by Gabriella Corrigan
The classroom is brightly bathed in a spring-morning sun. Anna Booker, a Whatcom Community College history teacher, energetically twirls around, peering at her tired-looking 9 a.m., U.S. history class. With her eyes wide, she slightly crouches with a mischievous smile cracking her lips as she quotes Benjamin Franklin.
Whenever she talks or thinks history, Booker’s elegant and swift figure portrays an enthusiasm and energy that exudes her fascination with the past. Because of that energy, she has been selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar.
As a graduate student at the University of Montana, Booker, 41, started focusing on environmental history, studying the history of a piece of land and how it was changed by different immigrants.
Environmental historians often look at the split between conservationists and preservationists in the twentieth century, but Booker was more interested in what the infrastructures could tell about the people, she said.
It was this interest in environmental history that intrigued her to apply for the National Endowment award which was offering six different workshops at landmarks of American history and culture. “I thought how exciting it would be to be there, working with people in the field,” she said.
The hiking, cooking, yoga-practicing Booker has a busy schedule with raising two children, training for the cross country leg of the Ski-to-Sea race, and developing a Western Civilization open library course awarded to her by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Still, at the end of June, she will find the time to travel to Brooklyn, New York for two weeks.
With a $1,200 stipend for travel expenses, Booker will join National Endowment nominees from community colleges across the nation. She will attend presentations, seminars, and on site visits about Brooklyn’s “Along the Shore” project.
Besides loving New York and the program’s use of digital media, Booker said she chose Brooklyn because the program focused on redeveloping shoreline by studying how Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, one of America’s 11 most endangered places, was both changing and being preserved.
Taking from her experiences at the workshop, she said she wants to try creating an environmental oral history or local history class for Whatcom that could range from a seminar or service learning program to an internship which focuses on waterfronts.
“I know it is ridiculous to compare a huge city like Brooklyn to a small town like Bellingham,” she said, but she wants to make a connection with the techniques used in Brooklyn to Bellingham’s waterfront as the city makes a decision to become a coal port and preserve its industrial history or change to a service based waterfront.
Some of her students, such as Cory Geffe, 20, and Joseph Trujillo, 19, are motivated by Booker’s enthusiasm in class and said they would be interested in taking an environmental history class if she creates one.
Booker said the class would be a way for students to connect what they learn in the classroom to the world around them, using many different resources such as Western Washington University’s local history records.
Although Booker has considered returning to school for her doctorate in history and teaching at universities, in her 14 years of teaching, she thinks that community college has been a perfect fit for her. “I enjoy working closely with a smaller number of students,” rather than large university classes she said.
Walking between the students’ chairs, up and down the aisles, Booker talks about the eighteenth century, acting like it’s a walk on the beach with her sandy blonde hair, white jeans, and leather sandals.
“This was a very exciting time,” she says. “This was the dawn of a new age, and no one epitomizes this more than the American hero Benjamin Franklin.”
“I have always liked the relevancy of history which is kind of funny because I know that most of my students think history is the most irrelevant topic at school,” Booker said with a laugh.
“I love context and that is what history is for me,” she said.