UCCS students to chuck pumpkins as part of history lesson

October 31, 2013
Tom Hutton, (719) 255-3439, (719) 351-6519, thutton@uccs.edu

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – History and engineering students at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs will join forces Friday to demonstrate a medieval weapon of war.

From 11 a.m. to  1 p.m. on Nov. 1 on the West Lawn, engineering and history students will deploy a handmade one-fifth scale 13th century Cantigas de Santa Maria Trebuchet to chuck left over Halloween jack-o-lanterns up to 50 yards. The pumpkin chucking is intended to demonstrate both historical and engineering principles.

UCCS faculty, staff and students will bring Halloween remnants to the event and participate in the demonstration of a weapon popular in the era before gunpowder. In its heyday, trebuchets were used to hurl projectiles – mostly rocks — at enemies.

This is the second year that students of Roger Martinez, assistant professor, Department of History, and Michael Calvisi, assistant professor, College of Engineering and Applied Science, have worked together to demonstrate collaboration and teamwork.

“We’re making some enhancements from last year’s model,” Martinez said recently. “Even though it’s old technology, it’s still evolving.”

Martinez uses the trebuchet as part of his History 1020 Medieval World class and in support of a curriculum called Reacting to the Past. For the past month, the oak-hewn trebuchet has been displayed in the atrium of El Pomar Center, complete with its own oversize campus parking pass.

As part of the curriculum, students experience history by re-enacting it. Students in Martinez’s course are studying the Crusades and debating Christian and Islamic perspectives of “Just War”. By building a machine of war and putting it into action, Martinez believes students are experiencing history in a unique, hands-on way that makes an indelible impression.

Building on the efforts of students last year, this year’s students constructed a new counterweight box to hurl the light-but-large pumpkin projectiles. The larger box will allow more  counterweight and increase the distance a five-pound pumpkin will fly.

That’s where Calvisi and the members of the Historical Engineering Society come in.

Calvisi led student engineers in analyzing the trajectory of the projectile and overseeing the production of the new counterweight box. Last year, engineering students conducted a stress analysis of other trebuchet designs to evaluate how oak frames handle the imposed loads. The students learned skills that could be applied to the workforce.

“The engineering process is the same,” Calvisi said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re designing a trebuchet or an airplane. The students were able to apply what they learned in a classroom to an actual engineering device and then related this in a job interview.”

The engineers will also work through safety protocols in conjunction with the history students, again combining skills toward a common goal.

“I’m sure there were plenty of accidents using these weapons. Commoners lives held little value during the Middle Ages,” Martinez said. “That’s one part of history we’re not interested in. We are fortunate beneficiaries of the European Enlightenment and the value of everyone. ”

See a video of students testing the trebuchet visit

The University of Colorado Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The University offers 37 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s and five doctoral degrees. UCCS enrolls about 10,500 students on campus annually and another 2,000 in online programs. For more information, visit www.uccs.edu.