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UC Study Abroad Experience Takes Students Back to Tumultuous Times


Honors students will travel to the United Kingdom and France to discover the ideology, culture and politics of World War II.

Date: 12/2/2013 8:03:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823

UC ingot   If ‘transformative education’ is what you want, if this is what you expected to find when you enrolled in university, then this course is a good choice for you.

Eighteen University of Cincinnati students in the University Honors Program accepted that challenge in a description of a university honors seminar this fall, as they delved into the impact of World War II on the battlefields and beyond. They’ll travel to some of the most significant sites of World War II as they set forth on a study abroad experience in Europe Dec. 13-20.
British poster promoting national service. © IWM
British poster promoting national service. © IWM


The honors seminar, titled, “A Global History of World War II: Ideology, Culture, Politics,” is led by Jeffrey Zalar, an assistant professor of history. The study abroad trip to the United Kingdom and Normandy will include stops at the Imperial War Museum, the HMS Belfast, the Churchill War Cabinet Room, the D-Day Museum at the Caen-Normandy Memorial Center for History and Peace, and a guided tour of Normandy Beaches.

“The relevance of this course has more to do with how the contemporary study of war can shape the perspectives of successive generations of leaders with respect to understanding aggression and ideological extremism, and the nature of war fighting and the cost,” says Zalar. “The way of teaching warfare has dramatically changed compared with instruction in past generations, when the history of war focused on high military commanders, political leaders and strategy.

American poster for promoting women workers
American poster for promoting women workers.

“A newer approach to the study of war examines the comprehensive impact of war – not only on soldiers, but also on civilians,” says Zalar. “And so this seminar balances the traditional military history with an investigation of the painful experience of wartime suffering – the grievous loss of loved ones, the punishing population management and control policies of military authorities, and such atrocities as ethnic cleansing and genocide to understand how the war impacted women and children and non-mobilized males.

“There’s much to be learned from a course like this with respect to the development of personal character. A course like this touches not only the mind, but the heart,” says Zalar.

“We don’t just learn names and dates, we confront cruelty and loss, and ask how personal choices can contribute to or prevent the kinds of persecution that occurred during the war,” says honors student Evan Sale, an architecture major from Chatham, Ill.

The experience will be UC honors student Aaron Rolph’s first time outside the United States. The Monroe, Ohio, pre-pharmacy major says he’s most looking forward to seeing the Normandy beaches that were turned into battlefields on D-Day. “Knowing the sacrifice the brave, Allied soldiers gave, and the brutality of 20th-century warfare, this will truly be a memorable and emotional experience,” says Rolph. “When I came to UC, I had no idea that I would be presented with the opportunity to travel to such an historic place.”

The University Honors Program for academically talented students encompasses the top 7 percent of UC undergraduate students from across colleges and disciplines. University Honors focuses on unique and challenging academic and hands-on experiences that reflect the themes of community engagement, global study, leadership, research and the creative arts.

In honors seminars, faculty challenge students with creative projects and experiences that take learning beyond the typical classroom.

“We all push each other to think in a new way or to take in a different perspective,” says Victoria Roser, an entrepreneurship and marketing major from Erlanger, Ky. “In a class with such varying majors, it has opened my eyes to see how a nurse might feel when reading the same passage as a history major.”
Soviet war poster
Soviet war poster



“A significant number of historians are teaching these (honors) courses,” says Zalar, “and this involvement indicates the importance of history as a foundational academic discipline and the transformative educational experiences that historians are able to offer.

“I am challenging this class to take real responsibility for what they’re learning by developing a personality that is more capable of empathy and service, of a personality that is more capable of self-sacrifice, and leadership toward the creation of a world that is more embracing, more just,” says Zalar. “This is what ‘transformative education’ means to me.”

The message is getting through.

“Through the horrors and ethical issues encountered while studying the war, the class has allowed me to better understand the severity of struggles others face, and has made me aware of my own ethical standards,” says Rolph. “These lessons have changed me as a person and have even impacted the way I perform my job as a pharmacy technician, and they will impact me one day when I am a pharmacist.”

The University Honors Program aims to increase the percentage of its students in study abroad experiences to 75 percent. University Honors is represented by students from every undergraduate college on campus.

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