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#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Speaks At Avon

Drew History Initiative 2017

In May 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Seven hundred and sixty-seven survived, including Theodate Pope Riddle, architect and founder of Avon Old Farms School. Such was the focus of this year's annual seminar for history scholars, made possible by the Drew History Initiative. To commemorate the initiative's 10th year, Erik Larson, best-selling author of Dead Wake, was invited to campus to discuss his work, Mrs. Riddle, and U.S. entry into WWI 100 years ago.

The Drew History Initiative seeks to foster students' intellectual growth and curiosity outside of the normal course schedule by addressing a topic currently in the news and exploring the history related to it. It also provides students with the historical context necessary to understand the current issues. Each year, students attend a series of presentations and the program culminates with a keynote speaker and dinner.

This year, the Initiative began with a spring break reading assignment of Larson's Dead Wake, a New York Times bestseller which chronicles the last crossing of the Lusitania, the events surrounding the sinking, and how it contributed to World War I. Presentations followed beginning in April, including one by Commander Swanbeck, who captains a Los Angeles class attack submarine out of Groton, the USS Montpelier. Swanbeck spoke to students about the evolution of submarine warfare, tactics, rules of engagement, and what life on a submarine is like today. Next, history teacher Mr. Sweetland discussed the causes of World War I followed by a discussion of Dead Wake and Theodate Pope Riddle led by Avon faculty members Mr. Custer, Mr. Clare, and Mr. Duwan.

Finally, on Tuesday, May 16, Erik Larson arrived on campus for the capstone of the Drew History Initiative. He gave an informal 45-minute talk about his writing to students interested in attending before having dinner with a small group. He then participated in a guided interview focusing on Dead Wake in Brown Auditorium with the whole student body.

The Drew History Initiative began in 2007 with the generous support of the Drew family (John E. and Barbara Drew, parents of Christopher S. Drew '85 and David E. Drew '87 and grandparents of Carson '17 and Brian '18). The Avon Old Farms community is grateful to the Drew family for providing this tremendous opportunity for academic enrichment, and to the many faculty members and student historians whose passion fueled the successful project.