Inver Hills professor uses newspapers to bring history to life

  • Article by: LANNIE WALKER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2013 - 4:24 PM

Sociology professor Dave Berger finds that actual papers make events seem real.

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Student Xiung Liu points to a front page that deals with the Aurora, Col., shootings. The walls contain 100 front pages from 37 newspapers.

Photo: Lannie Walker, Star Tribune

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Sociology professor Dave Berger has taught at Inver Hills Community College for more than 20 years, but the history on the walls of his classroom dates back at least half a century.

A hundred original newspaper front pages from 37 newspapers line three walls of Berger's classroom. The project was inspired by his private collection of newspaper front pages, he said.

"I thought maybe I could do something that would help other people -- that would help the students."

According to Nnamdi Nwaneri, a first-year student at Inver Hills, the project has helped him understand the scope of the events reported in the newspapers. "I think the project is way beyond the four walls of the classroom," he said.

In addition to researching a story of their choice from among the front pages, the students are expected to interview people who saw those original headlines.

"The articles displayed here all have an impact on human lives," said Nwaneri.

Second-year student Ly Bham said she chose the Newtown shootings in Connecticut as her project. "A lot of children died, and I think the culture is a factor."

The emotional impact on her is evident as she stares down at a classroom desktop while explaining her research. It has made her think more deeply about gun control. Twenty-six people died and "nothing has changed," she said.

Despite the tragic nature of the majority of the headlines, Berger's eyes display a youthful enthusiasm as he talks about the project. "I try to show them patterns," he said.

The reality of the events seems to affect the students. By seeing the text in hard copies on the wall as opposed to reading the stories online on their laptops, it has greater impact.

Twenty-year-old Xing Liu points out how some the newspapers have yellowed with time. "That's history," he said. "You can't fake it. If you look online, some people can fake it."

Ka See Yar talked about how the project has helped the students see the big picture beyond the headline. "We can see how history has changed our society today," she said.

It's not just Berger's students who are facing America's history, literally, on a regular basis. Five-hundred students at the college use the classroom and have gotten to glimpse at the big stories that have shaped the world.

"Most people who see it try to remember what they were doing during these famous events. It is like a personal photo album of shared social events," said Berger.

Berger plans to expand the reach of the project even further, having donated duplicates from the exhibit to the criminal justice department, which is starting a similar project.

About a third of the papers came from his personal collection, a third he bought from places like eBay, and a third are donations. He plans to keep adding and subtracting from the exhibit, filling gaps as he goes.

The school's library now will also pitch in and begin saving front pages of historical headlines from local newspapers.

"From now on," he said, "we are never going to miss a headline."

Lannie Walker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment with the Star Tribune.

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