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History lessons

Students take course on postcards, stamps

Smiling man sits at table filled with old stamps, postcards
David Strittmatter, a Washington & Jefferson College professor, displays some of the postcards he uses in his history classes.

Most of David Strittmatter’s students had never mailed a postcard before entering his classroom earlier this year.

Now, students taking his History of Postcards and Stamps course are not only mailing cards to loved ones, they’re also taking an in-depth look at postcard subjects.

Strittmatter, a visiting professor at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA, developed the course based on his own fondness for mailing postcards, which became a hobby while studying in Scotland.

“I thought this would be a great way to engage material culture and history,” he said. “I’m bringing my students to the 20th century.”

Strittmatter has plenty of class material, including his 100-year-old postcard collection and thousands of stamps left behind by his late grandmother, including some that date to the 1950s.

The students have a variety of stamp and postcard assignments, including transcribing postcard writings and discussing why certain stamps wouldn’t be allowed today.

Amanda Tybl, a sophomore, has enjoyed learning about stamp creation.

“My favorite activity has been writing a letter proposing a new stamp to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee,” she said, referring to the panel that evaluates stamp proposals received by USPS.

Another student, junior Makenzie Coughlin, enjoyed analyzing postcard subjects.

“He gave us a bunch of old postcards and we worked in small groups to try and pinpoint the year it was made,” she said.

One project Strittmatter is particularly excited about is his students’ creation of an online history tour of Washington, PA, based on their research of dozens of vintage postcards depicting the city’s buildings and landmarks.

“It’s a different lens to look at history,” Strittmatter said.

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