Learning Without Borders: Smart Arts Visits Witch City USA

Actors interpret the events of Bridget Bishop’s accusations and arerst in 1692. (Photo: Bozhena Shuplat)

by Amanda Gordon


As students, we pursue college to gain an education. We read books, sit in on lectures, write essays to demonstrate the knowledge we have gained through these methods. As valuable as such practices are, there are some things that you have to see for yourself.

Traveling opens up your mind far more than a book or class ever could, because in addition to scoping out the sights and interacting with the locals you get to experience another way of life, even if it’s only for a few days.

One program at WCC that allow students to experience the thrill of traveling, is the SmartArtpreneurs. From Oct. 6, to Oct. 8, a trip was made to Salem, Massachusetts, aka Witch City.

Salem is best known for the witch trials that occurred in early Colonial American History. From Feb. 1692 to May of 1693, 20 people were tried and executed, found guilty by their peers for the crime of witchcraft.

Today, we know that the executions were produced by false claims and mass hysteria, and yet, in spite of the tragic events that took place over 300 years ago, Salem now thrives as a popular travel destination.

“I’m a big advocate of learning beyond the classroom,” said Dr. Paula Rubenstein, Coordinator of Cultural Affairs. “Selected curated sights gives these students an experience that goes beyond reading from a book. It makes learning more organic.”

“It was a pretty awesome experience,” said Freddy Velasquez, one of the WCC students who attended the trip, “because of all of the history behind the actual place that I wasn’t knowledgable on.”

Velasquez acknowledged that he learned about the witch trials in high school, but not in the depth that being in the city of Salem brought to him.

The puritan colonists would no doubt be rolling in their graves to see what their town has become, glorifying the very practices which they condemned. Shops, cafes, pubs and attractions of all sorts commit to the theme of witchcraft and magic.

It isn’t all just fun and games however. The city of Salem takes its history very seriously, and offers plenty of informative and interactive tours and reenactments.

“There is literally history everywhere,” said Velasquez, who went on to note how informed the tour guides were on the local history of Salem. “I thought it was so interesting, there was just death, everywhere, because of ignorance maybe.”

Cry Innocent,’ one of the more interactive attractions in Salem, allows patrons to participate in the pre-trial of Bridget Bishop, one of the women accused of being a witch in 1692. Guests are able to cross examine testimonials from the town folk and play a role in Bishop’s fate.

The night tour taken by the SmartArtpreneurs offered up a more grim reality of the events in Salem during the trials. While many tourist flock to the city for the Halloween spirit, the history is both gruesome and depressing, offering only minor victories for the people’s suffering.

While 20 people lost their lives by court order, upwards of 200 people were accused of witchcraft in a region that hosted a population no more than one thousand. Most of the people waiting for their court dates were freed and compensated for the wrongs committed against them, but several people died while imprisoned.

Simply reading about an event in history does not hold the same impact that standing where that event happened. You get a better sense of the raw emotions, feel the tragedies and victories more deeply, and find where you stand in history.

“I think that all of us should make a point of getting off our chairs and moving through the world around us to try to understand different historic periods,” said Rubenstein, advocating that traveling also expands our understanding of cultures and religions as well.

The sites chosen and planned by the Smart Arts comes from the student members, which encourages a more thoughtful approach to education outside of institutions.

“It’s always better if the driving force is from the students,” said Rubenstein, stating that her goal for the program is to promote student curiosity about the world surrounding them.

“To impose something on the students, or anyone, it defeats the purpose of it being exciting,” said Rubenstein when explaining the process of how the trips come to full fruition. By giving students the opportunity to plan the trips, it encourages a more natural sense of learning.

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