Fall 2021 History Course Preview

We’re sharing some of our Fall 2021 course descriptions this week. Remember, Fall 2021 Registration starts Monday, March 29th!


HIST 141: The Historian’s Vocations | Dr. Lauren Janes | MW 12:00 pm – 12:50 pm

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What are you going to do with a history major? Join us to start articulating some answers. This course introduces students to vocational exploration and discernment; connections between historical thinking, research skills, and writing to jobs and careers; and the skills necessary for successful pursuit of experiential learning opportunities. Our course will include reading and writing about careers using historical thinking, conversations with Hope history alumni, help from the Boerigter Center on resumes and applications, and setting forth a plan for experiential learning for the rest of your time at Hope. Required of all majors and minors, we recommend you take this course by the end of sophomore year if possible. 2 Credits.

HIST 200 – 01: Global Food History | Dr. Lauren Janes | MW 9:30 am – 10:20 AM

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In this new class we will examine world history through the lens of global foods–foods and have moved from one part of the world to the other. These global foods have transformed diets, economies, and cultures around the world. This class will examine global connectivity through the history of potatoes, sugar, tacos, curry, corn and more. 2 Credits | GLI

HIST 200 – 02B:  20th Century Military History | Dr. Fred Johnson | TR 9:30 – 10:50 AM

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During the 20th Century, the United States’ military became a major force confronting threats to America’s international interests while symbolizing the struggle to achieve justice at home. This course examines the activities and impact of the women and men who shaped the U.S. military into one of contemporary human history’s most potent instruments of power. Along with examining the military’s purpose and performance during periods of conflict, assessment will also be made of the institution’s role in advancing or stifling domestic socio-economic and political justice; its successes and setbacks as an instrument of foreign policy; its relevance and function during peacetime; and the evolution of the strategies, tactics, and technology that have positioned the United States military as one of the most well-trained and equipped, lethal armed forces of the 21st century. 2 Credits.

HIST-207: Introduction to World History to 1500 – Dr. Wayne Tan | MWF: 9:30-10:20 AM | Online Synchronous

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What is world history? This is a question of great interest among historians across the fields and of relevance to all of us today. In this course, we will discover details and the broad canvas of world history. We will study major themes in world history from the ancient times until around 1500—from the foundations of the ancient civilizations through the rise of medieval empires and the early modern maritime global order. Who were the Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, and Chinese? How did various foreign cultures interact with one another? How were empires built and why did they go to war? These are some questions related to the themes we will regularly consider throughout this course. By the end of this course, we will learn that the world we live in today is (and continues to be) shaped by events from the distant past, and appreciate how texts, art, and digital media can help us tell our shared histories. 4 Credits| CH1, GLI

HIST 208: Intro World History since 1500 | Dr. Lauren Janes | Online Asynchronous

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This course examines global connectivity in the last 500 years of world history. An online asynchronous course, students engage with the material through readings, asynchronous discussions of texts, video lectures, podcasts, and a digital textbook. Students also meet once a week, at a set and consistent time, in a required Google Meet with Dr. Janes for a small group tutorial session discussing the week’s material. 4 Credits | CH2, GLI

HIST-268: Russian History: Russia from Peter the Great to the USSR – Dr. Wayne Tan | MWF: 1-1:50PM | Online Synchronous

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Russia is one of the most influential nations on the global stage today. With humble beginnings as a conglomeration of fragmented principalities, it grew into a vast empire spanning Asia and Europe by the 19th century and, as the core of the Soviet Union, dominated world politics for much of the 20th century. A land of untold riches, it was also a land of enigmas and contradictions. What is Russia’s identity today after the fall of the Soviet Union? What are the origins of Russia’s imperial traditions and institutions? How did the 1917 Revolution affect the rest of the world? What lessons does the story of Russia hold for the future of global diplomacy and conflict resolution? This course explores these questions by surveying Russian history from the reign of Peter the Great to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and recent developments in the 21st century. This course fulfills the regional requirement of the History major. 4 Credits | GLI

HIST 295: Classical Art and Archaeology | Maggie Burr | TR 1:30 – 2:50 PM

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The cultures of the ancient Mediterranean—i.e., the classical world—left behind a vast material record, in the form of sculpture, architecture, wall painting, mosaics, painted pottery, burials, and objects of daily life. This course is designed to introduce the student to the range and variety of Greek and Roman art and archaeology and to examine how scholars use those artifacts to build a picture of the ancient societies that created them. The course will focus both on well-known ‘heavy hitters’ (i.e., the Parthenon and the Roman Forum) and on the humbler objects left behind by people like you and me. Throughout, we will examine how ancient art and visual culture can be used to understand the complex societies of ancient Greece and Rome, and the multitude of individuals who lived their lives there. 4 Credits.

HIST 370: Modern Middle East | Dr. Janis Gibbs | MWF 2:00 – 2:50 PM

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To understand what is going on in the Middle East today, it is crucial that we understand its history. In this course, we will survey the social, political, religious, geographic, and economic history of the Middle East, broadly defined to include the regions of North Africa and Iran, as well as the core lands of the Middle East, from Turkey through the eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Most of our attention will be devoted to the modern period—that is, the period between the 19th century and the present. To understand the context of the history of the modern Middle East, we’ll spend the first few weeks considering the rise of Islam and some of the facets of the history of the earlier Middle East that influence the region today. 4 Credits |GLI

HIST 495: Seminar in History | Dr. Lauren Janes | T 6:00 pm – 8:50 PM

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Note: This course is offered Fall 2021 and will not be offered Sp 2022. In this capstone to the history major, students will use the skills and capabilities developed during their time at Hope College to research and write a significant research paper on some aspect of the history of modern imperialism (c. 1800-1994). Modern imperialism provides us with a global framework to look at history from a wide variety of approaches including social, intellectual, gender, political, religious, military, scientific, and cultural history. We will create a supportive researching and writing community. 4 Credits.

For a full list of the schedule, click here.

Summer Research Highlight: Autumn Balamucki (’21)

Autumn Balamucki (’21)

History major Autumn Balamucki (’21) began research with the Joint Archives this summer with Geoffrey Reynolds under abnormal circumstances. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to do almost all of her work remotely. With some creative solutions and a lot of hard work, Autumn managed to transcribe decades’ worth of meeting minutes of the United Spanish War Veterans of Holland and write a great article for the Joint Archives Quarterly.

Below is an excerpt of Autumn’s completed research project, The Trials of Transcriptions: A Look Into the United Spanish War Veterans of Holland, Michigan.


