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The Collinwood Fire from The Collinwood Fire on Vimeo.

Remember learning about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? We all learn about this 1911 New York City tragedy as a turning point in history for unions and safety. But a Middlebury professor and his team recently launched a website–just a couple of months ago–to talk about a different fire, an earlier fire.

The fire the Middlebury website talks about is the Collinwood Elementary School fire, in which 171 people died, in much the same way: doorways were blocked, doors were locked, and the building itself did not lend itself architecturally to providing easy egress for the children it housed.

I learned about this site at the VASS conference last week, where I presented on the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools program, to which I’ll dedicate a blog post soon. But taking a look at this award-winning film and the interactive website that accompanies it is well worth any educator’s time.

The site mixes history and animation, bringing newspaper relics along with commentary into the mix. It also takes a hard look at the journalistic efforts of the time, and also why this fire, though more deadly and earlier, takes a back seat to the Triangle fire.

I think my favorite part by far is a section in which Professor Michael Newbury narrates a clip of the animated short, showing where symbolism is used to convey meaning, helping the viewer to go deeper into the tale. Directly below this clip is another, designed for students to download and try to narrate themselves. Brilliant!

I just find myself wanting to bury myself in this site.

Could you imagine the beautiful projects you could create? And they want students to become an active part of building the site. From the contact page:

Michael Newbury (Fletcher Proctor Professor of American History) and Daniel Houghton (Arts Technology Specialist)  led the team at Middlebury College that made The Collinwood Fire, 1908. We’re happy to hear from any user of the site and, schedules permitting, to speak remotely with  high-school or college classes engaging the material.

We welcome additions to the Teaching Resources section of the site and hope to make galleries of student work about the Collinwood fire.  Please let us know if you have examples to share.  We look forward to seeing them.

How is that for validation of one’s work?

I encourage you to take a look at this magnificent site. I promise you won’t be disappointed.





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