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Coolest History Project Ever: Write The Biography Of A Mystery Man Using The Contents Of His Briefca
September 13, 2013
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For many high school students, history class is an unremitting succession of dates, maps and sorta-famous names, with maybe the occasional fun historical biopic thrown in. The lucky students at Wayland High School, just outside Boston, got a much more interesting challenge: figure out everything you can about the guy who owned this briefcase:

The 2012 co-editors of the Wayland High School Project team (Photo: Courtesy

The briefcase in question was found in a storage room by Kevin Delaney, the head of the school's history department, reports Boston Magazine. Inside were stacks of assorted papers, maps, and film strips belonging to a man named Martin W. Joyce.

Instead of tossing the thing, Delaney recognized the briefcase for what it was: a fascinating window into history, and an opportunity for his students to get their fingers dirty with the actual experience of putting together history from original sources.

For the next two years, his students poured over the contents of the briefcase, cataloging the documents and uploading them to the web as they assembled a 10-chapter biography of a man who turned out to have led a most interesting life.

(Photo: Courtesy

Lt. Col. Martin W. Joyce was born in 1899 and died in 1962. He fought in both World Wars, witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbour and serving as the commander of the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany shortly after it was liberated. Between the wars, he worked as a Massachusetts State Trooper, once confiscating $50,000 of alcohol during a prohibition-era raid. During his retirement after the Second World War, Joyce and his wife Mary Louise travelled to Europe, and returned on the doomed final voyage of the Italian luxury liner the SS Andrea Doria — they both survived the ship's famous 1956 collision with the MS Stockholm. Joyce died in 1962, survived by his wife and six siblings. He never had children.

Delaney was never able to conclusively figure out how the briefcase ended up in that storage room — his best guess is that a previous teacher had been friends with Joyce. The papers now reside in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and on the excellent website that Delaney's students created to memorialize a once-forgotten war hero.

Via Boston Magazine


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