Tucked away in Centennial Park, under a small bush near the Veterans’ Monument, sits a medium-sized boulder with a faded bronze plate, lying in dedication to the Spanish-American War Veterans from 1898–1902. Simple block writing provides the only dedication to these veterans in Centennial Park—a small point of recognition, remembering the United Spanish War Veterans (USWV), and solidifying their place in Holland’s history. As a student intern for the Joint Archives of Holland, my first interaction with this stone slab occurred while reading through the meeting minutes of the United Spanish War Veterans Camp No. 38.

As a student at Hope College approaching my senior year, I found the existence of this memorial surprising. How had I lived in Holland, as a history major no less, and never come across it? My initial response was to make sure that this boulder still actually existed in Centennial Park. What surprised me most was not only that it did, but that finding photos or information on it was so difficult. The only proof I could find of its existence was a small passage in the Digital Holland segment on Centennial Park, briefly mentioning it under the War Memorials section. I mention this small memorial because, as I spent my summer studying the United Spanish War Veterans Camp No. 38 of Holland, I found that their history is very much like that of this boulder—a little tucked away and hidden, but still buried in the heart of Holland.

My journey with the USWV and the Joint Archives began in January of this year, when Professor Petit of the history department at Hope College put me in contact with Geoffrey Reynolds, the Mary Riepma Ross Director of the Joint Archives of Holland, regarding a potential summer internship. At the end of the previous semester, I had briefly expressed my interest to Professor Petit in finding an opportunity to gain experience in my field over the summer, as the next year would be my last at Hope. This opportunity through the Joint Archives seemingly came out of nowhere for me, and I was as surprised as I was excited when it did. And although I had no idea what to expect, I jumped at the opportunity to work in Holland over the summer.

However, as we now know, plans shifted a bit for everyone when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, and my story is no different. It began in March earlier this year, when I was eating chifa (a Peruvian take on Chinese food) with two of my fellow students at a small restaurant on the Calle Marcavalle in Cuzco, Peru, about a month into my study-abroad term. The COVID19 scare hadn’t struck Peru with the persistence that it had the United States yet, but most of my group still harbored concerns that our program would send us home in the coming months, especially if the case count elevated. On that day in March 2020, Cuzco had just reported its first two positive cases of the virus (tourists no less), while Michigan’s numbers were quickly elevating. Rather than book an international flight home, it would have been safer to stay there, right? That was our line of thought anyway.

 Sitting in that restaurant, the three of us experienced one of those moments where all eyes are drawn to the news playing on the television, and, looking around, you slowly realize that everyone else, employee and customer alike, is watching as intently as you are. As the screen showed the words “FRONTERA CERRADA” (“BORDER CLOSED”) during the Peruvian president’s speech, each of us met each other’s eyes with confused shock on our faces and thought, “Well, what now?”


For the full article, check out the Joint Archives Quarterly page here.

Next Up: Spring 2021 Courses!

Registration for next semester courses starts the week of October 26th. Here’s a quick preview of what the History Department will be offering!


HIST 130 – Intro to Ancient Civilization – Maggie Burr

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Online Synchronous, TR 1:30 pm – 2:50

This course will focus on significant developments in history from its Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek origins through the Renaissance. It is designed to introduce the student to the discipline of history.


HIST 140 – Disability History – Wayne Tan

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Online Synchronous, MWF 1 – 1:50 pm – First half of the semester

In view of current debates about racial and gender identities, the discussion of disability is more urgent than ever. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to answer this overarching question: Why does disability matter to us? Each week, we will survey major themes in disability studies and the history of medicine that push the boundaries of disability as we know it—by drawing upon a range of historical, literary, and medical sources, as well as digital media archives. By comparing disability cultures in a broad global historical context, from the 19th century to the present, we will uncover the roots of the stereotypes and representations of disability in today’s popular media, and make sense of disability as “difference” in productive and constructive ways. The course is flagged for Global Learning International (GLI).


HIST 161 – U.S. History Since 1877 – Jeanne Petit

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Hybrid, MWF 11-11:50 am

This course surveys U.S. history from Reconstruction to the present. It examines the major social, cultural, political, and economic events that shaped the U.S. after the Civil War, focusing especially on industrialization, Progressivism, WW I, the Great Depression, the New Deal, WW II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Sixties and Reagan Republicanism.


HIST 175 – Michigan History – Jeanne Petit

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Hybrid (Fri) MWF 2-2:50 pm

This course is a survey of Michigan History to the present and is primarily designed for students majoring in education. The main objective of History 175 is for students to demonstrate an understanding of the chronology, narratives, perspectives, and interpretations of Michigan history from its beginnings to the present. To this end, students will: examine relationships, including cause and effect, among important events from the era; identify the sequence of these events and describe the setting and the people affected; analyze and compare interpretations of events from a variety of perspectives; and assess the implications and long-term consequences of key decisions made at critical turning points in Michigan history.


HIST 200 – History of Global Pandemics – Wayne Tan

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Online Synchronous, MWF 1:00 pm – 1:50 pm – Second half of the semester

In this course, we will look at various sources for studying the history of pandemics. We will begin with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and survey national and global responses to it. In our work, we will use data and make sense of the contexts of history and data, e.g. how do we use social media like Twitter to track real-time reactions? How do we write historical narratives about public health with statistical information? How do national and global responses to pandemics show the inequities of global systems of health? We will also look at other new initiatives in digital humanities (e.g. digital mapping) for studying pandemics in previous eras, e.g. the 1918 flu and the Black Death. For hands-on experiences with databases, the course will involve planned digital workshops. The course is flagged for Global Learning International (GLI).


HIST 207 – Intro to World History to 1500 – Wayne Tan

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Online Synchronous, MWF 9:30 am – 10:20 am

We will study major themes in world history from the ancient times until around 1500—from the foundations of the ancient civilizations through the rise of medieval empires and the early modern maritime global order. Who were the Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, and Chinese? Who were “barbarians”? How did various foreign cultures interact with one another? How were ancient empires built and why did they go to war? What lessons can we draw from victory and defeat? These are examples of some of the questions related to the themes we will regularly consider throughout this course. By the end of this course, we will learn to appreciate how the world that we live in today is (and continues to be) shaped by events from the distant past and how texts, art, and digital media can help us tell our shared histories. The course is flagged for Global Learning International (GLI).


HIST 208 – Intro to World History Since 1500 – Lauren Janes

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Online Asynchronous

An asynchronous online course that uses a digital textbook, social annotation, videos, podcasts, and weekly small group tutorials to examine the events that have shaped world history since 1500. How did Europe and America come to dominate the global economy and colonize much of the world by the beginning of the twentieth century? What are the impacts of trans-Atlantic slvavery? What is nationalism, and why is our world organized into nation-states? Did potatoes really change world history? We will examine these questions and more. (GLI, CHII History)


HIST 210 – The Greek World – Bram ten Berge

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Online Synchronous, MWF 12-12:50 pm

This course surveys the major cultural and historical developments of ancient Greece from preclassical times to the end of the Hellenistic period, starting with the Bronze Age and Homer’s Trojan War and ending with the incorporation of Greece and Hellenistic Egypt into the Roman Empire. This interdisciplinary course analyzes ancient Greece on the basis of a combination of literary, historical, archaeological, and art historical materials, looking at, among other things, the Bronze Age Collapse, the establishment of democracy in Athens, the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, the revolutionary advances in Classical art and philosophy, and the conquests of Philip II and Alexander the Great.


