Michigan State University

Lakeview High School Class Conducts Holocaust Research at MSU Libraries

Katie Diamond

Lakeview High School Class Conducts Holocaust Research at MSU Libraries

LHS Students working on the History Unfolded project in the Beaumont West Instruction Room in the MSU Main Library.

In October 2017, Scott Durham’s World at War class from Lakeview High School (LHS) in Battle Creek, MI visited the Michigan State University Main Library to participate in a special research project related to the Holocaust. Margaret Lincoln, the LHS librarian, and Durham collaborated with Deborah Margolis, Middle East Studies & Anthropology librarian and liaison to Jewish Studies at MSU, to create a unique learning opportunity for the students.

MSU Libraries agreed to host a “research sprint” where the students would research a specific event during a defined time period using online collections. The goal of the visit was to contribute research to the History Unfolded project established by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC.

For the first part of their visit, the students heard from Kirsten Fermaglich, associate professor of History at MSU, on the structure of newspapers and how they provide insights into the past. They discussed problems and opportunities in primary sources, implications of knowledge of unjust events, and the contextualization of those events.

One LHS student, Joe Wood, found Fermaglich's instruction particularly beneficial, “The best thing about the field trip was the lecture on what to look for in an old newspaper because it really helped me with my findings in my papers."

After Fermaglich’s lecture, the students learned how to navigate America’s Historical Newspapers database—a resource the class does not have in their school library—under the guidance of Margolis and Sarah Klimek, the U.S. History librarian at MSU.

Deborah Margolis of MSU Libraries helping a student with the America's Historical Newspapers database. Photo by: Margaret Lincoln

The high school students, along with Fermaglich’s college students, searched news articles, looking at how American newspapers reported about (or didn’t report about) Nazi persecution during the 1930s and 1940s. They searched the Detroit News, a mainstream Detroit daily newspaper, as well as the Michigan Chronicle, a weekly African American newspaper. After that, they reflected on the research in group discussions.

Many of the students were surprised how blind the U.S. and the rest of the world was to what was going on during the Holocaust. Durham, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in MSU’s Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education program, later engaged his students in a critical discussion, helping them to make sense of their findings and make connections to issues of discrimination and genocide that the world faces today.

Scott Durham, teacher at Lakeview High School, engages his World at War students in discussions about their research findings.

The students successfully submitted their research findings to the History Unfolded project and are now among 2,032 researchers from across the country who have contributed articles to the national database. As of today, more than 13,600 articles on Holocaust-related topics from local newspapers have been contributed thanks to “citizen historians” like the LHS students.

Overall, the visit was a valuable experience for Durham’s World at War class. The students learned how to research a large database in an academic library, learned more about the horrible impact of the Holocaust on the world through primary source materials, and contributed to a meaningful project.


All photos by Shelby Kroske unless otherwise noted. 

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