Four NMU history students are making history of their own, with three special projects under the direction of Russell Magnaghi, head of the history department.
One of these projects, a collection of Upper Peninsula documents, is big enough to have two students involved.
“Zach Bennett and Michelle Reynolds are working on something that I have dreamed of for a long time, putting together a series of documents on the History of the Upper Peninsula,” Magnaghi said. “These documents have sort of been on the side gathering dust, and these two students agreed to take these documents, put them on a working sheet and upgrade them.”
The documents being compiled by juniors Bennett and Reynolds are from a variety of sources relating to the Upper Peninsula. They encompass Jesuit relations, French colonial history, and original accounts of the area from early settlers. Because no one book currently has these documents together, Magnaghi explained the value in bringing so many different sources into one book.
“They’re all really in obscure sites,” Magnaghi said. “They were available if you went hunting for them, but now this is pulling them out of their hidden niches and putting them together with an introduction on each document.”
Magnaghi found the documents, but that still leaves plenty for Bennett and Reynolds to work on. The students will be credited as editors of the collection, in charge of organizing the documents and creating flow in the overall book. Bennett, who is a junior in the history department, gave some insight into what it’s like working on the project.
“It’s still early on, but it is very exciting to read original newspaper articles and some of the accounts of the early days of the Upper Peninsula; most of which are not readily available to the general public,” Bennett said. “The ultimate goal is to make these pertinent articles available, especially to teachers at Northern Michigan.”
Junior history major Kyle Hykella is also working on a large editing project with the department; a 1943 manuscript written by former NMU Education Professor Francis Roy Copper. Copper was the first university historian, and was supposed to publish a collection of NMU’s history for the 50th anniversary of Northern in 1949. Unfortunately Copper died in January 1949 and the manuscript survived, but was filed away unpublished and eventually lost in the library.
“Now fifty plus years later we’ll get it published, and we’ll make Kyle the author of the final publication,” Magnaghi said.
The third big project under Magnaghi’s direction is being worked on by junior history major Brian Mattice. Mattice is working on a history of Presque Isle County, which is in the Lower Peninsula South East of the Mackinaw Bridge, known for its limestone quarry. However this project is unique because there are no previous books to compare it to.
“They’ve never had a history of the county written, so I’ve gathered the documents and Brian will be the editor,” Magnaghi explained. “So again, the student is bringing something to life, and it will be regarded by the public.”
Dr. Magnaghi feels these projects not only benefit the communities who receive these compilations, but the students who get the opportunity to work on them.
“It’s really an internship that will give them the experience to work with these documents,” Magnaghi explained. “So they’ll not only have a publication, but the ability to pick up some extra jobs. It’s trying to take the student out of classroom or book learning, and having them roll up their sleeves and work on a project that is their own, so when they graduate and leave Northern they’ll have something for their portfolio.”
Magnaghi has set a firm deadline for all three of these projects to be completed by April, so each student can leave at semester’s end with a copy of their work.