No matter how far World War II recedes into the past, its legacy lingers. It was clearly a turning point in the 20th century and it effectively reshaped the world. It set in motion processes that affected the lives of those born long after peace treaties were signed, wounds healed, and the Berlin Wall was erected and then torn down. It could be argued that there can be no understanding of today’s world without an understanding of the history of World War II.


With this in mind, Ohio State’s Department of History, with a battery of top World War II scholars and military historians, embarks on an ambitious new venture in spring 2013. The new program, The United States, Europe, and the Second World War: Intersections in 20th Century History, is built around the in-depth study of World War II as a focal point to launch a thousand thoughtful conversations.

The brainchild of history professor Bill Childs, this academic/study abroad program, “will have a cross-disciplinary, in-depth approach focused on giving students an understanding of the importance of U.S./European relationships.” Although the use of World War II battlefields as history teaching tools has been done elsewhere, Childs emphasized that Ohio State’s initiative will be profoundly different. “This is not an understanding that comes from one course and a 10-day European trip. It had to be developed as a program, and semester conversion made that possible.

“The new ‘Maymester’ aspect of semesters, with the month of May set aside for students to take one course in a short time-span, allowed us to build a three-week European tour into the program.”

The five-course program, with a mini-course in conversational French, is not limited to history majors, but will include 20 students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. Non-history majors will receive a minor in history upon completion.

It is not for the faint-hearted. These students will have arguably the most intense learning experience of their lives: immersed in four upper-level courses that examine World War II from historical and cultural perspectives, they will study with leading scholars from history and French.

This rigorous coursework, supplemented by frequent small group meetings to exchange ideas and discuss research, will ready them for their fifth course—a three-week tour of European battle sites, cemeteries, memorials, and museums in London, Normandy, Paris, and Berlin.

“This is where it becomes real,” Childs said.

“The best part of the program is getting our students interacting with the Europeans. There is no substitute for going abroad, seeing the tunnels where the British took shelter, laying roses on the graves of the nine Ohio State students killed at Normandy. And Berlin, where the Cold War began and ended, is a wonderful place to finish.”

“It’s a very demanding program,” said Department of History Chair Peter Hahn. "From the first day of classes through the end of the tour, students will be as close to living the subject matter as one can get. This program will not only expand their understanding of the intricacies of the war and its outcomes, but will make them better citizens of the world."

Indeed, this powerful, interdisciplinary program was specifically designed with that in mind; it is fully aligned with Ohio State’s motto: Education for Citizenship. It will help arm these students for future leadership roles in government, business, academia, and other professions.

History Department Chair Peter Hahn and undergraduate history major Kyle Nappi kept their cameras at the ready to document, record, preserve, and share “snapshots” of this amazing journey. These are a few of the images they captured along the way.


“Although a Pacific Study-Tour was not in our immediate plans, when an opportunity arose in late 2011 for a small group of our students to accompany World War II veterans on a trip to four Pacific islands—we felt we had to try to take advantage of it,” said Peter Hahn, Department of History chair. These commemorative tours for veterans of World War II battle sites are made possible through the Greatest Generations Foundation.

Eight students were carefully chosen based on essays explaining why they wanted to go. Nearly all had a close, personal family connection. For some it meant a kind of closure, for others a connection to someone never known. For all, it was a way to help honor and preserve the memories of those who had served.
Hahn and military historian Peter Mansoor started scrambling: for ways to set up a study-tour course, a means of selecting students, and dealing with a thousand and one logistical details to make it all happen in less than five months.

Each student was paired with a veteran, as were Hahn and Mansoor. The students were to be witness to and chroniclers of the memories and experiences of men who had last seen these islands, Guam, Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Tinian, under the most horrific conditions.

“World War II is just so much ancient history to many young people today,” Mansoor said. "But hearing the stories of courage and sacrifice first-hand from veterans who fought, and in many cases bled, on these battlefields makes it come alive. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these young men and women."

On March 10, Andrew Eskander, international studies; Caitlin Bentley, Mike Tabor, Kyle Nappi, and Danelle Gagliardi, history; Eston Wirsing, electrical and computer engineering; Peter Marzalik, international studies/Russian; and Nick Brill, history/political science, rallied at Los Angeles International Airport with Hahn, Mansoor, and the veterans to begin the journey of a lifetime.

All were well prepped with extensive readings and intensive seminars on diplomacy and military strategy and were well aware of their responsibility and its emotional weight.

THE WORLD WAR II SCHOLARSHIP FUND IN HISTORY (#481997) helps make this opportunity accessible for undergraduate students. For more information, contact Professor Peter L. Hahn, (614) 292-3001 or hahn.29@osu.edu.