Page 26 - BusinessWest April 28, 2021
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Learning from History
WSTCC Shays’ Rebellion Website Serves as Valuable Resource hen teaching early U.S. history,
and scholars (from left) Tom Goldscheider, Tim Abbott, Stephen Butz, and Dennis Picard present at a Shays’ Rebellion symposium in January 2020.
 Springfield Technical Community
College Professor John Diffley covers Shays’ Rebellion, which sparked an armed upris- ing of farmers on the ground where STCC now stands.
Diffley can walk his students outside of the classroom and onto the picturesque campus green, where rebel Massachusetts farmers gathered in 1787 to attack the U.S. government’s arsenal. STCC is part of the National Historic Site, which includes historic buildings and the Springfield Armory museum over- seen by the National Park Service.
But the professor also can take them back in time using a powerful modern tool: STCC’s Shays’ Rebel- lion website at The website, developed in 2006 with grant funding STCC received from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was recently upgraded and made more accessible to the public.
“The website is a great asset to have,” he said. “I use it in my U.S. history classes as well as a class I do on Springfield history.”
In Diffley’s classroom, the lesson about Shays’ Rebellion often prompts questions about modern times. He said students connect the historic event to headlines in the news today. “Some saw parallels with what happened in January at the U.S. Capi- tol,” he said. “People talk about high taxes, high debt, which were issues facing citizens during the time of Shays’ Rebellion. They see this as something continuing and still affecting us today, for better or worse.”
Visitors to the website can find a wealth of infor- mation, including painted illustrations showing the STCC campus as it appeared in 1787 when it was the site of the U.S. Arsenal at Springfield. The site lists biographies of historic figures and even popular songs of the late 18th century such as “Juice of Bar- ley,” “Address to the Ladies,” and “Hunt the Squirrel.” Audio is embedded.
“One of the great things is that the website was a collaboration between STCC, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association,” Diffley said. “A lot of the material written on the website is from actual historians.”
Educators and historians from coast to coast use the website to find details about the insurrection in
Western Mass., giving STCC a national audience, Dif- fley said. He recalled getting contacted by a teacher in the Pacific Northwest who wanted more informa- tion about Shays’ Rebellion.
Led by Daniel Shays, the rebellion included farm- ers who were outraged when creditors demanded they pay their debts immediately. Only three years after the end of the American Revolution, thousands of Massachusetts citizens took up arms against their new state government.
In January 2020, STCC’s School of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies and the Honors Program co-sponsored a symposium on the history of Shays’ Rebellion, an event that brought scholars, historians, archaeologists, and others together for presentations about the insurrection. The website has served as a valuable tool for presenters.
Other symposium sponsors included the Spring- field Armory National Historic Site, the National Park Service, and the Pioneer Valley History Network (PVHN).
“The rebellion wasn’t successful in the immedi- ate aspect, but it certainly had a huge impact on the direction the country was going,” said Alexander MacKenzie, curator of collections at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.
MacKenzie tells visitors to the museum about the Armory’s role in Shays’ Rebellion, noting that the website helps tell a broader story about the insurrection.
“Partnerships are a very important part of what we do,” he said. “We engage with school groups and the local community. The website for Shays’ Rebel- lion is a really important tool in these classroom settings.”
The Springfield Armory National Historic Site works on historic projects with partners throughout the community, including STCC. “We are proud of our involvement in telling the story along with STCC and the PVHN, which is a resource for local history organizations in Western Massachusetts,” MacKen- zie noted.
Looking ahead, organizations are preparing Revo- lution 250, which commemorates the 250 anniversa- ry of the events that led to the American Revolution.
“Certainly, Shays’ Rebellion has been classified by some as the last battle of the Revolution,” he said. “Really, it’s the formation of the country we know today. How much of that happened right here in
our community is an amazing story. We really enjoy working with our partners to be able to tell that story, and it’s a privilege.” u
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six to eight years, he explained. And timing is everything: because the plan- ets align every 26 months in a way that creates optimal conditions for Earth- to-Mars travel, all assembly and testing must be fully complete when that time comes.
“The schedule pressure is intense,” he said. “We need to get our testing done and our design done in order for it to be ready to launch.”
In addition to finding a career at JPL, Gruel met his wife, Danelle, there when she was working in the Finance division, though now she stays home
with their two boys, Dylan, 14, and Ethan, 11 (who also love Legos, as well as watching mission launches with their father).
Typically, once a mission has land- ed, Gruel’s role slows down quite a bit, but the Perseverance landing in Febru- ary 2021 was different because he had installed a camera system to take video and still images of the descent, and he was responsible for it.
“Even after we launched, I was still intimately involved in making sure that system was going to function,” he said. “We continued to do testing on it to make sure it would reach its full poten- tial, and it sure did. The images were
Those images captured the space-
craft’s descent and landing, includ- ing video of the rover setting down on Mars and kicking up dust. “We joked it was kind of like our selfie cam,” he said.
Back to His Roots
In 1998, Gruel returned to HCC as the recipient of a Distinguished Service Award at commencement and deliv- ered the keynote address, an invitation he seems to still find hard to believe to this day: “I spoke at commencement! Me, a flunkie out of high school!”
It’s a fact he mentions not to boast, but rather to inspire. If there’s anything he hopes people take away from his story, it’s that they should never under- estimate their potential, even if they’ve had trouble living up to it.
“When you as a person make a deci- sion to do something, the sky opens up,” he said. “The sky is no longer the limit.”
And that’s coming from someone who knows how to get to Mars. u
Laurie Loisel is a freelance writer based in Northampton.
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