Class celebrates West Bank history

Kevin McCahill

Students in professor Kevin Murphy”s public history (Hist 3001) course decided to live the history of the West Bank rather than read about it in a book.

The class has spent the past semester in five groups studying different aspects of the West Bank’s history and culture firsthand by talking with and learning from people involved in past political movements and the area’s growth as a whole.

They are also helping to turn the history of the West Bank into a musical to be performed by the Bedlam Theater, titled “West Bank Story,” next summer.

The class’ work culminated in an event Saturday which brought together community members to share stories, ideas and viewpoints about the West Bank and its future.

The event highlighted residents giving their memories of the West Bank as well as anti-war activists like former University student Don Olson who spent time in prison for his opposition of the draft during the Vietnam War.

According to Murphy, students are better able to understand their subject by spending time with the people involved in the history rather than just spending time in a classroom. It also helped show how communities can be intertwined, he said.

“It got students to focus on a history that is a collaboration (of cultures),” Murphy said. “It is a very interesting neighborhood, with very little of it written in books.”

For the course, students broke into groups to study different aspects of the West Bank’s history through oral communication. One group studied the musical history of the area, while another helped collect history for Bedlam’s production.

Urban studies and architecture senior Mitch Hanson joined the group that put together Saturday’s event because he liked the idea of working with the Bedlam Theatre, he said. He said the class has helped him get a better understanding of what makes a community.

“This is a more personal way to learn about history,” he said.

Other students, like history and geography junior Amanda Sunram, said that although getting the event together took a lot of work, she is satisfied with what they have brought together.

“I feel like we are getting a foothold into the community,” she said. “It was an incredible amount of work, but it feels like it paid off.”

The group had to gather speakers and collaborate with local businesses and the theater to prepare for the event. Bedlam Theatre members plan to use the stories and information put together by the students in their musical based on the West Bank.

John Bueche of Bedlam Theatre said working with the students has been a positive experience.

“It’s an excuse to get to know the neighborhood history,” he said.

Bueche said Bedlam got involved with the course after hearing about its ties with the West Bank.

Individualized major sophomore Ilana Lerman said the class experience has helped her branch out.

“I walk around my neighborhood and I know a lot more about where I live,” she said. “This has created a community and we’ve become part of the history.”

The group’s projects will be presented Dec. 22 through Jan. 27 in Andersen Library.