This semester, I had the privilege to take a World War II in Europe history seminar class. It is taught twice per week by the history department's British historian Professor Purcell, and it has easily turned out to be my favorite class this semester. I had never taken a class with Professor Purcell before this semester, so I did not really know what to expect, especially since this is an honors section of the course. She has turned out to be an awesome professor – high-energy, thought-provoking, witty and creative.
For the first half of the semester, we read (lots of reading) about WWII from its very origins to the end, even breaking it down by country. The class was broken into three groups: USSR, Germany and France. Professor Purcell is currently teaching the British part of the course since that is her area of expertise. Each group had to lead discussion for two consecutive classes on the WWII experience within its particular country. I was excited to get Germany, even though all of the countries are interesting in their own way. It was fascinating to look even further into each country and discover things I never knew about the war! I was a bit disappointed that Italy was not one of the countries examined (since I'm a little obsessed...), but I quickly got over it when I found out that Italy was a player in the war, but not a gigantic player.
Now, we're getting into what I think is the best part of the semester so far: exploring archives! Professor Purcell had not planned to do this when she originally wrote the syllabus, but when she discovered that there were archives from WWII era from and about the Edmundites in Britain, France and Vermont, she changed her mind. Instead of spending more time discussing and reading about the war, our class gets to explore these archives and try to create some kind of storyline about the Edmundites during WWII. These archives range from photos and correspondence to ledgers and personnel files. It is SO exciting to be some of the first people to work with these archives and make sense of them.
My part in the project is to write a biography from the correspondence and personnel file of Fr. Olivia Langlois, who was an Edmundite priest connected with St. Michael's, but who was at the church in Whitton, England, throughout the war. So far, I have mostly been reading Langlois's correspondence to Fr. Nicolle (for whom Nicolle Hall is named), who was residing in Vermont at the time, and Langlois has turned out to be a very interesting person! His personality shows right through his writing, and I have found him to be very witty and rather blunt at times. He definitely sends lots of tidbits of gossip from Whitton back to Fr. Nicolle throughout the war. It is also fun to see other "characters", like Fr. Cheray (for whom Cheray Science Hall is named) pop up through my reading!
This is definitely one of the most fun projects I have done in any of my classes at Saint Mike's. Hands-on learning activities like these are one of the many reasons why I love Saint Mike's so much. It really is enriching academically, and it adds to the research training I have already gained through both my majors. So far, there have not been many challenges for me other than trying to make out Langlois's handwriting, but I'm expecting some to pop up through the process of writing his biography. I am really excited for what else is to come from exploring the WWII archives!
If you have any questions about classes at Saint Michael's or my life as a student, please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tweet me (@LizMurraySMC - I recently changed this, so be careful not to type @LittleLizzie33 anymore!) or ask me a question on formspring (lizmurray3).