My boss gave me overlying projects throughout the summer and always provided me with all the information I needed to accomplish them. I was able to complete all of my goals. My main task for the internship was to create orientation manuals. The two main manuals that I created or updated were the Volunteer Manual and the Board Member Manual. The Volunteer Manual serves as a convenient location of all the information a new volunteer would need when they start. This is important because there is a lot to know about the organization and our programs and it could be overwhelming to learn all at once. Therefore, they will now be able to reference the manual and it will hopefully be able to answer any questions they may have. I learned that you can never be too specific or include too much information because some people may be trained differently than others. The volunteer manual now contains scripts for volunteers who give presentations in the Historical Village buildings. I believe the volunteers will value having the Volunteer Manual with all of the scripts in one convenient place to study before presentations.

I do like our training process; every new volunteer is able to shadow another presenter to see how they conduct their programs. Everyone does theirs slightly differently but it gives the trainee a good example of how they can organize theirs. No one is ever asked to do a program they have not experienced yet. I think this is a perfect way to train people since they can see exactly what they will be doing and it allows them to ask the experienced volunteers questions about the session. Shadowing a session and having a printed script is a great way to train new people and give them more confidence for their own presentations.

The Board Manual I updated will also be beneficial for the organization. The board will now have a convenient place to review important documents and see what was discussed in previous Board Meetings. Through making the manual, I learned the responsibilities of a board member and how much they can influence decisions about the organization such as approving funds for projects. These two manuals were my greatest contributions to the organization since they will be useful for years to come.

My internship was a great starting point to see how a non-profit museum runs. For my career, I plan to work at a much larger museum. I was able to tour larger museums as part of my internship and ask questions about how the larger museums operate and what they are able to do with a bigger budget. What I disliked the most about working for such a small non-profit organization is that people would have good ideas for events or activities, but because of limited resources we are unable to put them into use. Even simple maintenance projects or updates around the museum would require a grant to accomplish. I did learn a lot about the grant writing process and how difficult it can be to manage.

I also noticed many skills that I needed to accomplish my job that will be useful to me in my future careers as well. I researched historical facts for our pioneer programs; for example, a typical school day in Ohio in the mid 1800s and the different subjects children were taught. This is the first time my research will have a practical implication for an organization and I know my researching skills will be useful in any job I pursue in public history. Communication skills are also very important for a career in public history. It is very important to present information that is clear and easy to understand because you have a wide age range of audience. This comes into play especially when verbally giving presentations because younger kids may not understand concepts that the older kids or adults would. For younger kids we usually give them more hands on tasks such as playing games or passing around something and for older kids or adults we are able to include more information, fun facts, and games in the presentation.

For my next job or internship, I would like to try working at a larger organization and to be more involved in a specific area of the museum. Working at Heritage Sylvania, I really liked the educational outreach program and hosting field trips, so I would be interested working in a department such as that at a museum. I hope to stay in touch with my boss because she is knowledgeable about the field of public history and is always willing to give me tips and introduce me to other people she knows in the field. I know the internship will be beneficial to my long-term career.

An Inspirational Surprise in the Archive

“Benjamin Lay,” by William Williams, Sr. c. 1750-1758. National Portrait Gallery, Object number NPG.79.171

by Dr. Andew M. Schocket

This January, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Washington, DC. While there I conducted research in the Library of Congress. But something in a quite different kind of archive, that I just happened upon, had a larger effect on me than anything I’d intentionally come to see.

History for the public good

We just received an email from our alum, Dr. Stephanie Gaskill, that warmed our hearts in this (not so cold, so far) January. Stephanie graduated from BGSU with a history major (2008) and M.A. in history (2010)/ She is now the education director of Operation Restoration, an organization that is bringing college to Louisiana prisons. Stephanie’s path illustrates the many ways in which historians change the world, for the public good, little by little. You can be part of her efforts by sending a copy of Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl or supporting the organization in other ways. Without further ado, here’s Stephanie’s email:


I know it’s been some time since I have been in touch, so I’m hoping that you all remember me as an undergraduate and then graduate student in the Department of History (2004-2010). After graduating from BGSU, I obtained my PhD in Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. Through my dissertation research on moral rehabilitation at Angola Prison, I became active in movements to end mass incarceration in Louisiana.

About a year ago, I was hired as the Education Director at Operation Restoration, a New Orleans-based nonprofit for currently and formerly incarcerated women and girls. Among our many initiatives, we run a College in Prison Program at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW). This semester, the students are taking a historiography course in preparation for the launch of a project on the history of Louisiana’s incarcerated women. We are taking our inspiration from the Indiana Women’s Prison History Project, in which incarcerated women in Indiana rewrote the history of their own institution. We hope that incarcerated women in Louisiana can do the same.

As I mentioned, students will be taking a historical methods course to prepare for the project. The main primary source they will be using is Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. We usually try to get most of our textbooks donated, and I thought that since this particular course is historical in nature I would reach out to my alma mater. If you would like to donate a copy, please ship to P.O. Box 56894, New Orleans, LA 70156 (or ship it to Department of History, BGSU, Bowling Green OH 43403 and we’ll deliver it to them—editor’s note).

No obligation, of course. Thank you for considering, and I hope you all are well!


Stephanie Gaskill

Stephanie Gaskill
Education Director | Operation Restoration

The History Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Experience

by Kinzey Schreiber, BGSU History Major

Kinsey Schreiber in action in the classroom

I loved being an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the BGSU History Department. It was one of the best experiences I had at Bowling Green State University. It taught me to be adaptable and more open to listening to others rather than focusing on what I believe is best. The class I UTA’d for was Dr. Schocket’s History 2050: Early America, 1492-1877. Along with Dr. Schocket, I was lucky enough to work with an amazing Graduate Student, Brittany Von Kamp, who worked at the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the class. Working with both Dr. Schocket and Brittany was incredible. I enjoyed spending time with them both inside and outside of the classroom. Continue reading

Visit to Shanghai

Alcohol and Drugs History Society Conference, Shanghai University

By Dr. Scott Martin

Last June, I visited Asia for the first time, traveling to Shanghai, China, to present a paper at the biennial Alcohol and Drugs History Conference, which was hosted by Shanghai University.  Shanghai hosted the 1909 International Opium Commission, which led to tougher restrictions on opium production and distribution in many nations, and was an important precursor of the first major U.S. legislative regulation of narcotics, the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act of 1914.  The conference went exceedingly well, due both the caliber of papers presented by a talented group of international scholars, and the warm hospitality of our colleagues at Shanghai University.  Papers and panels on the history of opium regulation, international drug markets, and Chinese approaches to suppressing illegal drug use provided new insights and stimulating conversation with historians from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  Meeting and conversing with Chinese colleagues who taught and conducted research in a very different system of higher education than that of the United States highlighted both differences in academic cultures and similarities in the interests, concerns, and methods of historians on the both sides of the world. Continue reading

Study Abroad Opportunity in Costa Rica

Aerial view of Cartago, Costa Rica

Dr. Scott Martin and Dr. Lara Martin Lengel are leading a Study Abroad trip to Costa Rica during the Winter Session of 2020. Both have been traveling to Costa Rica since 2011, and have plenty of experience exploring the country. Undergraduate Student Mary Wires asked some questions of Dr. Scott Martin about the themes and goals for the Study Abroad. Here are his answers: Continue reading

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