HIST 221 – African Perspective Colonialism – Lauren Janes

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Traditional, TR 12-1:20 PM

This course explores the colonial experiences of Africans as well as the legacies of European colonial rule in Africa. We will examine the different ways Africans responded to European military conquest and political domination from the mid -1850s to the 1960s and the ways Africans struggled for independence. We will take an especially close look at Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The course is flagged for cultural diversity and Global Learning International (GLI).


HIST 344 – Genocide in the Modern World – Janis Gibbs

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Hybrid, TR 1:20 – 2:50 pm

The 20th century has been called “The Century of Genocide.” This course will examine case studies of 20th-century genocide, selected from the Holocaust, Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and other less-famous examples. We will analyze different definitions of genocide, examine the international legal structures dealing with genocide and crimes against humanity, and investigate the historical context of the varied genocides in the modern world. The course is flagged for Global Learning International (GLI).


HIST 357 – U.S. Cultural History – Jeanne Petit

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Hybrid – MWF 9:30-10:20 am

In this course, students will consider cultural history on two levels. First, we will explore changes in the ways American men and women of different classes, races, and regions expressed themselves through popular and high culture—including forms like vaudeville, world’s fairs, movies, television, and literary movements like the Harlem Renaissance. Second, we will analyze the influence of cultural ideas on political, economic and social changes, such as fights for African-American and women’s rights, the emergence of consumer culture, class struggles during the Great Depression, participation in World War II, protesting in the 1960s, and the rise of conservatism in the 1980s. Students will learn the various ways historians interpret cultural phenomena and then do their own interpretations in a research paper. Flagged for Global Learning Domestic (GLD).

In Memoriam: Bill Cohen: Scholar, Teacher, Colleague, Friend

Emeritus History Department Professor Bill Cohen passed away on September 7, 2020. Professor Emeritus and former History Department Chair Marc Baer shares his memories of the late Professor below.

“I am currently revising an essay on Herbert Butterfield, perhaps the most important Christian historian of the twentieth century. My Ph.D. supervisor in graduate school did his doctorate at Cambridge University, working under Butterfield. My mentor repeated a story several times, a conversation in which Butterfield told him he was never satisfied with something he wrote until the fifteenth draft. And so, when I taught the History department seminar I, of course, repeated the story for my students.

Professor William Cohen—his colleagues only knew him as Bill—was the Hope History department’s Herbert Butterfield. Bill not only invented the department’s seminar in the 1970s, but so left his imprint on it that we often referred to it as the “Cohen seminar.” Bill cast a large shadow: Those who later taught the seminar, Professors Johnson, Gibbs and Baer, and now Janes, tried as hard as we could to emulate our colleague, both in terms of his rigor and emphases—getting structure, mechanics, and especially footnotes just right. Hence our departmental tee shirt, seen here; notice the footnote.

Departmental tee shirt, inspired by Bill Cohen.

Bill, who retired in 2001, died on September 7, 2020. During his time at Hope he taught his students in all his history courses and his colleagues to understand why standards matter. In my case when I taught the seminar, as I sat in my office thinking about a topic like evaluating evidence I would be addressing in a few hours, my mind would invariably take me to, “How would Bill have done this?” My guess is that my colleagues who taught the seminar did the same. Bill’s shadow, like Butterfield’s will last a very long time.

Reading the reminiscences of faculty in other departments brought smiles to our faces, as we lament that Bill is no longer with us. What they could not convey, but I hope I have, is that Bill took his calling as a scholar—getting the past right—so seriously that he never let us, his departmental colleagues and his students, forget what that meant. At a moment in our national history when truth no longer seems crucial to many people, Bill’s legacy matters more than ever.” – Dr. Marc Baer


Bill passed away peacefully on Sept. 7, 2020. He was a proud son of New York, who completed his B.A. at Brooklyn College, his M.A. at Columbia University, and his Ph.D. at New York University. He was a veteran of the United States Army, and served in the intelligence branch during the Korean conflict. He moved to Chicago, where he worked with the late Professor John Hope Franklin at the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Chicago. While there, he published “Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery,” a significant re-examination of Jefferson’s understanding of the institution of slavery.

In 1971, he came to Hope College, and remained a member of the faculty until his retirement in 2001. While at Hope, he published his 1991 monograph, At Freedom’s Edge: Black Mobility and the Southern White Quest for Racial Control, 1861-1915. He taught generations of Hope College history students in the History Seminar, a rigorous capstone experience which he designed and taught for many years. He also mentored Hope College students who applied for Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. After his retirement from Hope College, he served as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching American history in Japan. He was a generous colleague, and his work made us all a better scholarly and collegial community. He is survived by his son, Alan (JuHong Lee) , and two daughters, Elizabeth (John Speiser) and Mia (Neal Franklin). He also had three beloved grandchildren, Soren, Miri, and Sonny

A virtual memorial will be held for Bill this Saturday, September 12th, 2020. If you are interested in attending, please email History@Hope.edu to get further details.

Get To Know Your Prof: History Department Edition!

We’re taking on a new challenge this semester, the #GetToKnowYourProf challenge! You may have noticed a similar challenge with our Lubbers 3rd Floor neighbors, the English Department, and we wanted in on the fun! We wanted to re-introduce ourselves to the student body through interesting facts about each of our faculty – we hope you learn something new!


Professor Margaret Burr

  • How long have you been at Hope? Two weeks!
  • Favorite subject to teach? HIST 130, naturally 😉
  • Favorite movie? Can I say TV show? I’m really into the Italian detective show Il Commissario Montalbano right now–Bram and I watch it whenever we have time, which is almost never these days (we have a 6 month old).
  • Favorite book? I like everything by Giorgos Seferis and Patrick Leigh Fermor. I’m reading Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s Odyssey right now and it’s quickly becoming a new favorite. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is an exciting trip from Amsterdam to Oxford, Turkey to the Balkans, and I reread it every time I need to “get away” (although it’s about vampires, so I’m not sure I should admit to loving it as much as I do). And last but not least, Ann Shelton’s Sourcebook of Roman Literature, As the Romans Did, is an oldie but a goodie in my opinion, as it got me really interested in reading Roman literature and letters when I was younger. I bring it with me everywhere.
  • Favorite hobbies? Travel, hiking, photography, looking at old things in museums or in the ground, hanging out with my husband and baby. Not in that order, obviously 🙂

Dr. Janis Gibbs

  • How long have you been at Hope? 24 years
  • Favorite subject to teach? I like all my classes, so it’s hard to pick. Of course, I like teaching history, but I like the interdisciplinary Cultural Heritage courses and my First Year Seminar (which, this year, is basically political geography), too. Maybe I should say that my favorite subject is what I’m teaching at the moment.
  • Favorite movie? I saw Star Wars eleven times in the theater in 1977-78, so maybe that’s it. That would be the one that’s now called Episode IV: A New Hope. Back then, it was just Star Wars.
  • Favorite book? Can I have a triple header? Lord of the Rings.
  • Favorite hobbies? I like to cook. The pandemic has given me lots of new cooking opportunities. The only bad part is that I haven’t been able to cook for guests. I went on a cream of asparagus soup binge in the spring.

