Originally created 02/27/06

Living history

STATESBORO, Ga. - The children had fashioned blackout curtains for the windows and were tearing newspaper strips to use as toilet paper when the air-raid sirens began howling.

Women in the green uniforms of the British Women's Voluntary Service hurried the elementary school pupils single-file into a makeshift bomb shelter. They sat on the floor listening to the sounds of thundering airplane engines and, finally, explosions.

"My heart stopped for a second," said 10-year-old Ian Weaver, seeing World War II from a perspective he had never seen in the movies - a child his own age. "It would have been scary because you could've been killed."

In this living history lesson, props and playacting were more important than names, places and dates. But the date that history professor Annette Laing sought to re-create had an ominous familiarity: Sept. 11, 1940.

It was the first week of the Blitz, the relentless World War II bombing of London by Adolf Hitler's Germany that lasted until May 1941. And Dr. Laing wanted children attending her weekend program at Georgia Southern University to see, hear, taste and smell what is was like.

Even if they didn't like Marmite sandwiches, made with a yeast-extract spread that's both loved and loathed in Britain, Dr. Laing hoped to whet young appetites for a subject that textbooks too often render dreadfully dull.

"It's almost calculated to create a disinterest in history," said Dr. Laing, who started the living history program, called TimeShop, in 2004. "I'd gotten very tired over the years having graduate students coming into my classes totally burned out on history."


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