Outside the classroom: a look at the UMass History Club

Teaching history through fun


By John Buday, Collegian Staff
October 22, 2018

The University of Massachusetts History Club has retained a weekly presence on campus since its inception in 2007, steadily growing over time in both size and reach. Former Vice President and Public Relations head Purple Rathburn described the club’s humble beginning after it was chartered in fall 2006.

“The club was originally very small,” Rathburn said. “From what I was told, there were only about eight to 10 people showing up.”

Current club President Kyran D. Schnur, a senior history major, credits Rathburn and other public relations workers for helping increase exposure since then. Monday meetings now regularly attract 30 to 40 students ready to partake in trivia competitions, movie nights, and lectures hosted by history department professors.

Given the growing influence of the club, and after attending a handful of past meetings, I decided to meet with members earlier this month for their showing of the 1998 dark comedy “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Originally, Professor Joel Wolfe was scheduled to host a lecture on his new book, “The Global Twenties: Trade, Work, and Society in a Globalized Hemisphere.” However, the lecture was cancelled due to a sudden family emergency and rescheduled for this past Tuesday.

From my discussions with the executive board, I have put together a preview of the UMass History Club experience: an examination of the club’s events, functions and atmosphere.

Activities and Events

Weekly activities change based on popular demand, according to Schnur. This is often gauged at the beginning of meetings by asking students directly or by having them write down suggestions on a slip of paper. Showings of historically relevant movies are among the most popular events.

While older movie showings take place at the regular meeting location, Herter 601, students also go to see upcoming titles at the Amherst Cinema Arts Center on 28 Amity St.

After seeing “The Death of Stalin” last year, Schnur is hoping to get the club tickets for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an examination of the rise of Freddie Mercury and the rock band Queen.

Trivia nights are also frequent at Monday meetings, and involve executive council members putting together a slideshow of 50 questions. Each member creates a category of historical significance with 10 questions, and teams of students then take turns answering.

Since these categories can range from general mythology to Hunter S. Thompson, there’s often great variety between sessions.

Perhaps the most hands-on experience comes in the form of field trips to historical locations in Massachusetts and greater New England. For example, they have made multiple visits to Historic Deerfield, a museum consisting of well-preserved colonial homes dating back to the 18th century. Other Massachusetts locations include the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum and Library and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The club’s next field trip is scheduled for October 27, and will be to Charlestown for a personalized tour of the USS Constitution, a frigate nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” which launched in 1797 and fought during the War of 1812.

For students needing help with assignments or projects for their history classes, the History Club also hosts a weekly study night every Wednesday from 5:30 to 9:30 at Herter 106.


Both President Schnur and Treasurer Emily Smith agree that their purpose is to provide students with a fun, but also relaxed setting that they will look forward to each week.

“[It’s] one of the nice parts about my Mondays,” said Smith, laughing. “I feel like that’s the opinion of a lot of people here, and I just wanted to take that further and I wanted to help everybody out.”

A senior linguistics major, Smith joined the club after hearing about it at a student activities expo her sophomore year. She says that the club provides an additional learning experience, one separate from the classroom.

“With the academic side, yes you’re getting your education,” Smith said. “But here, I think people are freer to just talk about these things and find people who will bounce off of their ideas.”

This idea of open discourse has proven beneficial so far in the development of the club: not only are greater numbers of new students going to weekly meetings and events, but many history department graduate students and alumni still keep in touch. In fact, Schnur says the upcoming tour of the USS Constitution will be led by an alumni from the department.

“I think there’s a real connection and a lot of affection there,” Schnur said. “The community is large and it’s always growing.”

Students interested in field trips provided by the club are encouraged to reach out via their Facebook page or their email, umasshistoryclub@gmail.com.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

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