Dr. Lauren Janes

  • How long have you been at Hope? Starting my 8th year teaching at Hope. I was also a Hope student for four years!
  • Favorite subject to teach? Well, maybe this is cheating, but the Paris May Term is my favorite class and the one I am the most proud of. I LOVE sharing the city I love so much with students, many of whom have never left the US before our class.
  • Favorite movie? Best in Show
  • Favorite book? Well this is just too hard of a question! I will say King Leopold’s Ghost remains my favorite book to teach.
  • Favorite hobbies? Cooking, gardening, and yoga.



Dr. Fred Johnson

  • How long have you been at Hope? Twenty years as of August 2020.
  • Favorite subject to teach? Modern European History, the American Civil War, and Military History.
  • Favorite movie? ANY movie with Star Trek or Star Wars in the title.
  • Favorite book? The Bible, A Different Drummer, Chaneysville Incident, and This Present Darkness
  • Favorite hobbies? Hiking, Writing, Long Road Trips, and going to the Movies [and will be going lots when we’re allowed again].

Dr. Jeanne Petit

  • How long have you been at Hope? Twenty years this summer!
  • Favorite subject to teach? Oh, this is hard, since I love all my classes in their own special way. Instead I’ll say some of my favorite topics to teach: the populist movement of the 1890s, abolitionist debates, the tensions of the “roaring twenties,” and social movements of the 1960s. My favorite texts to teach: a tie between Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly.
  • Favorite movie? I’m actually not much of a movie person, but some movies I always watch if they come on are The Godfather, Drumline, and Groundhog Day.
  • Favorite book? A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  • Favorite hobbies? I enjoy running, even though I am pretty slow. My favorite race I did was the North Country Trail run in Manistee National Forest. I got a medal as big as my head!

Dr. Wayne Tan

  • How long have you been at Hope? 4 years
  • Favorite subject to teach? Disability history
  • Favorite movie? Aliens (sequel to Alien)
  • Favorite book? Natasha’s Dance (it’s about Russian cultural history)
  • Favorite hobbies? I love picking peaches!



Dr. Gloria Tseng

  • How long have you been at Hope? Since 2003
  • Favorite subject to teach? 20th-century Europe (this semester, ha!)
  • Favorite movie? I’m rather dated here–I know many lines in Le Chambon, a French historical drama about a small Protestant village in Vichy France whose inhabitants gave shelter to perhaps as many as 3,000 Jews, mostly children, in WWII.
  • Favorite book? The Gospel According to Luke
  • Favorite hobbies? Gardening, hiking, piano playing.

“And Then Came the Lion”: Remembering Congressman John Lewis

For most of 2020, I’d been able to hold it together, rolling with every punch and willing myself to stay positive as each month took more and more of the life I once called “normal.” Sometime in March, the pandemic came to America and bizarre became the status quo. Right around that time, as we learned more about how the virus was especially dangerous for people of a certain age, or those with compromised immune systems, I started paying more attention to the progress of Congressman John Lewis in his fight against pancreatic cancer.

Selfishly, I prayed for him to stay clear of the virus and keep his light shining to guide us through the cataclysmic chaos that had become the nation’s de facto response to COVID. Still, I knew nothing would keep him from the 55th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” commemorating the debacle that happened on March 7, 1965. On that day, just slightly more than a half-century earlier, Lewis and civil rights marchers had been clubbed and beaten by local law enforcement for daring to insist upon their right to vote. Lewis suffered a fractured skull, the first of what became many injuries he’d sustain for rejecting the second-class citizenship others had been trying to impose upon him.

As someone raised by parents, both from Montgomery, Alabama, and who matured into adulthood in the faded afterglow of the Civil Rights movement, I’d feasted on stories of the exploits of people like Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, Daisy Bates, Constance Baker Motley, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and, of course, John Lewis. The blood spilled and lives lost from the harassment and abuse they’d suffered had literally transformed America into a somewhat less lethal nation for black people. But by March 8, 2020, something had happened, and was happening, to the transformation that Lewis and his contemporaries had given everything to achieve. He spoke of it in a CNN interview, sounding not tired but weary. Very weary.

The reporter said, “In your remarks, you talked about the importance of voting. You said, ‘Vote like you’ve never voted before.’ What did you mean by that?”[1]

Lewis: “I simply meant that we have the power to change things, and the vote is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it. If we fail to use it, we will lose it.”[2]

That was classic Lewis. A true believer in the untapped merits and virtues of America’s republican democracy, and certain that change was best achieved through non-violence, Lewis reaffirmed that the power citizens have to effect change lies in their vote. The son of sharecroppers, he’d seen and felt the violence those in power could wield when voters blessed them with the authority to inflict their cruelty. As such, voting wasn’t just a statement of who should be elected to a certain office but an inventory of a society’s moral strength or weakness; its commitment to fairness and justice; its extension of republican-democratic citizenship to all instead of the privileged few.

There was also the sober warning of “use it, or lose it.” Lewis had lived to see and suffer the possibilities of what the powerful were willing to do in suppressing the vote. He did not take for granted that those same elements were hard at work in the 21st Century and, because of them, democracy and democratic freedoms could never be assumed a perpetual certainty.  

Continuing the interview, the reporter said: “You also spoke about redeeming ‘the soul of America.’ What does that look like?”[3]

Lewis: “We have to make America better for all of her people, where no one is left out or left behind because of their race or their color, or because of where they grew up or where they were born. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house. That’s the American house.”[4]

He was eighty years old. The year was 2020. America was marching into the third decade of the 21st Century and the forces that still sought to not make America better for all of her people, and meant to leave certain people out because of their race or color, or because of where they grew up, or where they were born; the forces that rejected John Lewis’ notion of America being one people, one family, living in the same house, the American house, they had resurfaced and were running out the clock on his life.

