By: Renee Weisz ’17
Office carpeted with eyewitness interview transcripts and historical archive documents, local nonfiction author Cathryn Prince is in her element. The three years worth of research, examining primary source newspaper articles and weather reports that authenticate detail, is not a burden for Prince, but rather an invigorating opportunity to delve into a historical issue and connect these stories to modern society.
“I think these smaller, forgotten stories are a way for us to look at where we are now, where we come from, and many of these projects have a timeliness that’ll still resonate today,” Prince said.
She began her writing career as a member of her high school newspaper while growing up in Danbury, later studying international affairs at George Washington University and interning at US News and World Report among other publications. Her first book chronicled the narratives of American airmen shot down by the Swiss during World War II, a topic appealing to Prince as “a breaking news story of history,” she said. Since then she’s published five books, most recently “American Daredevil: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Halliburton” which details the life of a famous globetrotting guide in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Prince is not alone in her commitment to learning through the forgotten stories of the past. Social studies teacher Nell Ayn Lynch includes historical texts in her US history honors curriculum in order to explore the United States’s founding principles through viewing history in action.
“Reading about history gives you a perspective on both sides of history; there’s always a side to every story,” Lynch said.
This opinion is supported by the American Historical Association which states that successful historical stories “reveal how people and societies have actually functioned,” and the education blog Teachinghistory.org which correlates reading history across genres to improved literacy and critical thinking.
Learning history through textual accounts has translated to enhanced engagement for Staples students. Brooke Kessler ’18 remembers reading “The Quartet,” a documentation of the United States’ beginnings through the lens of four founding fathers, and the connections it clarified between past events and their current implications.
“I enjoyed this book because it allowed me to realize how the issues the Founding Fathers were dealing with in 1787 are still largely debated issues in 2016,” Kessler said. “This text influenced my thinking by introducing me to a new perspective on a historical topic I have learned about for years in school.”
Students like Thomas Moy ’17, vice president of the Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society, recognize the significance of writing about history in addition to reading nonfiction texts. “I think writing about history allows us to realize that there are trends in history that we can and will follow now and in the future,” he said.
Through Lynch’s teaching experience and Prince’s personal experience writing nonfiction books, both have discovered firsthand the value in writing as a mode of deeper historical understanding.
“When you write about history it gives the ‘so what’ factor, bringing your own perspective of how does it affect your life,” Lynch said “and how does something that happened so long ago affect you right now in 2016.”
The ability to uncover history’s cobwebbed stories and bring them to life and relevance today drives, and will continue to drive Prince to write nonfiction and others to benefit from reading nonfiction texts.