By Dedra Cordle
The last thing that typically draws the attention of Francesca Lanese when she is scrolling through Instagram are advertisements.
“I usually breeze right past them,” admitted the 16-year-old from Grove City.
Imagine her surprise, however, when one managed to draw her in. It wasn’t the flashiness of the ad that caught her eye but rather it was the question that it posed: Are you a teenager interested in history?
If someone would have asked Lanese that question more than a year ago, the answer would have been more muted.
“I have always liked learning about history,” she said, “but I couldn’t say that I cared about it as much as I do now.”
What prompted the sudden shift from casual interest to full blown interest was a history course taught by her mother, Laura, during her sophomore year of high school.
As a student who splits her time between in-person learning at Grove City High School and being home-schooled, Lanese said she believes she started taking to the subject more because her mother began using a variety of methods to get her engaged.
“It wasn’t a traditional course,” she said. “We would watch documentaries from Ken Burns, we would visit local historical sites like Camp Chase and she would allow me to read historical fiction books (in conjunction with more traditional books).”
She would also encourage her daughter to research beyond the textbook, to look into the lives of some of the human subjects of American history.
“That was my favorite aspect, to be honest,” said Lanese. “I liked learning about how they acted, the things they said. I love to read about their flaws. It somehow makes them more human.”
She said taking that unit last year really sparked a newfound love for history and a desire to learn more, so when she saw that question presented in the ad, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes.’
However, she didn’t click on it right away.
“I wanted to learn more about the organization that was posting the ad,” she said. “But then I forgot to write down the name and of course the ad didn’t pop up again.”
So she began to search for words like “teenager”, “history” and “battlefield.” Eventually the ad began to pop back up on her phone and computer. What she discovered was that the ad was for the American Battlefield Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the country’s hallowed battlefields through advocacy and education, and that they were looking for history loving teens to become involved in their youth leadership team.
Those who are selected act as the youth face and voice for the historical preservation movement, said Connor Townsend, the trust’s manager of audience development and the youth leadership team project lead.
“These are teens who want to make a change in their communities,” she said.
Upon their selection, the teens spend a year learning about the importance of land preservation, learning how to talk to legislators and the public regarding its importance, and learning how to use their voices to advocate for historic preservation, education and heritage tourism initiatives. They are also given a stipend to create an individual project for historical advocacy.
When writing her application to become a potential candidate of its youth leadership team, Lanese envisioned her individual project would involve the creation of an interactive website to tell the history and stories of the Union and Confederate soldiers interred at Camp Chase on the westside.
“I wanted to draw more attention to this historical place that is often forgotten,” she said.
Upon her selection however – she was one of 15 teenagers across the country recently chosen to be a youth ambassador – she changed her website idea to a planned documentary with local descendants of Civil War veterans, primarily those from the Grove City and westside communities.
“I thought it would be interesting to hear the viewpoint from their living relatives,” she said. “I want to know their thoughts on the American Civil War, I want to hear stories about their relatives if they have them and I want to incorporate how that war (and its reverberations) relate to today.”
Lanese said she has recently started the search for local descendants of local Civil War veterans but has not had much luck thus far. She said she hopes for further engagement with the community and that she will be able to do the subject and all of these veterans justice.
“I will know if I have accomplished this goal if I am proud of the product,” she said. “I want to get the point across that history isn’t all done, that it is still living.
“To this day we are still finding out new things about the Civil War and still discussing its impact on this country and in our communities. I want to get more people interested in talking about this and keeping all of these voices alive.”