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Students Create Documentaries, Research Undocumented History

Throughout the academic year, history teacher James Costa ’02 has taken his students back to the past in the second year of his Undocumented History Makers course, allowing students to choose their topic of study and present their theses through non-traditional means.

Students have gone as far as creating infographics, websites, blogs, podcasts, and 3D-printed artifacts to present their research findings.

At the beginning of the academic year, Costa challenged the history makers to create a series of short documentaries—each exploring the undocumented legacies of icons of the past, telling forgotten stories, and exploring history in untraditional ways.

The result: six unbelievably well-crafted films that brought undocumented history to life.

Each film featured several students, faculty members, college professors, and authors and was each featured in the class’ second annual documentary screening in Keenan Commons.

Here, the audience—consisting of students, parents, faculty, and staff—was invited to provide critical feedback, ask questions, and engage in positive discourse with each filmmaker.

Trevor Sangiorgio ’22 opened the screening with a film about a 15-year-old Black teenager named Claudette Colvin who refused to move to the back of a segregated Alabama bus—months before Rosa Parks. Her story is largely unknown.

“Making my film was spectacular because not only did I get to see all my research and my work from the whole year come together, but I also uncovered someone’s story,” said Sangiorgio. “The undocumented character I discovered—Claudette Colvin—inspired many people in history and continues to inspire and it was an honor to put her into the historic narrative.”

Adam Bissel ’22 outlined the United Farm Workers’ social justice movement in the 1960s to 1970s and provided the perspective of migrant workers attempting to make a home in a foreign land.

Aidan McCallion ’22 attempted to rectify misconceptions of the period known as “The Troubles.” To many, this is seen as a period of utter animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland from 1960 to 1998.

Eddie Young ’22 analyzed the influence of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador and how they inspired Catholics around the world to live in solidarity with those living on the margins.

Jake Belliveau ’22 followed the story of a French Resistance soldier, Jean Maurin, who fought against the Nazi occupation. His documentary shows Maurin’s perspective from his memoir, Resistance En Val D’Allier.

Ryan Murphy ’22 highlighted the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics and the attempt led by Anita DeFrantz, a U.S. Olympic rower, to fight for Olympians’ rights to compete.

“I stumbled upon this story by researching potential topics associated with the Cold War and found it fascinating that the dreams of many U.S. athletes were ruined by politics,” said Murphy. "The coolest part of the project was conducting interviews with experts on the topic and using their words to craft my story. I was very lucky to be able to interview historian Nicholas Sarantakes, who authored the book Dropping the Torch, the seminal book on the topic, and Anita DeFrantz, herself, who is now Vice President of the International Olympic Committee. Undocumented History Makers was by far my favorite class in my Xavier career.”

Later that week, Xavier hosted the 2022 Xavier Film Festival, where Murphy won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

Following Monday’s screening, President Jack Raslowsky reflected on the outstanding work of the history makers, stating, “This is Xavier at its best.”

Click here to view a playlist of the documentaries.