Freshmen in Courtney Osborne’s honors U.S. history classes are taking history beyond the textbook, learning about World War II from people who experienced it firsthand. Students are interviewing elderly neighbors, grandparents and other community members about their memories of WWII and then researching related events to prepare living-history presentations.
Osborne’s classes will hold an open house today to present their projects to the broader Whitman community. Osborne created the assignment this year to take advantage of available historical resources.
“Constantly, on the news, there’s the mention that we’re losing World War II veterans at a constant and fast pace,” she said. “As a history teacher, I have to really embrace the idea of that living history. We’ll constantly have books, movies and all kinds of things like that. But to actually be able to sit there and talk with someone about it, that will be obsolete in the next ten years or so.”
Students have interviewed a variety of people, including veterans, prisoners of war, Holocaust survivors, female factory workers, a translator at the Nuremberg Trials and a Japanese woman who spent time in an internment camp.
Freshman Tomas Iturregui interviewed his grandmother, who was a child in England during the London Blitz. He then researched the London bombings and the Home Guard to create a supplement the interview as he prepared a ‘historically-enhanced’ biography of his grandmother.
“She knew a lot about the war,” Iturregui said. “Her father worked for the Home Guard in England, which was part of the army, and it was the defense system throughout the neighborhood. She and a lot of the kids were moved out to the countryside because it was a safer place than the city.”
Freshman Catherine Trant’s grandmother lived in the U.S. during the war and experienced homefront efforts, such as air raid drills and victory gardens.
“I was able to get firsthand experience from someone who was actually there, rather than just a bunch of words that people put down in a book,” she said.
Osborne said she’s been impressed by students’ work so far and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the project. She’ll likely repeat the assignment next year, she said.
“Parents and students have just loved the project,” she said. “So many of our kids are interviewing their grandparents, and they never thought of their grandparent as anyone but their grandparent. Now, all of a sudden, their grandparent is a resource for them in history.”