SPUR 2021: World War II Home Front Theme Study for the National Park Service

Background

Prompted by recent federal legislation, the National Park Service (NPS), in collaboration with the National Council for Public History, has launched a major effort to revitalize its presentation of the World War II home front story. The NPS selected me as Principal Investigator for this four year project. There are three major components of this project.

  1. Update the NPS World War II home front theme study written in 2000.
  2. Produce home front histories for all 50 states and 5 territories.
  3. Conduct a reconnaissance of properties on the current NHL property list and produce one or more National Historic Landmark nominations for World War II home front sites from this list or from newly recognized sites.

This research will be of vital importance to the NPS as they continue their effort to provide the over 275 million annual visitors to NPS sites with a history of the U.S. that reflects the diversity of individual experience and the complexity of our national saga.

To put it bluntly, this is a truly remarkable opportunity for students to have their research impact what millions of people learn about U.S. history.

SPUR students will work with Dr. Basso and a team of graduate students on the state and territory home front histories. We will teach any SPUR student selected for our project how to conduct primary and secondary source research in digital archives following best practices in the humanities. SPUR students will read and analyze federal and state documents and historical sources that speak to the culture and society of the WWII era.

Student Role

SPUR students will work with Dr. Basso and a team of graduate students on the state and territory home front histories. We will teach any SPUR student selected for our project how to conduct primary and secondary source research in digital archives following best practices in the humanities model. They will have near constant access to a faculty and grad student mentor, but will also be trained to work independently. SPUR students will read and analyze federal and state documents and historical sources that speak to the culture and society of the WWII era. These will include newspaper articles, oral histories, and propaganda posters. World War II subjects of particular research focus include the environment, gender and race relations, the role of the government, the wartime economy, home front popular culture, and the experience of diverse communities including Mexican Americans, Latin@s, Chinese Americans, Filipin@ Americans, Black Americans and the LGB community both in the civilian and military sphere.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

Students will learn to find and analyze primary and secondary sources. They will work with faculty and grad student mentors to create a database of information about each state's home front experience. They will learn how to take large amounts of historical data and turn it into a compelling story backed by a variety of different evidence. The benefits of these skills are profound. They are the cornerstone of liberal arts training that corporate leaders around the country have said is precisely the sort of training they want new employees to receive. Likewise, these skills will be of enormous use to those that continue on to graduate and professional schools or into the government or non-profit sectors.

Remote Contingency Plan

This project is very easily transferable to remote research. Indeed, the above description is written with both the possibility that there could be in-person research and the likelihood that we will continue to need to work remotely. Because all research materials are available digitally and because Zoom works well for the above type of work, I am utterly confident in being able to deliver an excellent SPUR experience. Notably, I am working with at least one undergraduate student researcher on this project this year through the support of the Pacific Islands Studies Mellon Grant. This will help me refine my remote mentoring approach. I have also extensive experience mentoring undergraduate researchers from my time as Director of the American West Center and from my teaching, including overseeing UROP and honors projects. My work in these areas has been a contributing factor in my winning the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Distinguished Graduate Student Mentor Award, the Public Service Professorship, the Honors Humanities Professorship and other commendations. I will absolutely be ready to go remote if need be.

Matthew Basso
Associate Professor

History
College of Humanities
Gender Studies
School for Cultural & Social Transformation

SPUR Students selected for the World War II Home Front project can expect a significant training experience. They will each meet with the faculty member and the grad student team individually to discuss what they are hoping to get out of the SPUR experience. With that in mind, Dr. Basso and his graduate student team will customize the training and mentorship approach for each SPUR student.

The entire team will also meet to confirm expectations and work flow, and each SPUR student will be assigned a primary graduate student mentor who along with Dr. Basso will serve as their primary points of contact.

After a multi-day training boot camp, the grad student mentor and the SPUR student will have at least weekly check ins to discuss progress toward learning outcomes. Students will work initially on a daily basis with grad student supervisors as well. Once their skill set is developed they will begin to work more independently. Once a week all SPUR students, grad students, and Dr. Basso will meet to go over the project. Additionally, once every two weeks, COVID allowing, there will be social gatherings that will be designed to mentor about academia, career, and other matters in a more informal setting.