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Family Sparks Research, Thesis for Levitt Fellow Julia Stahl ‘08

By Lisbeth Redfield
Posted August 18, 2007
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"My grandfather's experience as a white officer in a black munitions unit in the U.S. Army during World War II was pivotal in shaping his beliefs about the importance of integration and equality," explained Julia Stahl '08 (Salem, Mass.).

It was the story of her grandfather who returned from Normandy with a respect for blacks and a deep support for the nascent civil rights movement that inspired the history major to apply for a Levitt Fellowship this summer. Stahl worked with Associate Professor of History Lisa Trivedi to study the effect of personal experience on race relations within the U.S. Army during World War II and its subsequent impact on official military policy.

Stahl's interest in her family history dates from her senior year in high school when she did an independent project on her grandmother's experiences as a U.S. Army nurse during World War II. While Stahl was conducting her research, her grandmother shared numerous stories of Stahl's grandfather, who had passed away many years previously. Stahl was, however, able to read the brief memoir her grandfather had written about his experiences on the battlefield and how his perceptions had been changed by working beside the black soldiers in his unit.

Much of Stahl's research this summer is documentary, but she is traveling to find it. Stahl has visited Washington, D.C. and done primary source research in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress and at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. She explained that she was very pleased with this opportunity since it has given her rare information about army racial policies, as well as more anecdotes from soldiers in the same position as her grandfather.

She had hoped to include interviews with members of her grandfather's unit, but this has not been possible, and Stahl is broadening her search to include a wider range of veterans. Despite the unexpected changes in plan, Stahl concluded, "I have found evidence that personal opinions on race did change as a result of wartime experiences. Given that such changes were reflected in military reports and studies, it is likely that such information could have influenced policy-making."

A rising senior, Stahl hopes to use her research this summer as part of her senior project in history. As with this research, Stahl's project proposal flowed from her deep personal engagement in the topic. "My thesis has taken shape from my understanding of how this experience shaped my grandfather's life," she explained. A first-time summer researcher, she enjoyed working on a larger scale, calling her work "both exhilarating and frustrating."

During the year, Stahl is a member of the College Choir and active in the Scottish Country Dance Society and the Hogwarts at Hamilton theatrical charity program. After graduating in May, she will work in a law- or historical research-related field before entering law school.

Stahl's research this summer is funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, operated through the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. The students spend the summer working intensively in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs. 

-- by Lisbeth Redfield

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