One of the best parts of working with teachers is that every so often, a former workshop participant will get back in touch with me and share some of the amazing work that their students are doing. This week, I was incredibly pleased to hear from Wayland High School’s Kevin Delaney and learn more about his students’ most recent project.
Wayland High School was getting ready for a move, and while cleaning out the history department office, Delaney found a briefcase containing the papers of Lt. Col. Martin W. Joyce, who was the first Commanding Officer of the Dachau concentration camp. Joyce’s life is a remarkable journey from WWI doughboy, to Mass. State Trooper, to National Guardsman, to radio expert (setting up stations literally all over the world), and ultimately to an officer dealing with the chaotic, tragic aftermath of the Holocaust.
Delaney’s students have created a fantastic online archive of Joyce’s life. They cataloged the 85 documents in the briefcase, digitizing each document and providing a short historical annotation. They then used these documents as well as their studies of 20th century history to create a biography of Joyce’s life. As with many of the best historical biographies, the students have written not just a story of Joyce’s remarkable journey, but a story of the 20th century as seen through one of the many young men who came from ordinary origins to play an extraordinary bit part in the pageant of human history.
The work that Delaney’s students have done is not “high school work;" they have made a significant contribution to the archival and historical record. Their project is a model of how technology can help get kids out of the batter’s box and into the game. Every town in America has local history and local heroes worthy of documenting, studying, preserving and sharing. History class doesn’t just have to been examining the historical record; it should be about contributing to it.
So kudos to Delaney and his students for a terrific project, which I hope will be a model for many others!
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