I quaked with rage as I reflected upon the fact that, here he was nearing the end, and John Lewis was fighting an updated version of the same battle he’d been waging all his life. The lines of conflict had been drawn long before his birth with 1903 being a watershed due to the publication of The Souls of Black Folk. Written by the brilliant sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist, W.E.B. [William Edward Burghardt] DuBois, it predicted that for the United States of America, the “problem of the twentieth century” would be “the problem of the color-line.”[5]

By the time of Lewis’ birth, on February 21, 1940, bigots could take immense pride in knowing that Jim Crow’s cancerous racism had reduced African Americans to a level of second-class citizenship far exceeding Dubois’ somber pronouncement. Shaped by a society that for nearly four-hundred-years, had found ever creative ways of denying blacks their humanity and freedom, there was little reason for Georgia-born John Lewis (and his contemporaries) to expect justice. Nothing so testified to the grim reality of that truth like the 1955 slaying of fourteen-year-old Chicago native, Emmett Till.

Visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, the Chicago teen went into a grocery store and allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Four days later, on August 28, Roy Bryant (Carolyn’s husband), and “brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped, beat and tortured” the youngster “for hours before shooting him and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin tied around his neck with barbed wire.”[6] During the subsequent trial, Moses Wright, Emmett Till’s grandfather, risked his life when he stood up in court and pointed out the men who’d invaded his home and kidnapped his grandson. An all-white jury deliberated for a mere hour before acquitting Bryant and Milam who later confessed to the murder during a paid interview with investigative journalist William Bradford Huie. Moses Wright left Mississippi and never returned, losing his home and livelihood along with his grandson.[7] 

Only fifteen years old at the time, John Lewis was “shaken to the core.”[8] For him and the people of his generation, the murder of Emmett Till and the subsequent colossal miscarriage of justice stood as grisly metaphors for the racist rot perverting people’s hearts and the nation’s justice, political, and economic systems. The message to John Lewis and his contemporaries was clear: No aspect of black life was safe from racist predators or the system in which they lurked.

There was nothing new about the message, but the messengers had miscalculated. They didn’t foresee Mamie Till’s decision to have an open-casket funeral so the world could see how they’d bludgeoned her son’s face into a grotesque horror. They didn’t count on Emmett Till’s ghost uniting black and white people into a movement of love and non-violence that would expose the cowardly weakness of hate-mongers. And they absolutely didn’t expect to awaken the lion in John Lewis who’d take the fight to them.

The young lion grew into an intrepid warrior who was eventually elected to Congress to help oversee the system which, in another set of hands, had remained idle throughout the 20th Century while black people had been getting lynched, bombed, pillaged, and mobbed. Ever vigilant and ever determined to safeguard the citizenship gains won with blood, injustice became the prey whenever it confronted John Lewis. He’d lived long enough to know that the constrictor, racism, never really slept, never really went away, and never tired of attempting to coil itself around other people’s liberty to choke the life out of their freedom.

And then, just like that . . . he was gone.

“What do we do now?” I wondered, surfing the net for articles on Lewis. “How much harder will it be to fight without this lion to check the enablers of chaos and injustice?”

As if he’d been listening to my thoughts, the words of John Lewis showed on my computer screen from a message he’d “tweeted” in 2018: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”[9]

The lion, John Robert Lewis, was gone but his words live to inspire lions in the rest of us. Onward!


Cover image is John Lewis in 1967. Photo Credit: Sam Falk/The New York Times


[1] From the CNN Interview and article “John Lewis Marches Across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Commemorate 55th Anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’”. See: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/08/politics/john-lewis-bloody-sunday-anniversary/index.html. Accessed on 20 July 2020. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Project Gutenberg found at the following web address: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm#chap02. Accessed on 18 July 2020.

[6] From the online San Antonio Express News on June 12, 2020, author Cary Clack refers to the book Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, in which Congressman John Lewis recalled that Emmett Till’s murder had left him shaken to the core. See: https://www.expressnews.com/opinion/columnists/cary_clack/article/Clack-This-generation-s-Emmett-Till-moment-15336352.php. Accessed on 19 July 2020.

[7] YouTube Video from the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize,” Part I, “Awakenings: 1954 – 1956, America’s Civil Rights Movement”. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpY2NVcO17U. Accessed on July 18, 2020. Also, in the episode “Brave Testimony” of PBS’s American Experience has an episode 

[8] See citation number six for source data.  

[9] From article “’Get in good trouble, necessary trouble,’ Congressman John Lewis in His Own Words”. USA Today [online]. See: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/07/18/rep-john-lewis-most-memorable-quotes-get-good-trouble/5464148002/. Accessed on July 21, 2020.

The AHA’s “Erasing History or Making History? Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape” Facebook Live Discussion

If you have been following the news about decisions to remove Confederate monuments, or about direct action by crowds to remove monuments, you should take some time to listen to this discussion on “Erasing History or Making History?  Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape.”   You’ll hear two eminent scholars, Annette Gordon-Reed and David W. Blight, discuss what we should memorialize, how we should understand past memorials, and how we should think about keeping or removing them.  If you are looking for definitive answers, you won’t find them here.  This is a thoughtful conversation about the ways in which we should approach the question of memorials.  If you’ve heard anybody say, “If we take down Confederate memorials, what’s next?  Washington? Jefferson?” there’s something in this conversation for you.  Given recent decisions like the one to remove the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, or the statue of John C. Calhoun in Charleston, this is a very timely discussion.  Check it out at the link below.


Gordon-Reed is the author of The Hemingses of Monticello, which won the Pulitzer Prize for HIstory in 2009, and Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (2016).  Blight is the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001) and  Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018).

Required Reading: The History of African Americans

Black lives matter. When we examine history, we see the myriad ways people made choices and set up institutions to demean and erase the lives of Black people. We also see people who stood up and put their lives on the line to assert the value of Black lives.

The events of the last ten days have felt like an inflection point, one that will determine the future direction of our nation. As historians, we see how times like this do not come out of nowhere, but are the result of a complex array of decisions and actions made by humans in the distant and recent past. Over the last week, the members of the History Department have collected some readings and resources we have found valuable to try to understand the moment we are in, and we’d like to share them in this blog post.


An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz. This is about the current plague of violence in Chicago.

The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz.. This one’s about an investigation of a death in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, MI.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. American Christianity has been complicit in the brutality heaped upon black people from the earliest years of the colonial period. Cone squarely addresses a narrative too little known and discussed.

Stony the Road We Trod, edited by Dr. William Meyers. Africans and people of African descent have been systematically omitted from their presence in, and impact upon, the Bible. This source sets out to fill in some gaps.

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. After the Civil War and up to the mid-20th century, white supremacists did their best to reconstruct the antebellum status quo. Jim Crow segregation was the result. Their success was and has been updated for the new millennium.

