Title of Project:
"John Doe and the American Field Service: An Inquiry into the Social Consciousness of the World War Two Generation"
Please email this completed application, along with a resume, a description of the project, and a budget (if applicable) to the Undergraduate Chair.
We all seek to know more about our origins, to know what tiny, but pivotal, role our ancestors played in the sweeping history of the world. My maternal grandfather, John Doe, wrote letters home every day to his parents, four siblings, and his girlfriend, relating his life with the American Field Service (AFS) from 1942-1945. I will be using these war letters as my essential primary source material for my project. With the exception of an official history sponsored by the AFS itself, no account has been written about the role of this group of men, though the AFS has collected a vast archive of information about them. My project research, also my History Honors thesis, therefore, is totally original in its sources as it seeks to use the AFS archive to build a model about the social consciousness of the Greatest Generation. The proposed title for my project is, "John Doe and the American Field Service: An Inquiry into the Social Consciousness of the World War Two Generation." It will go beyond the personal aspect of my grandfather's role, to ask more important questions. Why did men, who were excused from military duty, decide to serve in an unpaid volunteer corps?
I have already begun the process of transcribing the letters from the original state into digitalized files. The letters begin on a transnational train trip that Doe took after his freshman summer at Harvard. Writing to his girlfriend, he talks about the world, the war in Europe, and his place in it. Disqualified from service because of nearsightedness and an ankle condition, Doe followed his father and joined the American Field Service, an ambulance corps that provided medical support for British, French and American armies in forward areas. Doe served with all three armies in the Middle East, Italy, Germany, France and India. His story, along with the stories of other AFS volunteers, gives a new view of the war in Europe.
It is not just the letters Doe wrote that are important. The actual letters themselves, while fascinating, ask more questions about war time life and how war letters should be seen as historical documents. Along with the stamps on the original letters and envelopes, I have numerous V-mails, telegrams and enclosures that I plan to professionally archive. The newspaper clippings, photos and documents that were saved along with the letters tell more about the life of an AFS man than just words could. Some of the most interesting things are: original photos from the first day of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, a map of London that shows where AFS officers could stay for free and papers of safe conduct for surrendering German soldiers, along with routine transfer orders, letters of commendation, medals, and the occasional Reichsmark.
My aim for this larger project is to preserve a tiny piece of history, because every person's account of their life is someone else's origins. When I am finished with my thesis and the archiving process, I intend to donate these historical items to the Library of Congress which is sponsoring a project entitled, "The Veterans History Project." We, at a national level, are interested in origins, and the lives of ordinary people during wartime are a critical part of those origins.
Flash drive to backup all work done on thesis, not on main computer (to be returned to the History Department upon completion of thesis project, if desired):
The History of the American Field Service (crucial secondary text, out of print):
Plane ticket from Manchester, NH to Washington D.C. for the purpose of doing research at the National Archives:
Train Ticket from White River Junction, VT to New York, New York for the purpose of doing research at the American Field Service Archives: