On January 23rd this year, my ProjectWA partner-in-crime, Anthony Rovente, and I received an email from a guy named Tom Neville in Paris, France. He asked us if, “ProjectWA might like to go beyond WA.” It didn’t take long for Anthony and me to answer, “Why not?” – which is exactly what we said a year earlier when we came up with the idea for ProjectWA. A little more than three months later, that “Why not?” has turned into the Monuments Project, which we announced at a ceremony this week in the Columbia Room of the Legislative Building in the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, WA.
Similar to ProjectWA, the Monuments Project is an effort to tell history’s untold stories. In this case, the stories are about 29 Washingtonians who lost their lives in World War One and are buried in the Suresnes American Cemetery outside of Paris, maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. This time around, the students at Lopez Island School are working with students 5000 miles away at the American School of Paris (ASP). Collectively, they will research and document the backgrounds of these Washingtonians who made the greatest sacrifice. On the Monuments Project website and, ultimately, the Monuments Project app, this transatlantic effort will uncover photos, letters, newspaper articles, speeches, draft documents and who knows what else.
The Suresnes American Cemetery
For the past three months, Anthony, Tom, his instructional technology coach, Claude Lord, and I have been doing weekly Skype calls to plan this project. It quickly became clear that we would need access to as many historical archives as possible – in the U.S. and Europe. When I mentioned this to the Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees Legacy Washington and the Washington State Archives, they immediately offered their assistance. They were also in the process of planning an event at the State Capitol with the Washington State Historical Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entrance into WWI. So they invited us to announce and demonstrate the Monuments Project at the April 25th ceremony in Olympia.
We invited both Lopez and ASP students to participate in the WWI ceremony, which was heavily attended, with remarks from historian Lorraine McConaghy, State Senator (and history buff) Steve Conway, and Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane. Lopez student, Kayla McLerren, kicked off the event by leading the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Anthony and the students presented Monuments Project from the podium, while Tom, Claude and two of their ASP students presented via video. It was a site to behold – not only the use of technology to drive interest in history, but perhaps more fundamentally the example we were all setting for how the world should be collaborating across borders.
After the ceremony, we proceeded outside to lay a wreath at the WWI monument right outside the Legislative building. Then, Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane, treated the Lopez students to a tour of Secretary of State, Kim Wyman’s office. We learned some interesting history during that tour, including the fact that Secretary Wyman is only the second Republican woman to hold statewide office in Washington State (the first was 100 years ago).
The Lopez Monuments Project Team with State Senator, Steve Conway, Pierce County
We also learned how the Secretary of State ended up with the sweet corner office in the Legislative building when it was built nearly 100 years ago. You guessed it, it was due to partisan politics. The Governor at the time was giving the State Legislature a hard time about spending so much money on the building’s furnishings – even touring the state with one of the opulent chairs they’d purchased for offices. Well, the Legislature had the last laugh: they placed the Governor’s office at the far corner of the building – the farthest distance from the Governor’s Mansion. The Secretary of State got what had originally been planned to be the Governor’s office.
Finally, a bit of fun. Deputy Secretary Lane taught us that the Secretary of State is responsible for the Washington State Seal. The official seal maker, which weighs about 50 pounds, sits in the corner of the office. Each of us got a chance to try it out, stamping our own gold seals.
Creating my own Washington State Seal, with Deputy Secretary of State, Greg Lane
It was quite a day in Olympia. As we enter the centenary of The Great War, everybody is excited about the stories we’ll tell. Follow along at monumentsproject.org and on Instagram. The Monuments Project mobile app will launch in early June 2017.