Dr. Jeremy Best is a professor of history at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Dr. Best, his undergraduate students, and members of the local community have been uploading articles to the History Unfolded website for nearly a year. This guest blog post is the first of a two-part series on their work.
During Fall 2016, twenty-one students enrolled in Professor Best’s History of Modern Germany class. Together they conducted History Unfolded research. How did it go? Here’s Dr. Best.
I first learned about History Unfolded in Fall 2015 when my friend and colleague, Dr. Kierra Crago-Schneider, University Programs Officer at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, asked if I’d like to talk with some of her colleagues working on a digital research project. I had led a previous student-research project on World War I and Germans in Iowa and Kierra thought I might find it interesting to talk with her colleagues Eric Schmalz, Aleisa Fishman, Elissa Frankle, and David Klevan about how I might use History Unfolded in my classroom.
During Fall 2016 semester, I took the ideas I had talked about with the History Unfolded crew and turned them into a classroom assignment for my History of Modern Germany students. The semester-long project was to choose an event from the History Unfolded list of historical topics for research, locate two newspaper articles covering that event in a local Iowa newspaper, and upload the articles to the History Unfolded database. To complete the assignment, students then read Deborah Lipstadt’s article “Finessing the Truth: The Press and the Holocaust”* and wrote a short essay placing the newspaper articles into a wider context.
Going for Platinum
Students had the option of doing all of their research on campus with newspapers in our library held in its collections. I called this the “Silver” Option. I also offered extra credit to encourage students to go off-campus with their research. If students were willing to go the extra miles down Iowa’s two-lane rural highways, I offered what I called the “Gold” and “Platinum” Options. The Gold Option required students to identify a newspaper not held by our campus library, request it via Interlibrary Loan, and then conduct the same research as required for the Silver Option. For maximum extra credit students had to travel to a library or archive off campus, conduct research in a newspaper not available on campus, confirm their visit to the off-campus library with a photo, and then complete the rest of the assignment.
Nearly every student chose the Platinum Option. While I had been concerned many students would choose to stay on campus for their research, what I discovered was that many students loved the chance to do what they called “real research.” Just a few examples capture the enthusiasm these students had for the work.
- Lucas Eivins, a junior history and social studies education major, visited the Clarion Public Library in north-central Iowa and found newspaper coverage in the Wright County Monitor of Charles Lindbergh’s inflammatory September 1941 speech in Des Moines speech.
- Mara Kealey, a history major and daughter of a high school history teacher, visited the Davenport Public Library blocks from the Mississippi River to peruse copies of the Davenport Daily Times.
- Conor Duffy and Jack Bruner, double-majors pairing history with civil engineering and mathematics respectively, traveled to Des Moines to visit the State Historical Building and uncover examples of Holocaust coverage in its collections.
From the Local to the Global
As a part of our wider studies of German history, this assignment helped students expand their understanding of the Holocaust as a global event and practice the skills of authentic historical research and writing.
Our use of History Unfolded was remarkably rewarding. My students and I learned a lot about how the Holocaust was covered in Iowa’s newspapers. And, as a historian and an educator, it was great to do an assignment that encouraged students to find connections among local history, global history, and the institutions that preserve that history, local and state libraries and archives.
*Deborah Lipstadt, “Finessing the Truth: The Press and the Holocaust,” Dimensions 4(3): 10-14.