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“In Flanders Fields…”

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Robert Morris University Professor Connie Ruzich has received a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to study the poetry of World War I and develop lesson plans to teach students about the literature of The Great War.

Ruzich, a university professor of English studies at RMU, will travel in September to the University of Exeter in southwest England as the United Kingdom marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. She will study there until January, developing curriculum for students to learn the relevance of the poetry of World War I to contemporary social and political issues and to compare it to the literature of other conflicts – including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ruzich chose the University of Exeter because of its excellent school of education, which includes expertise in teaching poetry. Additionally, an Exeter history professor is studying how The Great War is presented in classrooms, and Exeter English professor Tim Kendall has edited the anthology Poetry of The First World War.

While in England, Ruzich will participate and learn from the four-year, £50 million centenary program being planned by the United Kingdom. This will include a project in which teachers and high-school age students from schools all over the U.K. will travel to World War I battlefields and research the men of their towns who died in those battles.

“Although the anniversary of The Great War is going largely unmarked in the U.S., the poetry of World War I provides a powerful means of assisting American students in understanding the ways in which war, battle, and sacrifice are framed,” said Ruzich, coordinator of English and communication secondary teacher certification at Robert Morris.

“In my experience, students are naturally curious about and interested in war poetry, as it is often written by young people with direct personal experience, providing a counterpoint to discussions of war constructed by media and politicians,” said Ruzich.

The canon of World War I poetry is modernist and anti-war, and in England includes the work of Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, and Wilfred Owen (who died in combat.) Ruzich will also explore more traditional, patriotic poetry that came out of the war – including poetry written by women – as well as poetry from the United States. The U.S. did not enter the war until 1917, and its Great War poetry also is less well-known because many of its writers became famous for their later work. These include e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, and Amy Lowell.

According to Ruzich, many scholars argue that no other modern conflict has produced as rich and prolific a body of poetry as World War I, which killed more than 9 million combatants between July 28, 1914 and Nov. 11, 1918. The singularly horrific nature of combat during The Great War, particularly on the Western Front, offers one explanation: Opposing armies fought to a bloody stalemate from entrenched positions where they lived for weeks on end, often with nothing to do but observe the gruesome detritus of slaughter that surrounded them.

Ruzich also noted that many sons of the European aristocracy fought in The Great War, the last time that significant numbers of the wealthy were on the front lines of combat. “Many young, well-educated men went to war and had endless hours of waiting with the evidence of war all around them,” she said.

Previous Fulbright Scholars from Robert Morris University are Stephen Foreman, associate professor of health care administration, who studied health care in Ukraine; and Philip Harold, associate professor of political science, who studied political values in Germany.