Springfield College Assistant Professor of History Ian Delahanty’s HIST 201: “Making History Public” class undertook an investigation during the 2017 fall semester of Springfield College’s and the YMCA’s involvement in World War I. The students’ research was highlighted in a new exhibit unveiled in the Springfield College Museum on March 5.
With the assistance of Springfield College archivist Jeff Monseau, students spent weeks examining a rich trove of letters, photographs, YMCA publications, propaganda posters, scrapbooks, and college catalogs in the Springfield College Archives and Special Collections that were left behind by the students, faculty, and alumni who lived through the war. This exhibit includes a selection of items that best illustrate what students uncovered through their research.
“The students spent about six weeks in the archives and they had to use their research to be able to try and answer a single topic or question,” said Delahanty. “The items in the exhibit are some of the prime examples of the students’ research that best support their conclusions on their particular topic.”
For the students, faculty, and alumni of Springfield College (then named the International Young Men’s Christian Association College), America’s entrance to the war on the side of the Allies marked a new chapter in what was already a years-long saga of a community at war. Since the war began in 1914, scores of British, French, and Canadian students had departed from the college to join in their native lands’ war efforts as soldiers and YMCA servicemen. After April 1917, hundreds more American students and alumni followed in the footsteps of their Allied predecessors. The college itself hosted “War Work” courses to train YMCA secretaries and physical directors who would join Allied troops “Over There” in Europe, and a handful of the college’s faculty took leaves of absence to oversee the YMCA’s efforts in England and France.
“What was so interesting was reminding our current students that these letters they were reading were 18 and 19 year old kids just like themselves having to make these tough decisions,” said Delahanty. “And, even though they discovered many examples of how different the times were during World War I, the current students also uncovered many examples of how similar the campus community from 1917 and 1918 is to the campus community today.”