International Study Seminar examines European war monuments, memorials, and battlefields.
The history of war is written by the victor.
This summer, 12 Randolph students kept this in mind as they explored Europe, visiting sites that enshrine the memory of two World Wars and asking questions about the history the monuments share.
What was remembered? Who was memorialized?
And, sometimes more importantly, what was forgotten?
The trip was an International Study Seminar led by Gerry Sherayko, a history professor, and Jennifer Gauthier, a communication studies professor. Using Randolph’s facilities at the University of Reading as a home base, the group spent two weeks visiting memorials, monuments, and battlefields in England, France, and Belgium. The goal was to help students think critically from multiple perspectives.
“The world’s issues and problems cross disciplines,” Gauthier said. “War isn’t just about history. It’s about memory, and it’s about science. If your brain is trained to see and think from all those angles, you have a much better way of thinking about an issue.”
At each site, the students paid careful attention to the messages sent by different memorials.
Many of them were touched by “Shot at Dawn,” a memorial to soldiers who had been executed for desertion. During the war, they were considered cowards and traitors.
“A century later, we have a very different view of what these young men were thinking about,” Sherayko said. “We have more empathy.”
Another favorite was Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. The archway is adorned with stone panels containing the engraved names of more than 50,000 soldiers who died defending Belgium and whose remains have never been identified.
Every night for 85 years, the city has closed the road through the archway so people can gather for a brief memorial service.
Sarah Biegelsen ’17 and Lucy Kindstrand ’17 were able to participate in the service. With hundreds of people gathered under the archway, they listened to the echoes of “The Last Post,” a bugler’s song that signaled the end of a soldier’s day.
After the buglers performed, a choir sang and people took turns laying poppy wreaths at the foot of one wall of names. Biegelsen fought tears as she and Kindstrand placed their wreath, along with a card bearing the phrase vita abundantior, with the others. When the wreaths were in place, the crowd observed a moment of silence and reflection. “Then there was a murmur of conversation again, and the sun came out,” Biegelsen said. “Everything was back to normal.”
Except Biegelsen now understood that for those whose lives were impacted by the war, “normal” never truly returned.
“Europeans will never forget how war has affected their landscape, ideals, culture, and more, because they were the ones who suffered,” she said. “They truly care and choose to dedicate these memorials to those who served, fought, and died.”