Martin & Malcolm & America, by James Cone

Pillar of Fire, Parting the Waters, At Canaan’s Edge by Taylor Branch. Excellent narratives of the King Years and Civil Rights Movement.

The Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. A classic “must read” reading from, aside from Abraham Lincoln, one of the most important figures of the 19th century. His rise from slavery to abolitionist, newspaper editor, presidential advisor, ambassador, human rights activist, suffragist, and statesman draws shudders at the thought of the brilliance that was nearly crushed beneath the heel of bigotry.

Preserving the White Man’s Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism, by Joshua A. Lynn. The racist policies of Andrew Jackson and the nation of enablers that made it possible for African Americans to be enslaved, women silenced, and Native Americans kicked across the continent was brilliantly engineered by those who spared no effort to create a “white man’s republic”.

The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Straight talk from the man who inspired Black History Month.

The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Dubois. Dubois predicted that America’s chief problem in the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. He was bullseye correct and might as well have predicted the same for the 21st century.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. More about Douglass and is wonderfully written, awe inspiring.

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. In this pioneer work, Giddings writes United States history with Black women at the center.

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones. This book examines how African Americans battled in the courts and legislatures for citizenship rights during the slavery era.

Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jaqueline Jones. Jones digs up a fantastic array of sources to tell the story of how Black women defined the meaning of their work throughout US history.

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire. McGuire re-writes the history of the Civil Rights Movement by linking it to the history of Black women’s fight against sexual violence.

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. In this autobiography, Moody relates the empowerment that came from her Civil Rights activism, but also the exhaustion and bitterness.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi. This is a National Book Award winner by an American University historian. It examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. Xendi uses five “tour guides” to lead us through the development of racist ideas in the United States: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B.DuBois, and Angela Davis. The title comes from an 1860 speech by Jefferson Davis, when he said that the “inequality of the white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.'”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-nehisi Coates combines memoir and history in beautiful and heartbreaking prose in the form of a letter to his son. It shows how racism shaped American history, but also how it shapes the lives of individuals today. This work is short and accessible. Read it with someone (a few friends, your parents, your church group) and discuss.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. This was a groundbreaking work of documentary theatre, based on interviews that Anna Deavere Smith conducted with people who lived through the Los Angeles riots of 1992. She performed it as a one-woman show. It’s a theatrical take on oral history–well worth reading.

Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots by Nancy Abelmann and John Lie. This looks at how and why Korean Americans were caught up in the Los Angeles racial riots in 1992.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” portal.


Additional note from Dr. Gloria Tseng

A Cry, a Lament, a Prayer of Anguish and Brokenness Offered up to God
“…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26-27).

I first met Ingrid at a conference organized by Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, England, almost ten years ago. She spoke of her experiences as a missionary co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in South Sudan, serving as a mobile trainer of adult literary teachers in Sudan. I remember being deeply moved by her lively and humorous presentation, which also made me laugh, most unusual for an academic conference. Subsequently a friendship developed between us, and I have appreciated her spiritual and academic encouragement and insights ever since. Ingrid had received her Ph.D. in Literature from Rutgers University and taught Black Feminist Theory and African Diaspora Literature at the University of South Carolina before becoming a missionary. Currently, she and her husband, Andrew F. Walls, missionary and pioneer scholar in the field of world Christianity, are an independent missionary couple affiliated with the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Akropong-Akuapem, Ghana, and the Walls Centre in England. They are members of Crown Terrace Methodist Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. They also worship at Shiloh Church in Oakland, California, Ingrid’s home congregation, when their itinerant ministry brings them (back) to the US. Their passion is the development of Christian scholarship, especially among African brothers and sisters whose cultural roots are in primal religions. Ingrid’s current research focus is on the Christianity of the first African diaspora to the Americas.
Ingrid sent this prayer to me about a week ago. On the one hand, it is a lament offered up on behalf of the communities of color and a cry to God for justice long-deferred in this country; on the other hand, as the worldwide ripple effects of the demonstrations in American cities have shown, the cries of those long marginalized in our society and those who stand with them in this country have resonated with all who long for justice in their own communities around the world. She has generously agreed to let this prayer be shared here.

This World…
for the killing fields of American Streets

by Ingrid R. Walls
This, this is our world now, no sheltering for homo sapiens, no grasslands where humans roam free; this is our home now, where the predators are us, the ones set free to choose life…this is where now the lines between the evil and good are finer than silken thread…this is where the dead video their lives for us to see, to look and make calls to heaven from our mobiles…this is where generational tears will not do, unless they splinter the threads of gleaming hate and gloating murder still connected across time and space….this is where there is no haste to make amends, or to mend broken hearts too crushed to be mended…this, this is where holy wills must keep pumping the blood line of new life into the veins of a world kneed down, its head on the ground, its rib bones stark from the hunger within, its belly bloated and keep swelling by too much, too much just too many mass killings, and law reaper killings, and drive by killings, and killings that drain-out breath from the breathing, and aid from the disabled, and bury care for the elderly, and killings too that look like sanctioned changes to the status quo….this ground is grown dried, soaked right through to the bone marrow with the wounded fear that all this dying gives… …but dry bones can still live…they can still be knitted back together with the Word…the word in the limb, in the eyes, in the nose, in the mouth and the touch of the chosen…to see, and to keep watchful and to steer the way forward back into day light again, in this world, this world, that once used to be our home….
© 2020 ingrid reneau walls

What to Listen To, Read, Watch and Explore This Summer!

Hope History Buffs: we’ve compiled a list of recommendations to fuel your history needs all summer long!


Podcasts

Backstory – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“This podcast explores themes in U.S. history, from issues like Jim Crow to vacationing. They usually include perspectives from 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. They also have special theme episodes–here’s one about the 1918 Flu Pandemic.”

Fall of Civilizations – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“While I tend to gravitate to US history, I’ve become fascinated by this podcast which explores the fall of societies that had reached great heights and tries to understand the perspectives of those who lived through it. The podcaster looks at a wide geographic range, including the Aztecs and the Han Dynasty of China. The first episode looks at the collapse of Roman Britain: ‘The Work of Giants Crumbled.'”

Rachel Maddow’s “Bagman” podcast – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“It’s about the Nixon Administration, and the fall of Vice President Spiro Agnew.”

BBC Witness History – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“These are short radio broadcasts about history, told by people who were present. Sometimes, it’s archival audio, and sometimes it’s interviews with people retrospectively.”

Throughline from NPR – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
Throughline is wonderful, though it’s mostly focused on American history topics, but the episode on ‘How the CIA Overthrew the Iranian Document in 4 Days’ provides good historical context on Iran before the revolution.”

Radio Lab – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“The recent episode on the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya is a revealing story of how historians are still uncovering hidden truths of the recent past.”

