Student project champions library’s newspaper collection

Southington students photographed by Fenno Jacobs during World War II, above, are now being studied by today’s Southington students.

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

High School students recently took advantage of the Southington Public Library’s online archive to aid in their research efforts for a history project.

The library has an online archive of the various Southington newspapers dating back to 1859. Historic Southington newspapers from 1859 to the present include “The Phoenix,” “Southington News,” and “The Observer.”

In 2011, library staff members worked to upload all of the papers and documents to complete the archive. “It was a huge project to get everything digitalized,” executive director Sue Smayda said.

SHS students in Kevin Curtiss’s U.S. History class investigated Southington during the World War II era through the authentic files. During those years, Southington News was the primary town paper in circulation.

“I had students use the newspapers from 1941 to 1945 to gather information about Southington’s contributions to the war effort,” Curtiss said. “They worked in groups to find information about certain specific topics, such as civil defense, rationing, war industries, and Southington soldiers.”

Curtiss chose this project because it offered a different experience for his students, who are all in their junior year at SHS. The class kicked-off their research with an Observer article from Dec. 2016 entitled, “Residents remember Southington during the World War II era,” that examined similar topics.

“The library’s database allowed them to act like real historians and sift through authentic documents to find valuable information,” he said. “It also allowed them to make real connections between the version of WWII that they read in their textbook and what was actually happening in their hometown.”

Throughout their research, group members gathered old advertisements and photographs from the era, and even used the online photo archive from the Library of Congress.

“It is not often that students get to comb through historic documents like these Southington newspapers,” Curtiss said. “Students are so used to just Googling questions to find information.”

After researching, the students in each of the three classes combined their information to build a website. Groups created web pages for soldier information, food rationing, women’s roles, and civil defense.

“It’s fantastic,” Smayda said.

Former Southington resident Robin Baur (O’Connell) contacted Smayda to share her excitement about the archives. In her elementary school years at Thalberg, she wrote columns for the Observer but lost her book of newspaper clippings.

“Despite the fact that I became a published journalist, enjoying a career that led me from New York City to my current residence in The Hague, The Netherlands, the loss of those first, simply written columns remained painful to me.,” Baur wrote in an email.

The online source allowed her to view papers from the years when she lived in Southington. Smayda said the archive is used for fun alongside the research component.

“You can look at a paper from the day you were born, for a human resource story, or to see what happened in Southington,” she said.

The library archive is accessible at www.southingtonlibrary.org/historical_southington_newspaper.htm  

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