On the Frontline: First World War Trip with Professor Vanda Wilcox

By HANNAH GARZA & MATT DE BARI

In honour of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, Professor Vanda Wilcox and John Cabot University’s Department of History and Humanities offered a course on the history of the Great War. In order to develop a better appreciation for the Italian involvement in the conflict, students in the course joined Professor Wilcox and Professor Andrea Pacor of the Department of English Language and Literature in the northern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia on Saturday, October 18, to explore wartime trenches and important postwar cemeteries and monuments built to commemorate the War on the Italian Front. This “on-location” experience gave students a fuller picture of the Great War in Italy, from the appearance of battlefields to the experiences of ordinary soldiers.

The group visited the Bello Peremptorum Memorial, the Sacrario Militaere di Redipuglia (where, only one month prior, Pope Francis acknowledged the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities), an outdoor exposition, and several wartime trenches located in the area. Visiting each of these places with Professors Wilcox and Pacor presented a rare occasion to experience history firsthand. This opportunity encouraged us to connect with the history we were learning about on a more personal level. It is one thing to look at monuments in class or to read the about them in textbooks, but being able to stand in front of them and and connect to them on a personal, visual level is another thing altogether.

Taking a course that deals not only with postwar commemoration, but also the importance of the War’s 100th anniversary is extremely rewarding, especially given the interdisciplinary approach JCU is taking in studying the conflict. For example, this semester, Italy Reads has devoted their time to studying Ernest Hemingway novel Farewell to Arms, set on the Italian Front, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The group spent time integrating historical interest with other JCU activities.

The group also had the opportunity to visit Professor Pacor’s father, Renato, who, for many years, has been collecting weapons, Austro-Hungarian army insignias, pieces of clothing, tools, and various other pieces of military equipment. The group appreciated his interest in the War, and in collecting wartime relics, and were impressed by the amount of wartime artefacts he had amassed over the years.

One of the most exciting aspects of studying at JCU is having the opportunity to travel and experience the past with one’s own eyes. It is important for students to take advantage of every opportunity to visit Italy’s historical sites, especially with professors who are experts in their respective fields. Trips like these are once-in-a-lifetime, educational experiences that cannot be missed. This is one of the many things that makes JCU unique.

The students that participated on this excursion would like to extend a special thanks to Professor Wilcox for her time in organizing this extraordinary opportunity. In addition, we would like to thank Professor Pacor who was a great help in showing us his home region, introducing us to his father and his father’s exceptional collection, and for capturing and documenting the experience through his photography (which can be seen below). We hope that JCU will continue to engage students with more opportunities like this in the future, and we would like to encourage other students to take full advantage of their unique university experience.

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