MU doctoral student rides through history

Students chose the 2,000-mile, 9-state bike rout
Thursday, May 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amahia Mallea will trace her way through history and time when she leaves today to bicycle more than 2,000 miles through nine states. Her journey marks the end of a creative class project at MU.

Mallea, a doctoral student in history and a teaching assistant for a survey history course this past semester, is particularly interested in environmental history and the Missouri River. After taking a bike tour of the river last summer, she was inspired to combine her love of biking and history to teach her students.

“One day it just occurred to me that I would use the bike trip as a teaching tool in the classroom to make history more fun for students and to show them that history is everywhere,” Mallea, 30, said.

Mallea taught 100 students in five sections of the course, History 4. She assigned each class to create and plan a 300-mile bicycle trip to some corner of the United States and to research the area’s historical significance. The trips were then combined into a 500-page tour guide.

At first, many of Mallea’s students did not understand the significance of the project and doubted she would set out on their trip.

“We thought she was crazy — we didn’t really think she was going to do it,” said Keelyn Harris, one of her students.

Yet, as the semester progressed, the students eventually realized how serious Mallea was. Their trip, Harris said, took on a life of its own.

Kris Lawson, the instructor whom Mallea assisted, said the project was a great idea to make history more personal instead of flat prose in a textbook.

The first leg of the trip will take Mallea from Columbia to Tulsa, Okla., along the historical route of the MKT railroad to explore cattle drives and the western frontier. From Tulsa, she will head to New Orleans to revisit the effects of prohibition on the South.

Between New Orleans and Memphis, Mallea will focus on cultural aspects such as food and agriculture. Religion will be emphasized in Kentucky and Tennessee, and the last leg of the trip will take her along the Mississippi in Mark Twain style.

Mallea wanted students to take a broad look at American history and recognize that there are specific places they can go to experience history for themselves.

“It is really a way to make history relevant ... if history is not relevant to us, then it does not have much purpose,” Mallea said.

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