Last fall, a new special topics course blended history and literature in a unique opportunity for Saint Anselm College students to engage with the humanities. 

In the interdisciplinary course led by History Professor Matthew Masur Ph.D., HU 301: Stories of War allowed students to view military conflicts through the lens of various sources, or “stories of war,” including memoirs, reportage, short stories, novels, poetry, film, music, and art.

“In Stories of War, we discussed a range of topics that often aligned themselves with real world and current affairs,” explained History and Secondary Education major Isabella Langella ’25. “We discussed the morality and ethics behind current wars mostly during the Science Fiction portion of the course. We were able to compare hypothetical war stories and the ethical questions being posed by those stories to understand and discuss the ethical nature of certain events that were happening in Ukraine.”

Professor lecturing classroom

The course units covered three wars – World War I, the Algerian War, and the Vietnam War – as well as a science fiction unit—each taught by a guest faculty member or pair representing Humanities departments on campus. Additionally, the class brought in current events and made the connections between past and present. During the semester, the war in Ukraine was ongoing and the current conflict between Israel and Gaza erupted. While these conflicts are different from the ones studied in the course, they were often used as a frame of reference in class conversations. 

“It’s unlike any other course at the college,” said Masur. “The students learn about the topic from a group of knowledgeable and passionate faculty.” 

Masur also noted that with only 10 students in the cohort, the student-faculty ratio was often 2:1.

Course instructors included Professors Hugh Dubrulle Ph.D.,Philip Pajakowski Ph.D., and Masur of the history department, Professors Ann Holbrook Ph.D. and Meoghan Cronin Ph.D. of the English department, Professor Susanne Rossbach Ph.D. of the modern languages department, and Professor Joshua Tepley Ph.D. of the philosophy department. 

“The faculty members were the best part of the course,” said International Relations major Jacob Akey ’24. “Each one was an expert with a deep decades-long interest in the conflicts they taught.”

The course explored the different experiences of wartime — including combat, civilian life during the war, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the social, political, and economic impact of war — and how these experiences are conveyed through art forms. 

Upon offering the course, one of Masur’s goals was to help students appreciate the human element of war. Students read stories such as The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, a World War I novella about a soldier who loses his memory as a result of a traumatic combat experience, and The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, a novel about the Vietnam War’s impact on an individual family. 

“All of the works we looked at provided unique examples of the cost of war, and aided in our understanding of the wars we studied,” said Langella. 

Professor lecturing classroom

As with other Humanities courses and discussions, Stories of War challenged students’ existing beliefs on the subject. Langella credited the stories of the Vietnam War, and particularly Bao Ning’s novel, The Sorrow of War, with broadening her perspective.

“[The novel] provided insights into the actualities of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese fighter, which is often lacking when discussing the war in the United States – we usually focus on the American experience,” she shared.

Throughout the semester, the class met in the Gregory J. Grappone Humanities Institute space, located in the Boiler Building on campus. The Institute’s new home was recently dedicated in July 2023 in memory of its namesake, Greg Grappone ’04. Grappone was a Great Books major and passionate supporter of the Humanities. 

“Our class was held on the top floor, which was perfect for seminar classes,” said History major John Risso ’24. “The layout of the classroom facilitated discussion, which helped us analyze and hear different perspectives on the sources we read.” 

While this was the first semester Stories of War was offered at the College, it generated praise from the students and faculty instructors alike.

“The fact that this course was taught by multiple faculty allowed students to directly experience the value of bringing a range of perspectives and approaches to learning. This is an essential aspect of a liberal arts education, and I appreciate the efforts of the faculty to model this so successfully for our students”, said Sheila Liotta, Vice President for Academic Affairs. 

“I would love to offer the course again,” said Masur. “The great thing is that the structure allows the course to be modified or adapted quite easily. We could swap out one of the units and add a new unit about an entirely different conflict.”

Students echoed Masur’s enthusiasm for the subject matter. 

“I would absolutely take this class again; it was one of my favorite classes I took this past semester,” commented English major Evangeline Rockwell ’25. 

“I hope this course is offered in the future so that the next generation of Anselmians can experience it,” echoed Akey. “It was truly one of a kind.”


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