Undergraduate Humanities Forum 2007-2008: Origins

Document Type

Presentation

Date of this Version

April 2008

Comments

2007-2008 Penn Humanities Forum on Origins, Undergraduate Mellon Research Fellows.

URL: http://humanities.sas.upenn.edu/07-08/uhf_fellows.shtml

The complete paper can be found at: http://repository.upenn.edu/hist_honors/12

Abstract

We are all fascinated by our own family's story - our origins. What trouble our parents were in when they were little. What our grandparents did during the war. Where our ancestors came from.

These types of stories are personal and inconsequential, but at the same time, they are informative and entertaining. While we must not confuse family lore with academic history, the two can be intertwined. All history is someone's family story because history revolves around people and their actions. I have spent the last fifteen months examining my grandfather's service during World War Two. Stories like his are the basis of microcosm history, but they are not all encompassing explanations. The job of historians is to take stories and shape them into meaningful scholarship through research and analysis.

Within the historiography of the 20th Century, war letters are some of the more remarkable documents available. In the study of World War Two, they are especially valuable because the sheer number that have survived give historians a vast range of experiences from which to draw conclusions. Written in the face of uncertain and daunting odds, they illuminate human voices in a war that could be easily reduced to a series of campaigns and grim statistics. The letters give a tiny glimpse into the experience that defined a generation around the world. Over sixteen million American men were drafted during World War Two and, for the most part, handwritten letters were their only form of communication with loved ones on the homefront. For some families, they were all that was left of their sons, brothers, fathers and uncles in September 1945 when the war ended. In many families, war letters were carefully preserved; my family is no exception.

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Date Posted: 19 June 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.