June 26, 2019

Bringing History to Life

Rehoboth Ramblings


The life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte come vividly to life on Tuesday mornings at the Blanding Library this month. Rehoboth resident Hank Coleman is leading an on-going informal educational series that meets between 11 and noon. The sessions are free and open to all interested people. Hank began in January with a six-part look at the French Revolution, certainly a riveting topic to start with. Napoleon’s rise and fall will be the group’s focus through March 19.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” Hank said. “French history is especially of interest since they’ve kept such careful records for hundreds of years.” Hank is a graduate of Roger Williams University. In his younger days, he was varsity hockey coach at Portsmouth Abbey. More recently, he and his wife Joyce had a local mortgage business. After retiring, he enrolled at UMass Dartmouth to study history, taking advantage of the plan that allows Massachusetts residents over the age of 60 to take courses free at state colleges and universities.

Hank says he had wonderful professors at UMass Dartmouth but decided he wanted to get a master’s degree in history, which is not offered there. One of his professors recommended Providence College so he enrolled there. He has so far completed eight courses at PC towards a master’s degree in history. He says he likes his professors at PC and the fact that the school still has a strong emphasis on liberal arts.

He was eager to share his passion for history with others, so last fall he got the idea of offering talks and discussions at the library. Hank was pleased to find Blanding Director Whitney Pape very enthusiastic about the project. Others were enthusiastic too. Hank posted flyers at the library and other local places and at the first session in January, about three dozen people showed up and attendance has remained high.

“Although I have experience speaking in front of groups, I had no idea what sort of audience I would attract,” he said. “I wanted to start with the French Revolution because there is so much there to discuss, and it’s natural to continue this topic by moving on to Napoleon this month.” After a one-week break, he hopes to go back further in French history to talk about the fascinating story of Joan of Arc. This four-week series will begin on April 2.
Hank spends much preparation time choosing short videos taken from films and TV programs, such as those from PBS or the BBC, that illustrate, explain, and re-enact historical events. “Visuals are a wonderful way to augment discussions,” he said.

Speaking of films, that’s not all. Hank has scheduled “movie nights” on certain Fridays where he chooses a classic film to show in Goff Hall, starting at 6:30. These events are free and open to all. For the French Revolution, he chose “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” The next will be a classic film on Napoleon on March 15.

The Tuesday morning sessions are educational but more relaxed than an academic classroom. People can drop in without registering and advance preparation is not necessary. All that is required is an interest in the topic. However, Hank always has some worthwhile reading to recommend. When discussing Napoleon, he especially recommends these books: “Napoleon: A Life” by Adam Zamoyski and “This Dark Business: The Secret War against Napoleon” by Tim Clayton.

Hank adds that he would especially like to thank his wife Joyce for her assistance as he prepares his presentations, and to Thurston Tarter “who does all the tech stuff” for the audio/visual part of the program, and to Otter Brown for being “chef”, bringing his delicious baked goods for all to share.
“I would love to continue doing this,” Hank said. “It doesn’t have to be about French history. We could explore Russian history, the Greek philosophers, or American history. I’ve been especially interested in the letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. When discussing history, I try to make it all about people.”

This discussion group is a great way to refresh your knowledge of history and to enjoy a lively conversation with others who share your interest, all at a convenient Rehoboth location. To find out more information, you can reach Hank at 508-243-0244 or at hjcoleman@comcast.net.


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