By Susan Stewart
Last summer, Dr. Eric Gruver of the Honors College and the History Department and Dr. Susan Stewart of Literature and Languages hatched a plan for creating a hybrid set of courses for freshman honors students, “Advanced Writing: Non-Fiction, US History from 1865, and A Nation Divided: World War II.” Students collaborated with university archivists Ms. Andrea Weddle and Mr. Adam Northam to access Gee Library’s WWII collection, which contains various documents and the recordings of soldiers and private citizens detailing their experiences overseas and at home during what became known as “the good war.”
Students, some intimidated by the daunting task of writing history, reflected on their experiences in the course.
“There’s a little piece of history that we are putting out into the open. This is American history; this is our history.”
“My grade is no longer the most important thing to me. This story is not for me. It is for the soldiers, and it has to be perfect.” But students collectively realized a new-found relevance of history, a subject not usually enjoyed by university students. “When the individual’s own story is placed in the perspective of both national and global events at the time, suddenly their account comes to life, no matter how ordinary it may appear. Their perspectives, feelings, family life, and actions make much more sense when I understand the political, economic, and social climate of the times.”
“The oral histories we are listening to need to be shared. People should know the cost of their freedom so they do not take advantage of it.”
Stewart and Gruver are in the process of compiling and editing for publication students’ final projects, which chronicle, among other experiences, prisoner of war narratives, front-line fighting, military maneuvers, and Holocaust survival as well as the heroics and everyday lives of men and women as they experienced the challenges and heartbreak of living in a world at war.
The public has open access to the interviews, and this semester’s summaries will soon be posted to the library’s digital collection at: http://dmc.tamuc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/uw.