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Broadening Student Understanding of Wartime Experience through Original Works of Art and Personal Accounts

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This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

In the October 2013 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article anticipated Veterans’ Day and suggested strategies for broadening student understanding of wartime experience through original works of art and personal accounts.

Waiting for D-Day, LST 491
On the way to the LST 523 to pick up survivors

It featured two works of art created by Tracy A. Sugarman, who served in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the European theater during World War II.

  • The first, titled “Waiting for D-Day, LST 491,” was drawn on March 27, 1944; and
  • The second was titled “On the way to the LST 523 to pick up survivors.”  The information on the back of it read “Drawing shows two sailors in a small landing craft (LCVP) heading out to rescue sailors from tank landing ship LST 523 after an explosion during a storm in the English Channel, June, 1944.”

To reinforce student motivation to consult multiple sources, in a variety of media, as they seek information on this or any subject, the article also identified 2 segments of an interview with Sugarman: “Preparing for D-Day; hearing an enemy broadcast on the eve of the invasion” and “Offloading men onto Utah Beach; climbing the Omaha Beach cliff.” We suggested a “step-by-step” approach for students to engage with these sources.

Finally, we alerted readers to the Veterans History Project, the largest oral history archive in the nation, with more than 87,000 collections, including audio- and video-recorded interviews as well as original photographs, illustrations, letters, diaries and other personal documents of American veterans, from WWI through current conflicts.

If you’ve used the Sugarman sketches, his interview, or the VHP with your students, to what extent did they contribute to student understanding?

Comments (2)

  1. thank you

  2. As an educator, I believe that using pieces of art as primary sources in the classroom is a very powerful way to connect students with the content being taught, especially when it comes to history. Giving students a variety of media to study as they research historic events gives them a more well-rounded understanding of the time period. Supplementing these Sugarman sketches with interviews, oral archives, letters, and photographs, students will learn that primary sources are an absolutely fascinating way to piece together history! Once this approach becomes more prominent in schools, students will lose their dismissive attitudes against learning history and embrace living in its memory through these primary sources.

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