The History of Rome by Mike Duncan – Dr. Bram ten Barge
“For students who haven’t taken any courses about ancient Rome yet, this is a fun podcast covering Roman history from the very beginning to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (however you view or conceptualize that last one…”

A Piece of Work – recommended by Alison Lechner
“I gobbled up every episode of this podcast as soon as it dropped. If you are an art-lover or even just a museum-fan, this podcast is such a good fit. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City goes behind the scenes at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in NYC to give the story behind some of the museum’s most iconic pieces in their permanent collection. I’m an art history buff and I still learned so much from this.”

Dolly Parton’s America – recommended by Alison Lechner
“If you’re in need of a feel-good podcast that is also a commentary of the current state of pop culture in America, look no further! Jad Abumrad (co-host of RadioLab) hosts this personal and inspiring podcast that focuses not only the life of Dolly Parton, but the recent history of the United States.”


Books

Hard Times by Studs Terkel – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“This book is made up of oral histories taken in the 1960s and 1970s of Americans who lived through the Great Depression. Terkel interviewed a wide range of Americans, who tell stories of both suffering and resilience.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“This is a wonderful book about Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution.”

The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“These are great big fat historical novels about the Second World War. They’re older, but still worth a read. The protagonist is a US Navy officer, but there’s a big cast of characters. It was also a TV miniseries in the 1980s.”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“A meditation on what we can learn about liberty, democracy, and tyranny from a brilliant historian of the twentieth century. It’s profound–and it’s short. Don’t be intimidated.”

The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil – recommended by Dr. Wayne Tan
“This is a great book about how the Marshall Plan was engineered right after WWII. It looks at the politics of financial assistance to Western Europe by the US and USSR’s challenge to the new global order.”

Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith Sheffer – recommended by Dr. Wayne Tan
“This book exposes the troubling history of intellectual disability in Nazi Vienna and shows how scientific investigations of autism fed a systematic plot to eliminate children deemed mentally unfit.”

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“For those who like to read graphic novels or are willing to try, Persepolis is a wonderful graphic memoir about growing up during and after the Iranian revolution. It’s also a compelling coming of age story. The film Persepolis is also great, but of course I recommend reading the book first.”

The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes. “If you like Persepolis, you might also like The Arab of the Future graphic memoir series. In this series Riad Sattouf tells about his childhood growing up in rural France, in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and in Hafez al-Assad’s Syria.”

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“The Day of the Jackal is a thriller novel about a (fictionalized) assassination attempt on Charles DeGaulle by the OAS (a real organization that did attempt to assassinate the French president after the Algerian War). It’s a great page-turner.”

The Dig by John Preston – recommended by Maggie Burr
“This tells the (fictionalized) story of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial and accurately reflects some of the drama/excitement of digging.”

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher Krebs – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“A riveting account of the journey of an ethnographic text about the Germanic North, written by a Roman senator in AD 98, which would come to have a profound influence on major movements and events in European history, including the Reformation and the formation of Nazi ideology. An important book and accessible to non-Classicists.”

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott – recommended by Dr. Marc Baer
“A fictionalized account of the CIA’s actions to get a copy of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. It appears to be well researched, and is told from the POV of Pasternak’s muse/mistress Olga Ivinskaya and the women who worked in the CIA’s typing pool–who were smarter than their male supervisors.”

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – recommended by Dr. Marc Baer
“The novel goes into greater depth on the case focused on in the movie and how he worked other cases. It couldn’t be more timely.”


Movies

The Lost Legions of Varus – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“A great documentary on one of the defining military moments in European history.”

The Odyssey – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“This is just the best. A 2-part miniseries on Homer’s Odyssey that ended up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Directing of a Miniseries or Special.”

The Battle of Algiers – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“For students interested in the Algerian War and its aftermath, The Battle of Algiers is a really tough but revealing film.”


Television Series

History Cold Case – recommended by Maggie Burr
“This series examines a different burial group from around the UK for each episode. They’re a great mini-lesson in archaeological science (and in the different time periods the burials date to), and they always culminate in a facial reconstruction of the deceased, which is fun.”

Downton Abbey – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
Downton Abbey finished a few years ago, but most students haven’t seen it, and it’s currently all available on Amazon Prime. It tells the story of an English aristocratic family and the household staff as the aristocracy was breaking down in the early twentieth century. I often reference the Crawley family when trying to describe the type of young men who moved to Kenya in the interwar period. History buffs will enjoy the setting of WWI, the Irish War of Independence, and shifting gender and class roles. Downton Abbey really shines at telling the stories of the changing lives of the working-class people who serve the Crawley family.”

The Crown – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes “The Crown is on Netflix and focuses on the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, beginning with her wedding and then her coronation (at only 25 years old). While much of the series is palace intrigue and the drama of the royal family, the queen’s world and work are set in a broader context with lots of discussion of British politics and global issues related to the British Empire and the Commonwealth, though viewers should remember that these stories are being told from the British perspective.”

Mrs. America – recommended by Alison Lechner
“This show has a lot of fans in our department! Mrs. America is about the political divide in the United States when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced, amidst the period of second-wave Feminism in the 1970s. Power players like Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Schlafly, and Shirley Chisolm are expertly cast (especially Tracey Ullman as a dead-ringer for Betty Friedan). What I love about this show is that it re-examines this movement in the history of American Feminism through a twenty-first century lens: each side of the ERA debate gets equal coverage, and we begin to see the origins of the push for intersectionality within the Feminist movement that will lead to the third-wave at the end of the century.”


Miscellaneous

Online Museum Collections – recommended by Maggie Burr
“Not a book, podcast, or movie: many museums have highlighted their online collections during the Covid crisis, but the Treasures section on the Ashmolean Museum website is one of my favorites. It’s great partly because the graphics are excellent, and partly because they do a good job highlighting the whole range of their collection (and the blurbs explain why the objects matter).


We hope you’ve enjoyed our summer entertainment recommendations! Feel free to share your history-related recommendations in the comments below.

The House that Albert Bell Built

Dr. Fred Johnson shares his immense gratitude for Dr. Albert Bell, who is retiring next year after having served at Hope College for 42 years.

Dr. Albert Bell

On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Dr. Albert Bell submitted grades for his students to the Hope College Registrar’s office for the very last time. Without fanfare, without celebration, and without notice, he did it with the same consistent, methodical excellence that had been the foundation of his forty-two-year career. Like other parts of life that had been disrupted by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the History Department’s plan to have a fond farewell gathering for our colleague was canceled. The missed opportunity to wish Al “All the best” as he strode into the next phase of his life added to the heartbreak being caused by the hyper-contagious viral killer. The rapid pace and scale of change signaled that, in many ways, nothing would ever be the same — or would it?

