Chad Cook, senior and creative writing major at Oswego State, spent a month and half working on a twelve-page research paper and presentation for a vigorous panel of scholars. Cook wasn’t the only student who stood before the panel of historians with presentations on the War of 1812. Mary Kate Clerkin, senior history major and Megan Winnick, senior history and anthropology majors, also brought their pieces to the conference.
The Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center held a three-day event called “The Oswego War of 1812 Symposium,” which brought historians from throughout the region to share their knowledge. Friday night the Oswego State students presented their research to the panel.
“I think what I was most impressed by was the papers were judged by a panel of very important scholars. They really grilled the students and asked them some tough questions about their research,” said Richard Weyhing, the students’ adviser and coordinating assistant professor. “In such a short period of time, they put together papers that were a success and that stood out to critiques by visiting scholars.”
Weyhing is a history professor, with a concentration in Early America, Native American history, comparative history of European empires and colonies in the early modern Atlantic world. Paul Lear, Superintendant of Fort Ontario State historic site in Oswego, reached out to Weyhing with a request for student presentations. This is the fourth year the symposium has been held, but the first year that Lear requested student presenters.
Weyhing met with Cook, Clerkin and Winnick in the middle of the semester to discuss topic ideas and what type of sources they would need to use. The students plunged right into the research from there. This was Weyhing’s first year of involvement in the symposium. It’s only his second year teaching at Oswego State.
“The important thing we got going here is that Paul and I will be working toward this in the future and getting more students involved in the fort and make sure we keep getting more and more students working over the fort in related events,” Weyhing said.
The lecture/conference room was filled with those interested in learning about the significance of the War of 1812, and how Oswego and Lake Ontario played a significant role in the war. Lear and Weyhing arranged for free entrance for students. Weyhing’s own research and teaching revolves around the early region of the Great Lakes and the colonial settlements during the time of 1812.
Cook wrote his paper on the Battle of the Iroquois during 1812. He did a great deal of research tracking the influence of the Iroquois all throughout different parts of the northeast and tells the grand story of how the American forces had to transport their supplies along the shores of Lake Ontario.
The symposium was set up with booths around the outside, showing off different artifacts. There was a stage on which historians took turns presenting their specific topics. One booth was set up with replicas of common items that a soldier might carry on his person, like a razor, picture of a loved one or a book. Other artifacts included a showing of weaponry and smoking items.
One speaker, Deborah Trupin, was the only non-historian to attend the conference, but she was happy to talk about the two most important artifacts. Trupin is a textile conserver. She conserved two of our nations’ flags, the 1809 Fort Niagara Garrison flag, which had been captured by the British in December 1813, as well as “Don’t Give Up The Ship,” a flag flown on the USS Lawrence during the 1813, Battle of Lake Erie. Trupin walked the audience through the particular and highly specialized steps that were necessary to conserve these flags. The flag from Niagra Garrison had actually been saved from a burning building, making it even more difficult to revamp without endangering the original piece. This flag is 24 feet by 28 feet, and so heavy it takes a group of people to move it from one room to the next.
Following Trupin was Keith A. Herkalo, who presented “British plans to End the War.” Herkalo began by explaining why the war broke out to begin with. He was able to show the audience the root of the war, clearing up any question an audience member might have had. Herkalo explained his views on how and why troops acted the way they did, and showed letters and evidence to support his beliefs in the intentions of American war leaders from 1812.
“I think it’s fun, but I’m a history nerd,” Cook said. “Others are dressed and they hate it. Cook also said that his personal academic goal is to expand his paper and potentially publish it for future symposiums.
“I’m not a historian by trade, but there’s a lot I can learn from them [the judges],” Cook said.
Consequently, historians and non-historians were all able to take away something from the symposium that really hits home, especially for those who live in Oswego and other parts of the region.
“It’s a packed house,” Lear said. “We have the best speakers in the world on the War of 1812. We have people from Canada, Maryland, Vermont and about 40 students.”
Most educators at the symposium are concerned with getting students involved in the history of Oswego.
“It was a great start regarding the long ongoing relationship between fort Ontario and Oswego,” Weyhing said. “We’re going to get more projects to enlighten students and bring out their intellectual horizons.”