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WIU History Students Prepare for Trebuchet Toss

April 26, 2005

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MACOMB, IL - - The class assignment in Lee BriceÂ’s class this Friday (April 29) at Western Illinois University calls for students to toss cantaloupes and other fruit.

A logical task for a food service/hospitality class, but Brice is an assistant professor of history and his class is History 430G, Topics in Ancient History. So how does fruit salad mix with ancient and medieval history?

The field exercise will test a trebuchet (trey boo shay), a heavy projectile throwing device used as a siege engine in medieval times. Students in the 1 p.m. class will meet at the track and field throwing area inside Hanson Field (closest to Q parking lot) and participate in the hands-on learning activity.

“Medieval warriors used trebuchets to hurl large rocks and other heavy items into castles and fortifications during sieges,” Brice said. “While my students will reenact the process with less dangerous items, such as cantaloupes and other fruit, the teaching and learning outcomes will stay true to the times.”

On April 1 Brice’s class donned homemade ancient armor of Greek hoplite warriors and Roman soldiers and staged a mock battle on the University Mall. The “reality classroom” demonstration, which drew a crowd of some 100 spectators, gave students a practical lesson to enhance their class readings and discussions.

Practical lesson No. 2 calls for a demonstration of the trebuchet, which senior history major Steve Catania (Naperville, IL) has constructed as part of his Honors curriculum project. He received an undergraduate research grant from the College of Arts and Sciences as well as funds from the history department to build the trebuchet.

Catania said he made the trebuchet, which has a 16-foot throwing arm, “through the help of many individuals and the structural design provided by Jacob Hoerdeman (a junior manufacturing engineering technology major from Peoria, IL).

“In addition I’m conducting research on the sociological implications that were associated with the trebuchet's crew in relation to the rest of the medieval military,” Catania added.

Brice joined WesternÂ’s history faculty in 2003. Previously he served as a visiting faculty member (2001-02) and a teaching assistant (1993-95 and 1999-2001) in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his Ph.D. (2003). Brice earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Virginia Commonwealth University (1988).

Among his awards and honors is a United State Military Academy summer Fellowship (2001), the Mowry History Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2000), and the American Numismatic Society Summer Prize (1993) and Summer Fellowship (1993).

Brice serves as president of the Society of Ancient Military History and is a member of the American Historical Association, the American Philological Association, the American Numismatic Society, the Association of Ancient Historians and the Society for Military History.

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