World War II Class & Community Lecture Series
2015 LAND Institutional Excellence Award
Muskegon Community College
Dale K. Nesbary, Ph.D., President
Rationale for Nomination
During the past four years Muskegon Community College has partnered with the USS Silversides’ Submarine Museum to host students enrolled in HIST 216: Introduction to World War II and the Muskegon community participating in a public lecture series featuring the stories and events of our country’s greatest generation. The lectures and class, developed by MCC instructors George Maniates and Kurt Troutman, explore the depth of World War II, encompassing the many perspectives of servicemen and women abroad and American life and entertainment on the home-front. Finding programming that three generations: college-age millennials, their baby boomer parents and older, wartime-era adults can all enjoy is a challenge. But it seems that in Muskegon, World War II is common ground.
The academic partnership between the college and the museum provides students with an opportunity to attend weekly classes at the museum experiencing the multitude of WW II-era artifacts available each week. The class consists of two primary components: An 8-week public lecture series featuring scholars, academics and oral historians and a student capstone project.
In 2015, the lecture series featured these speakers: 1) Author & adventurist James Campbell introducing his book, The Color of War. 2) Dr. David Stahel, Lecturer, History Program, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia, speaking on his book, The Battle for Moscow. 3) LT Col. Ron Janowski introduced the audience to West Point Military Academy. 4) Author James Scott detailed his book, The War Below. 5) Dr. Kara Dixon-Vuic, Associate Professor of History, High Point University, spoke on Fun at the Front: American Women and Entertainment in WW II. 6) Muskegon social historians Harry and Alberta Brown shared the story of Muskegon’s early African-American residents. 7) Percussionist Tim Froncek and the Truth in Jazz Orchestra entertained the audience with a musical tribute entitled, An Evening with Glenn Miller. 8) Dr. Fred Johnson, Associate Professor of History at Hope College closed the lecture series with a lively discussion of the allied bombing campaign over Nazi Germany.
The second component of the class features a capstone project. In 2015, students teamed with WWII-era veterans to create a special exhibit, “Veterans’ Stories,” which was featured at the museum for four months during the busy summer season. Patterned after the work of famous oral historian, journalist and The Good War author Studs Terkel, MCC students paired with local veterans to meet, empathize and conduct a series of interviews. The students produced historical museum quality content highlighting their research. The compelling exhibit represented the collective culmination of their semester-long projects. This is ultimately a practical exercise, because it is applying the history they learn in the classroom to the practical history displayed in a museum. Both instructors assert the importance of showing students how research and scholarly production can be the backbone for a museum exhibit. In addition, this exercise provided an opportunity to connect historical theory with academic practice.
The World War II class and lecture series is an invigorating addition to the MCC History Department. Student enrollment continues to reach capacity every year. Excitement is perhaps best measured by the words of one student in the 2015 class: “I used to go to the museum with my dad as a kid,” said Nick Haskins, a 19-year-old sophomore when he took the class last winter and attended Mr. James Campbell’s lecture. “So I thought the idea of going there as part of the class was cool. You’re listening to this speaker talking about the war, and you have the Silversides docked outside the window, torpedoes — dismantled, of course — all around you, dioramas filled with stories and aspects of the war.”
Community members have been equally enthused by this program. During the past three years community attendance has consistently reached 125-150 for every lecture. Mr. Wayne Thuma, 58, a retired General Motors employee has tried to attend every lecture over the last two years. “They have been real enlightening,” he said of all the presentations. The many stories of WW II, Mr. Thuma added, are stories that “should be told.”
This four-year partnership course involving the college and museum has provided a new venue to reach a broad student and community audience. Enrolled students include traditional-aged students interested in discovering WW II for the first time, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking to place their service in perspective, and by area high school teachers studying WW II for self-enrichment and new information to share with their students. Beyond the enrolled students were multi-generational families who came to the talks to share the valor and sorrow from the war that touched all Americans regardless of service.
All three years of presentations have been filmed, edited and distributed through www.youtube.com and uploaded for educational viewing through MCC’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Over ten thousand viewers have accessed these educational videos ensuring a new option for students and community members to experience the humanities. This unique educational program was recently featured by the New York Times on October 27, 2015 in an expose’ written by John Hanc entitled, Muskegon Lecture Series brings WW II Alive.
Introduction to WW II (HIST 216) is a unique partnership between Muskegon Community College and the USS Silversides’ Submarine Museum and students of all ages with community members from all walks of life. Approaching year four, this program is a fixture in the community and a cornerstone of the MCC history department. The hallmark of this experience is students choosing to learn the stories of our greatest generation from academics, scholars, oral historians and military veterans from all eras.