before Aaron Rubin sits down to read a book about history, he will
select and download a movie score that best matches the content. Whether
the words are thrilling, suspenseful or just a little bit dry, he said,
saying them aloud while the music plays helps him stay engaged — it
feels like he’s narrating a film.
"You can really ham it up in front of friends," Rubin said with a
laugh. "This is something that's helped me pay attention and do what I
need to do for class."
A rising Honors senior and Honors degree candidate at the University of Delaware, Rubin is majoring in history education,
which means he’ll one day have an opportunity to incorporate his
strategies when imparting an appreciation for the past to a new
generation. This summer, you could say he’s getting a headstart. As an
Inspiration and Education Intern with the Delaware History Museum
in Wilmington, Rubin is creating a tour of the space, formerly a
Woolworth’s department store, geared toward fifth-grade students.
“In order for this tour to be appealing, it needs to be hands-on,”
said Rebecca Fay, director of education for the museum. “The idea is to
create opportunities for students to delve in and interact with history,
as opposed to having a tour guide stand there and talk at them, which
isn’t fun for anyone. Aaron is invested in this goal, and he’s taken it
on as his own.”
Rubin’s fascination with history began as a child — he got hooked
on a video game series called Sid Meier’s Civilization, in which
players build a virtual empire and guide its people from prehistoric
times to the present and future. When most kids his age were playing
Hide and Seek, he was busy leading Sumerians into the Atomic Age.
At 16, Rubin became the youngest member — by more than two decades —
of the Hut Brigade, a volunteer group of mostly retired engineers.
Participants met every other Saturday in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge
National Historic Park, site of the Continental Army’s most pivotal
winter encampment during the Revolutionary War. Fueled by “bagels and
sarcasm,” Rubin said, brigade members repaired replicas of cabins built
by George Washington’s troops, and they educated visitors to the park
about the thousands of men who braved dysentery, typhoid and starvation
on these grounds. For Rubin, it was a window into the career — and
thrill — of teaching history.
“I really enjoyed all these conversations with passersby,” he said.
“It was a great opportunity to connect with people from very different
Fast forward to college, and Rubin found a community of like-minded
peers in the History Club at UD — he serves as vice president. He also
became a judge at the Delaware state level for National History Day, a
country-wide competition in which middle and high school students
present on historical topics by building dioramas, designing websites or
performing original plays. Most recently, Rubin discovered UD’s E.
Lyman Stewart Internship program.
Through an endowment, the University partners with local cultural
institutions in order to offer paid work experience to Blue Hens
studying within the History Department. This year, Rubin was selected
along with Alan Parkes, a doctoral candidate at UD, to work on the
Delaware History Museum tour.
This project, according to Fay, will link the museum’s two current
exhibits. The first is Discover Delaware, a history of the state by
theme — think immigration, agriculture and Delaware’s role on the
national stage. The second exhibit, Journey to Freedom, catalogues the
state’s Black history. While COVID-19 has prevented Rubin from
interacting with the exhibits in person, he has been studying them
through photographs and via Zoom. His plans for bringing them to life
include designating certain materials as touch-friendly, like hats worn
by soldiers in the Civil War. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his
movie-score hobby, Rubin is also developing audio components in which
voice actors will bring old letters and documents to life.
One of the challenges will be relaying the history of slavery in the
First State. How does one convey the implications and complexity of this
topic in a way that’s accessible for an elementary school audience,
without sacrificing substance? While Rubin said he’s still working
through this puzzle, he knows one thing is certain — he is committed to
highlighting the agency, and humanity, of his subjects. One simple
strategy he’s internalized since enrolling at UD? Avoid the passive
voice, which obfuscates the role of the oppressed and the oppressor. It
is the difference between: “The slaves were freed” and “The slaves
fought for their freedom.”
“You’re choosing how to frame the narrative,” Rubin said. “I try to never lose sight of that or take it for granted.”
This framing is an important task when you consider that the past, in many ways, is ever-present.
“History is the best tool we have for understanding how we’ve gotten
to a certain point,” Rubin said, citing the national conversation around
racism as an example. Without first delving into the historic,
institutional dimensions of discrimination, it’s impossible to
meaningfully navigate the current moment. “Studying this subject
provides that awareness, and it can also provide motivation. If one
feels indifferent to things going on around them, it can be a source of
inspiration to do better.”
In this sense, you could argue any hypothetical soundtrack to history should be a hopeful, uplifting one.
“You learn that people have always confronted and gotten themselves
through absolutely massive challenges and changes across the country,”
Rubin said. “No matter what they encounter, people always endeavor.”
Article by Diane Stopyra; photos by Evan Krape
Published July 28, 2020