From one perspective, Al Bell’s final sabbatical and retirement from Hope’s History Department magnify the certainty that we’re in a new normal. Then again, as a result of the same consistent, methodical excellence that he always shared with his students, the History Department’s functional “new” normal will be much like the “old.” Because this is the House that Albert Bell built.

Every history faculty member currently serving in the department was either hired when Al was Department Chair, or, had the honor of getting his vote to join its ranks. During that process, Al drew from the deep well of his wisdom to assess candidates as the department added women and people of color. Working with his Master Historian colleagues, Marc Baer, Larry Penrose, Bill Cohen, Neal Sobania, and Earl Curry, they collectively prepared the department for a fast approaching and increasingly different demographic future. While others made loud, boisterous noises about the virtues of diversity, Al, Marc, Larry, Bill, Neal, and Earl accomplished the goal rather than talk it to death.

I still shake my head in wonder at the beautiful cosmic judgment of having Al shepherd into existence such gender and racial change. As a native South Carolinian and a southerner, a region still burdened by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, he understood the corrosive insanity of racial bigotry. As a proud, loving father of daughters in a country that still devalues a woman’s work even when she does the same job as a man, Al didn’t need schooling about the urgency for gender pay gap justice. I can’t say for certain the degree to which those factors motivated Al, but the results of women outnumbering men and people of color being more than tokens in the history department speaks loud and clear.

During spring 2000, Earl Curry rode off into retirement. Larry Penrose followed shortly thereafter. Then Bill Cohen announced he’d be doing the same. Neal Sobania moved on to become a Dean at Pacific Lutheran University. By then, Al had passed on the duties of Department Chair to Janis Gibbs then Marc Baer both of whom added their own brand of spectacular proficiency and leadership to a difficult job. Moving with the effortless grace of water shaping itself to a new reality, Al now led informally, generously sharing his storehouse of knowledge as we navigated the increasing complexities confronting higher education, the humanities, and historians.  

Soft-spoken and that rare person whose “No” really means “No!” and his “Yesses” the same, Al’s spare “Cut to the chase” style of conversation left no doubt that if and when he chose to share his perspective, we were getting a jewel that had been polished many times over.

Another shock came when Marc Baer announced his retirement. In a department meeting, I offered to grovel if it’d help change his mind. People laughed and so did I, until I got back to my office and wept. Why? Because you don’t come to cherish someone like I did, and do, Marc Baer and not dread the terrible emptiness you know you’ll feel from not seeing them every day.

Al was now the last of the full professor historians who’d been on the faculty when I arrived in August 2000. He reveled in his role as the department’s elder statesman, laughing good-naturedly on one occasion, when during a student visit day, I introduced him as Hope’s ancient historian. Such a faux pas Al didn’t mind, but he’d speak up quick when someone encroached upon his territory as the department’s self-proclaimed curmudgeon.

On that subject, Al brooked no competition. He also liked to remind us young whippersnappers, usually with a smirk, that only he had earned the right, through time and dedicated service, to grouse about whatever he d****d well pleased! 

Beneath the curmudgeonly exterior there existed a gifted teacher, writer, and artist from whom there’s still much to learn. Because along with his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, an M.A. from Duke University, and his MDiv. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Bell is a profound scholar of the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds. Most intriguing of all, he’s a gifted storyteller who, in addition to his scholarly work, has produced a prolific body of mysteries set in ancient Rome.

In the years (too many) that I’ve been slogging to get my dissertation revamped for publication, Al published All Roads Lead to Murder: A Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Blood of Caesar: A Second Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Corpus Conundrum: A Third Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Death in the Ashes: A Fourth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Eyes of Aurora: A Fifth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Fortune’s Fool: A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Gods Help Those: A Seventh Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Hiding from the Past: An Eighth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Flute Player and, well, you get the picture.

As of this writing, I remain in awe of the unwavering discipline that Al brings to his work, and I’ve challenged myself to be similarly dedicated. Rather than explaining how he cranks out his books he simply does the work. Anyone with eyes to see who’s willing to look will discover that there’s no complex magic behind Al’s publishing success. I imagine that if he were to explain his methodology he’d say: “Turn off the TV. Put your keister in a chair. Place your fingers on a keyboard and, type.”

There’s so much that’s been lost in this season of COVID-19 chaos. My frustrations with those losses are compounded by feeling helpless to do nothing but watch the world get stood on its head. Because I can’t hasten the production of a vaccine. I can’t stop the economy from spinning further out of control. I can’t explain people who believe that sacrificing seniors is a lesser evil than sacrificed profits. I absolutely cannot comprehend the bizarre logic that advocates household disinfectants for a cure. But I’m not totally helpless.

I still have the power to say thank you to my friend and colleague, Dr. Albert Bell, Professor Emeritus, of the Hope College History Department. Thank you, Al, and Marc Baer, Larry Penrose, Bill Cohen, Neal Sobania, and Earl Curry for building a department whose commitment to rigorous research and critical-thinking, superb teaching, and proficient writing never ceases challenging me to be better. Thank you, Al, for picking me up at Gerald R. Ford airport when I flew in for my campus interviews. Thank you for inviting me to participate in the West Michigan Writers’ Workshop because that’s one of your sacred spaces and you chose to share it with me. Thank you for cutting me off when I was berating myself for the stupidity of running for Congress as a Democrat in West Michigan and you said: “You were just a decent guy, trying to do a good thing.”

For the care and attention to detail; the passion for teaching and guiding our students; the diligent dedication to the craft, scholarship, and art of history; the determination to ensure that the house you built would be stewarded by capable hands when you departed, thanks a million times over, Al. 


Dr. Albert Bell came to Hope in 1978, when he split his time between classics and history. In 1994 he moved full-time to the Department of History and became chair of the department for the next 10 years. He has served on various committees and was chair of the Academic Affairs Board for a year. Most of Dr. Bell’s current research focuses on the Roman writer Pliny the Younger, who lived in the late first century AD. The entire History Department will miss him and his vital contributions as he steps into this new chapter next year!

AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Dr. Bell’s primary field is Roman history, especially the early Roman Empire. He has a strong interest in the development of the early church in the context of the Roman Empire. In addition, he has taught Latin and Greek and still enjoys the study of those languages. Since 2001 he have been writing a series of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome.

EDUCATION
Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 1977
M.Div., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1973
M.A. Duke University, 1969
B. A., Carson-Newman College, 1966

HONORS, AWARDS & PUBLISHED WORK
Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1966)
Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Award, Western Kentucky University Libraries (2008)
5 Best Mysteries of 2008 by Library Journal for The Blood of Caesar (2008)
Dr. Bell has had numerous articles, reviews and stories published, along with 10 books.

OUTSIDE THE COLLEGE
In his free time, Dr. Bell enjoys working in his flower beds and collecting old baseball cards.