22nd October 2015
Writing: Niall Jones (Year 12)
Editing: Alex Ortega (Year 11)
The biennial Sixth Form Washington visit is the pinnacle of both the History and Politics A Level courses. The visit schedule was filled from the very first evening, when we went with our knowledgeable guides on a ghost tour of Georgetown, the oldest district of Washington DC.
The following day we headed to Ford’s Theatre, the location of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, bringing to life this turbulent chapter in American history. The site’s museum also gave us the opportunity to learn about the origins and the aftermath of one of the most famous political murders in history. Afterwards, we headed up to the Washington Monument, which provided us with some beautiful views over the city.
We then crossed the Potomac River to Arlington Cemetery, America’s largest military burial-site and resting place of the Kennedys, giving us a chance to reflect on the price of freedom. After that we visited the National Archives and were able to view some of the most famous documents in American history in the flesh, including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
From one famous feature of the city to another: Ben’s Chili Bowl, where we ate dinner, has become one of Washington’s best-known and best-loved eateries, and has been a feature of the city throughout its recent tumults, having even been visited by President Obama. After we had finished our food we were humbled by the talk given by Harold K. Bell, the restaurant’s owner and a major figure in recent African-American history. As if the day had not been busy enough, we then jumped forwards 100 years from our History course and enjoyed a showing of the recently released Cold War drama Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks.
The next day focused more on the politics side of things, visiting the famous Capitol building and learning more about how America’s politics work. Unfortunately, Congress was still in recess, so we were unable to watch any debates, but the visit nevertheless greatly enhanced our understanding of America’s complicated political system.
Returning to the history, we then walked to some of Washington’s many monuments, including the powerful Vietnam and Korea war memorials and the famous Lincoln Memorial. After another busy day we were able to relax in the beautiful Virginian town of Alexandria, across the river from DC.
Our penultimate day proved to be one of the most elucidating as we travelled two hours north into the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania where we visited Gettysburg, site of the largest, and bloodiest, battle of the American Civil War.
Ably led by our fantastic guide, we were able to get an exciting perspective on the most important battle ever fought on American soil. Returning to Washington, we took part in the inaugural ‘Washington Challenge’, in which groups had to navigate their way from the restaurant to the hotel, whilst completing a number of tasks, including getting a selfie with Obama (to which there was a number of ingenious solutions) and buying the tackiest gift. With Mr Lafterton’s group declared the deserving winners, we headed to bed to prepare for our final full day in America.
This day began with the hotly anticipated final of the history-related ‘limerick-off’, although the links to American history were sometimes on the tenuous side. After this, we drove to Mount Vernon, home of George Washington and situated on the beautiful Potomac River Valley, where we gained a greater understanding of the country’s origins. Our final stop before returning to the airport was the Potomac Mills shopping centre, where our American experience was finally completed.
Overall, the trip was a massive success in that it was both hugely enjoyable and highly educational, developing our understanding of America’s history and politics in a way that no textbook ever could.