Winter Break 2023

This program will give students an opportunity to learn about and work in some of the country’s finest history museums. A week in Washington, D.C. will allow students to visit world-class history museums that serve enormous and diverse audiences. During the second week, we will work with the smaller museums and historical societies in Boston to begin to develop exhibits in early American and American Revolutionary history.

Message from Faculty Director

Serena Zabin Headshot

I am Serena Zabin, and I have been a member of Carleton’s history department since 2000. Public history is one of my passions—I served as the Broom Fellow for Public Scholarship from 2019 to 2022 – and I am very much looking forward to leading this off-campus program for the second time. It gives students a chance to delve into the materials and methods that shape how most Americans experience history: not from books but from museums, historic sites, and national parks. But how do these spaces communicate a knowledge of the past to audiences with diverse backgrounds and wide-ranging interests? Figuring out how our nation’s historic spaces tell that story is at the heart of our two-week program, in which we visit famous and little-known museums, talk with preeminent scholars, and tour the spaces that construct our nation’s knowledge of its own story. The students (both history majors and others) who took this course in 2021 have spoken of its transformative influence on their own thinking, and I hope it will have a similarly transformative effect on you.

Serena Zabin, Professor of History


Learning Goals

The best history museums are multimedia spaces, where material objects, technological enhancements, and physical space combine to create an immersive museum experience. But how do museums choose which stories to tell, and how to tell them? How can they best communicate the past to their eager audiences?

Through a two-term seminar and an off-campus study program, we will have the chance to learn how museum professionals grapple with the hard questions of history and heritage. We will focus particularly on the history of the founding of the United States, and the ways that museums strive to tell honest and complicated stories of the racial slavery and indigenous dispossession that underpin America’s founding.

After a deep immersion in large and well-funded museums during the first week, we will work closely with smaller historical societies along Boston’s “Freedom Trail” to develop an exhibit for their museums, which we will complete on campus during winter term.


One course in the Carleton History Department.

Course of Study

12 credits

Fall Term 2022, HIST 315: America’s Founding (6 credits)

This course is part of an off-campus winter break program that includes two linked courses in the fall and winter. The creation and establishment of the United States was a contested and uncertain event stretched over more than half a century. For whom, for what, and how was the United States created? In what ways do the conflicts and contradictions of the nation’s eighteenth-century founding shape today’s America?

We will examine how the nation originated in violent civil war and in political documents that simultaneously offered glorious promises and a “covenant with death.” Our nuanced understanding of the American Revolution and Early Republic will underpin our ability to tell these stories to the wider public.

Instructor: Serena Zabin

Winter Term 2023, HIST 316: Presenting America’s Founding (6 credits)

This course is the second half of a two-course sequence focused on the study of the founding of the United States in American public life.

The course will begin with a two-week off-campus study program during winter break in Washington, D.C and Boston, where we will visit world-class museums and historical societies, meet with museum professionals, and learn about the goals and challenges of history museums, the secrets to successful exhibitions, and the work of museum curators and directors.

The course will culminate in the winter term with the completion of an exhibit created in conjunction with one of the museums located on Boston’s Freedom Trail.

Instructor: Serena Zabin

Program Features


Lodging will be in hotels and/or hostels.


Students will visit Smithsonian museums, Spy Museum, Holocaust Museum, Freedom Trail, Old State House, Old South Meeting House, King’s Chapel, and Paul Revere’s House.