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Students Awarded for Work on Spanish Civil War Essay

At the end of the school year, most students gleefully throw away old class notes, clear their Google Drive, and forget completely about the work they had to complete over the previous nine months. However, for two students who took Mr. George Snook’s AT European History course last year, Emma Eaton (‘19) and Lily Jensen (‘19), the summer did not provide a reprieve. Instead, they doubled down, intensively editing and perfecting their collaborative essay on the Spanish Civil War in order to submit it to a prestigious national essay contest.

That work paid off: this fall, Emma and Lily won the award in the pre-collegiate category of the George Watt Essay Contest, which awards the best student writing on the Spanish Civil War on a high school, undergraduate, and postgraduate level. This contest is run by the Volunteer Magazine of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, an archive of materials on the Spanish Civil War that the entire European History course uses to write their essays every year. This is the second year that students in Mr. Snook’s class have submitted to the contest, and the second year they have won.

It is obviously gratifying to win an award and to be published, especially so early in one’s educational career. Mr. Snook expressed why he encourages his students to pursue these opportunities: “I think it’s really rewarding when kids can see their work being published,” he said. “Not only is it a wonderful testament to their hard work and their effort, but it’s also a great experience to submit your material to an outside audience, beyond Packer, beyond your teachers.” In addition, Emma and Lily were simply honored that Mr. Snook nominated them for the award.

Furthermore, winning the contest was a pleasant surprise for the two.

“Mr. Snook was like, don’t get your hopes up, because last year Packer kids won, and he didn’t think that ALBA was going to give it to Packer again. So it was a good surprise,” said Lily.

“Mr. Snook emailed us separately and was like, ‘I need to see you in my office.’ There was no subject line. We got up there, and he just silently shook each of our hands. And then he was like, I’m very proud of you. That was the best part,” added Emma, laughing.

Emma and Lily’s essay examined the use and efficacy of civilian bombing in the Spanish Civil War, as well as its repercussions then and today, concluding that civilian bombing was ineffective in its purpose—quashing the spirit of the bombed—and, in fact, accomplished the opposite result. The Volunteer commended the pair on a “well-written and well-argued” essay, and Mr. Snook, who nominated them for the award, praised their “original thinking and masterful use of primary source material.”

The Spanish Civil War is a key subject of the second semester of Mr. Snook’s Euro class—a departure from the traditional focus of European History courses on the two World Wars. There are a number of reasons for this focus, including the fact that a comprehensive archive of original documents from the war lives at the NYU Tamiment Library, allowing for an in-depth and exciting research project.

Mr. Snook explains his affinity for the study of the Spanish Civil War best: “I think a lot of the issues that were relevant to people who fought in the Spanish Civil War are relevant today. They fought for some of the same causes that we see people fighting for today,” he said.

“But beyond that, politics aside, these were New Yorkers. And the people who wrote these documents, wrote these letters, lived in Brooklyn, they lived in the West Village, they lived in the Upper West Side. So these are our neighbors, a couple generations ago, that went through this experience. It links Europe to New York City. And I think it really is a very intimate and powerful experience handling original material like this.”

Ella Spungen is currently a senior at the Packer Collegiate Institute, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Packer Prism this year. This is Ella’s third year on the Prism, and previously she has been the copy editor and the content editor. She loves writing articles, and believes in the deep importance of journalism, especially today. Beyond the Prism, Ella is the Editor-in-Chief of PCI, Packer’s art and literary magazine, leader of Literary Club, and a member of the Student Faculty Judiciary Committee. Outside of school, she volunteers at the Max Rose congressional campaign and Red Hook Initiative, a nearby community-based nonprofit. She loves to scuba dive and look at amazing marine organisms, specifically sharks. It is her dream to dive with a whale shark, but in the meantime she just talks about them. (In the Spungen household, every week is Shark Week.) Ella can be reached at elspungen@packer.edu.

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