AP Euro students bring Era of Enlightenment to life

Mallory Hoch, Staff Writer

For the 13th year in a row, the Benilde- St. Margaret’s library transformed into an 18th century exhibition of enlightened thinking, where AP European History students morphed into history’s greatest minds, such as Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin, gathered to share ideas and participate in debates.

Hoping to give students a hands-on perspective of life during the Era of Enlightenment, the salon provided students with the chance to transform themselves into a character from that era, rather than simply learning about them through a textbook. “If students just read about them, their understanding could be limited. By portraying their figure and interacting with others, they have to gain a solid understanding of the ideas of all of the people. [Students] have to stay in character the whole time and they have to react to ideas and explore ideas from the perspective of their character,” said Social Studies department chair, Kathryn Green.

The idea for the salon was introduced to BSM in 1999 by Ms. Green. “The idea of the Salon itself came from another teacher at another school—I first learned of the idea from a College Board workshop for AP European history teachers. Several schools in the area have a ‘Salon.’What each salon looks like and how it manifests varies slightly from school to school,” said Ms. Green.

The Salon was designed to imitate the Enlightenment Salons of 18th century France, which at the time provided important vehicles for enlightened thinking. “Hosted by upper class women, they were a place where leading thinkers, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, musicians, and artists gathered to share, exchange, and debate ideas of their time,” said Ms. Green

In order to prepare for the Salon, students spent three weeks studying and learning about their character for the Salon. “We [had], to rent a costumes, create a resume and do a presentation,” said AP European History Student Emily Herman.

Students who transformed into characters from the Era of Enlightenment were also expected to complete a variety of tasks, which helped them gain a better understanding of the salon and their character. “Students must compile and create an annotated bibliography of at least five academic/scholarly sources as well as a resume of their person. Then, at the Salon, they are the research paper –– the explanation. After the Salon there is also a follow-up paper to pull the information together,” said Ms. Green.

In order to choose their character, the students drew a person from the period of Enlightenment, circa 1650-1750.“Students draw a number to decide the order of character selection. They then submit 3-4 choices ranked in order from a list of possible figures I provide,” said Ms. Green.