Collaborative Research

By Lauren Janes

This summer I had the joy of leading a team of students in collaborative research to help launch my next book project, The Modern History of Global Food.  The book will feature a series of case studies exploring how we can better understand important world historical themes by analyzing foods that moved around the globe. The students worked together for five weeks: gathering sources, building a digital bibliography, taking notes and beginning analysis.

studentsEach student researched a different example of these historic global foods. Noah Switalski ’18 explored how the humble potato has changed diets and societies across the globe after its “discovery” by Spanish conquistadors in Peru. Natalie Cook ’18 examined the central role of sugar in the Atlantic slave trade, with a particular focus on the role of slave women on Caribbean sugar plantations. Margaret Dickinson ’17 researched the development of curry as a cultural exchange between British colonizers and many different groups across the Indian subcontinent. Leland Cook ’17 worked on the long history of rice, with a focus on how global food aid has sometimes been a form of neo-colonialism.  All together, these four case studies show a history of growing global connectivity from the crossing of the Atlantic into the twenty-first century.  Cullin Smith ’17 also worked with us for a few weeks. He helped to shape the overall project by analyzing the existing literature on global food history.

IMG_4176While we worked mostly with secondary sources, we also spent a few days at the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The archive is a rich treasure trove of cookbooks and other food-related documents including promotional materials dating back to the early nineteenth century.

This project gave the student an opportunity to work together to explore global history from new angles, and it helped me get going on my next book.  This was true student-faculty collaborative research.  We are grateful to the Pagenkopf History Research Fund for funding this project.

The students will present their work to the Hope and Holland communities this spring, and you’ll be able to read more about this culinary approach to world history when The Modern History of Global Food is published.

Welcome, First-Year Students!

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for! Our 2016-2017 first-year students move in.

We’re so excited for a brand new school year and lots of fun changes!

This year we’re pleased to welcome a new Office Manager, Raquel Niles. She’ll be hitting the ground running, so please excuse an interruption or two to our regularly scheduled blog posts.

But never fear! We’ll continue to post regularly through the transitions and we’ll be doing an introduction to Raquel soon!

Student Feature: Cullen Smith

By Cullen Smith, ’17

20160618_142412I believe that looking into the past gives the observer a chance to understand what was then little understood.

This summer, with the help of the Mellon Scholars and the History Department (and with my advisor Dr. Natalie Dykstra from the English Department), I had the opportunity to look at Expo 76, a proposal by Boston’s city planners in 1976 to create a massive “urban experiment” along the banks of Columbia Point, to celebrate the nation’s 200th birthday and the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. It would involve filling in over 400 acres of the Boston Harbor for thousands of new housing units, building a 1400-foot-long by 60-foot-high bridge across the harbor. The revenue from the Bicentennial celebration could have run past a billion dollars.84150008A

What led me to this project was an initial interest to look at Vietnam Era society on a grander scale than I had done in Holland the summer prior. By comparative means, I thought my research last summer had prepared me for looking at Vietnam Era America on a grander scale.

Because when I was knocking on the door of a Special Forces veteran in the summer of 2014 for my first Mellon Summer research project, I had little knowledge of what a veteran community looked like, and in a reciprocal sense, what that community meant to a veteran. This was especially noted when a very large German Shepard who answered only to “Fang” came to the door to greet me.

As a whole, my summer research from last year resulted in a four-part YouTube series on Dave Fetters, the Special Forces veteran I interviewed, who had served in the Vietnam War near the Cambodian border. I had utilized several software applications, mot notably iMovie and Audacity, to produce the video series. It took hours going through 6 hours of interviews, and hundreds of pictures that Dave had given me permission to use for the series.

84150030_SmallAVideo production and interviewing, as it turns out, are completely separate from hardcore archival research.

My time in Boston, spread out from June 10th to June 24th, was an absolute whirlwind of a process, none of which involved any form of iMovie or Audacity. The best thing about Boston was that I worked in a different library every day, often doing something completely different that day than I was the last. I hopped from the Boston Public Library to Harvard’s Houghton Library to the Schlesinger Library to Northeastern Library, all within the same week. I would dig through mounds of papers related to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (Boston’s city planners), Mayor Kevin White and his personal papers, and issues of the Bicentennial Times from 9am to 5am, come home, analyze it, and then wash, rinse, and repeat.

At the same time, I was also working as a webmaster for Professor Dykstra’s Boston Summer Seminar, where teams of researchers from the intercollegiate Great Lakes College Association travel to work in various Boston archives. We would often be discussing what needed to be done with the seminar’s website, and then “switch hats” to talk about the what story I was developing with the archival materials I had found.

During my time in Boston, I was often confused as to the story I was writing. I think I found my best piece of solace when I found a 1969 letter from a middle schooler from Delaware asking about why the Bicentennial Expo was not to be held in Boston. For his conclusion: “Boston is where the fighting took place (during the Revolutionary War), so why not?”

It was from letters like this, expressing the confusion of the times and seeking simple answers, that I found my own story.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 3.37.56 PMThe story I wrote was partially about failure. Boston’s city planners proposed the megastructure thinking it would solve the social ills of their day, and instead received the disapproval of the entire city, especially South Boston, on the grounds that it would negatively impact the status quo.

In another sense, however, the story that I found was about redemption. In the midst of race riots and a recession marred with massive inflation, Boston’s leadership turned the entire city into an exhibit called Boston 200. Independence Day in 1976 would see over a quarter million Bostonians flood the Charles River Esplanade to watch fireworks and activities on a perfect summer day.

With my paper and accompanying website in the final stages, there is still much of the story about Boston’s bicentennial that I have yet to fill.

20160620_153910What I can say thus far is that Boston has given me the chance to work with exceptional staff, live and laugh with an exceptional host family, and study in some of the nation’s top archives, all the while completing work that I (literally) spent hours dreaming about.

I understood little when I came to Boston, and still recognize that my job as a historian is not done. There are always stories to tell, and the bicentennial has many more. What I can say is that as a historian, it is both a pleasure and a privilege that I am able to step outside my own existence and into someone else’s. It is only then when you can begin to understand.

Alumni Feature: Lou Canfield

By Lou Canfield

LTCI graduated from Hope College with a double major in History and Political Science in 2001 and have worked for the City of Grand Rapids since 2006. I manage the Design & Development Department, which is responsible for planning and zoning, development review, permits and inspections. My work responsibilities are wide ranging including finance and budgeting, human resources, communications, technology administration, policy development and supervision. This is a busy time for our department. The fabric of Grand Rapids is changing rapidly.

I enjoy my work. I think I am an effective organizational leader and our department has a significant role in our community’s success.

My study of History at Hope College helped to prepare me for my career in government administration.

Explaining how it did so isn’t straightforward. I didn’t study local government at Hope. I didn’t learn my day-to- day work activities at Hope. Much of that I learned on the job–from mentors, or by figuring it out, or by creating my own way of doing things. And all of that is built on the foundation of my Hope education.

As a History major, I developed cognitive skills, insights and an understanding of our shared humanity that have served me well in my work. I learned how to ask good questions. I was challenged to consider a broader range of answers than I had before. I learned how to select a tentative answer, how to test it and how to advocate for it. I learned that I could change my own opinions–even long-held ones–based upon new information and insights. I learned how to communicate my ideas persuasively in writing. History professors challenged me to improve my skills in all of those areas. In doing so, they thought me to think differently–and better–than I had before.

This has led to better insights in my work. I accept that the professional challenges I face are not unique. People in similar roles have faced similar challenges for centuries. What are our priorities? How do we motivate people both inside and outside the organization? How much regulation is right in our context? How do we use our current technologies to meet individual, organizational, and societal needs? There is no “right” answer to such questions, but continuing to wrestle with them helps to keep my work interesting, leads me to better insights than I would otherwise have and keeps me focused on serving people rather than just completing a checklist of daily tasks.

If all of this sounds rather general, it is–in the best possible way. Our world needs generalists and I’m proud to be one. Some careers demand and are enhanced by a relentless focus on a single discipline, but government administration isn’t one of those. I am regularly involved in hiring decisions and am consistently drawn to candidates who demonstrate critical thinking and creativity, regardless of their specific training. Employers can easily teach tasks and skills, but we can’t teach employees how to think–colleges are supposed to do that. Hope College does! And the History Department does that particularly well. My experience as a Hope History major prepared me to be a better person and a better administrator and I remain grateful for the History Department faculty members who had such an important impact on my life.

Student Feature: Jonathan Tilden

By Jonathan Tilden, ’17

wedding (2)I researched for the department in the summer of 2015. I heard about the opportunity while in an American history class with Dr. Petit and was immediately interested. Dr. Petit, the faculty member who would be overseeing this project, was interested in constructing a website about the United War Work Campaign of 1918, an interdenominational effort to raise funds for American soldiers abroad and at home. The topic intrigued me and I had a few conversations with Dr. Petit about what the position of (paid) summer researcher entailed.  I filled out a brief application and was accepted into a four-student research team.

uwwc-studentsBy June of 2015, we were on campus doing preliminary research on the different organizations involved in the United War Work Campaign. Each of us took a certain area of the research and dove into finding and reading all of the secondary sources about that area we could. In late July, we flew out to Washington D.C. to meet up with Dr. Petit. We spent a week at the Library of Congress, analyzing primary sources about the United War Work Campaign we couldn’t access elsewhere.  We spent the next few weeks building, editing and tweaking the website.

I’d recommend the experience. Being a researcher meant spending quite a bit of time by yourself, reading and writing. At the same time, we frequently met throughout the day for quick meetings about where the research was leading us and what was next in the process. I really enjoyed the combination of solitary research and teamwork. Naturally, the Library of Congress was the highlight of the trip, for a variety of reasons. For one, the primary sources allowed us to really get a “behind-the-scenes” look at our topic. I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the propaganda posters that we had seen online prior. I realized after seeing these posters in person just how effective of tools they really were. And that’s something that books or the internet can’t convey.

Reading Teddy Roosevelt’s personal papers was an experience I will never forget. We also had the opportunity to get to know several other research teams that were also at the Library of Congress through a Great Lakes College Association grant. I roomed with two guys from Pakistan. They took me to a Pakistani restaurant in the area and we talked a lot about Pakistan and their research on Islamophobia in the U.S. This was an experience I wouldn’t have had without signing up for this research opportunity.

Research also gave me the opportunity to develop a close working relationship with a professor. At the end of my summer research, Dr. Petit asked me to be her Teaching Assistant for a seminar. This was yet another opportunity I wouldn’t have without my time as a researcher. I think one of Hope’s greatest attributes is the potential for close relationships. This extends to all members of the campus, but faculty-student relationships can be really rewarding. Working closely with professors is extremely rewarding and a lot of schools don’t allow undergraduates to work under a professor’s guidance. My research experience was very worthwhile and I’d encourage any undergraduate to look into summer research.