Student Feature: Matthew Meyerhuber

By Matthew Meyerhuber

When I moved into Hope’s campus, I was already fairly certain I would be a History major.  In grade school and high school, I had always enjoyed my history classes.  AP United States, though, made something click.  After clearing out of my head the misconception that a History major is good only for teaching, I enrolled in two history classes in my first semester at Hope.  One of them was History 140 with Dr. Gibbs; the topic was early modern Europe.  From that point, I was hooked on German history in particular.  While working on my history major, I also worked on a German major.  I went to a Lutheran k-8 school—they still teach German there!  So, I had some experience coming in.  But over my first three years at Hope, I spent a lot of time developing my research and writing skills, and had a lot of contact with German primary sources.

Since my freshman year, I had also had a strong interest in law and government.  Part of what made History attractive to me was that it’s traditionally seen as a good pre-law school major.  Now, law and German history—how does somebody combine those?  You might imagine my excitement when I found out that my hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan could help set me up with an internship at a law firm in our sister city of Gunzenhausen, Germany.

Coincidentally, a very distant and previously-unknown relative of mine had founded the firm.  So, this past summer, I spent about a month working as an intern at the Meyerhuber Rechtsanwälte (lawyers) firm.  I had the incredible opportunity to see many aspects of the German legal system—the frequency of small lawsuits, the ways in which the court structure differed from the American system (no juries, and no case law).  I also saw that my History major had definitely taught me some very important skills.  Being able to find information that could build your case was crucial.  The complexity we deal with in history is also good practice.  None of the cases I saw were cut-and-dry.  Almost all of them involved a question about the law, and building a successful argument required careful thinking on the part of the attorneys.

While I was in Germany, I also took some time away from the law firm to interview a group of people running a volunteer refugee organization.  What I found was that this went far beyond providing food and shelter.  These volunteers were working hard to help refugees in Germany, many of them from Syria, with the problems that they face entering a new country very different from their own.  Language and integration courses, education, and finding work for refugees are some of the group’s primary objectives.  The ultimate goal for the refugees is self-reliance.

My experiences in Germany over the summer guided the development of my current Honors History project on the history of German refugee policy and how that history applies to the present day.  This project is still in the writing phase; however, it will be a website by the end of the semester.  At the moment, I am applying to law schools, and I have a new focus and understanding because of my internship in Germany.  I’m also glad that I have the opportunity to process that experience in my coursework here at Hope.

Alumni Feature: Kristy Truax Nichols

 

 

 

 

By Kristy Traux Nichols ’02

We argued as my father drove me home from the airport. It was winter break in 1999, and I tried to explain to him that I wanted to change majors, dropping business to pick up history instead. “But what will you do in real life?” he asked.

At the time, I had no answer. Other than historian or college professor, I couldn’t think of a single job a history degree would secure. Telling my father that I really hadn’t thought that far ahead wasn’t an option, so I shrugged and said, “Lots of people go into careers that are unrelated to their undergraduate degrees.”

I pursued my history degree with a passion, learning how to research and write papers, question sources and my own assumptions. A watershed moment occurred while writing my history senior seminar paper for Professor William Cohen. I sat in front of him, trying to explain why I wasn’t farther along. I had reams of research, but my thesis felt tenuous. He told me, “Don’t try and rearrange history to suit your thesis. Your thesis should grow from your research.” It seems obvious, but it can be difficult to see the bias creeping into your work.

My father’s question was prescient (for me at least), and in a twist of fate that I recognize as ironic, I graduated and went to work for a large investment bank. My background in research and writing set me apart, and I moved up the food chain. Today, I work at a Registered Investment Advisor as a financial analyst, and every day I use the skills I learned in the Hope College History department to read and judge the veracity of financial filings and management discussion. Every day I question the source of information and ask why assumptions are made. My history degree has proven invaluable, and I genuinely believe it has been the key to making my career.

However, a career is not a life, and the methodology learned while pursuing a history degree is not something that is easily compartmentalized. It shapes my understanding of the news I read and the politics I embrace. The United States is living through a contentious era right now, and I have been frustrated by the current state of political discourse. I see people on both sides of the aisle rush to embrace any news, true or not, that supports their political viewpoint. I want to take the opportunity to reflect on what Professor Cohen said to me. Don’t start with a belief and then find the news to support it. Allow the news to inform your beliefs. Use rigor in examining sources and bias, and base your arguments on data and fact, not emotion.

My father asked me what I’m going to do in real life. This is it. I’m going to chart the course of my life – public and private – by using what I’ve learned: Be curious. Research. Question. Apply.

The Powerful lessons of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

 

By Alexandra Piper

I arrived in D.C. a couple of weeks ago as part of Hope’s Washington Honors Semester, excited to tackle the new challenges of living in a city. For those who don’t know me, or have not heard my ramble on about my interests, I am a History and Political Science double major with a focus in African American studies and public history. Museums have always been a passion of mine and I will find any excuse to spend all of my free time in them. Currently, I am an intern in the Office of Programs and Strategic Initiatives and the African Americans Studies program at the National Museum of American History. Much of my time has been spent exploring the museum and the city and I have loved the experience.

This city is also home to something very close to my heart: The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Last summer, I worked as a research intern under Dr. Anna-Lisa Cox, a scholar and author in the field of African American history. I loved every second of the research, and my very own research project stemmed out of the work I did for her. For me, working with African American history is a unique, emotional, and passionate experience, one that is hard to put into words. From the second I stepped foot in the city, I knew I had to visit the museum immediately. Last week, I was able to do a quick walk through the museum on my lunch break, and this is the story of my first visit to the NMAAHC.

The NMAAHC experience starts in an elevator that descends nearly seventy feet below ground. About fifteen of us crammed into the elevator, eyes on each other, dead quiet, and standing completely still as we descended to learn about some of the darkest and forgotten stories of American history. The exhibits have 3 levels: C3 – “Slavery and Freedom 1400-1877,” C2 – “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation 1876 – 1968,” and C1 – “A Changing America” 1968 and Beyond.” The most striking part of the museum for me was the contrast between big and small, both physically and historically. Physically, the museum has large, powerful quotes engraved in the marble walls contrasting the small exhibits and small objects. Historically, they have the iconic artifacts like a Jim Crow railway car, a prison guard tower, Emmett Till’s coffin, and slave chains. The museum also makes a point to highlight the “small” stories, most often parts of African American history that are not taught in the narrative of American history like stories on farmers and daily life. One of the most powerful and forgotten stories for me was the small display on J. Marion Sims’ medical experiments on slave women, most often without anesthesia. I knew about the experiments before visiting, but experiencing it in a tangible way was disturbing and powerful. As a woman, it spoke volumes to me about the transcendent nature of how we view the female body and how these notions have intersected with race.

I walked through the exhibits with tears streaming down my face. Tears still stream down my face as I write this. This is a hard reality. I watched as fellow humans hugged each other during particularly difficult exhibits, like the one on Emmett Till. I watched as parents explained pieces of history to their children. Nobody laughed and nobody smiled. I normally feel a strong connection to history when I visit museums, but in this particular museum I felt an even stronger connection to history, to the people around me, and to all of the people in this country who sacrificed to help others. As difficult as it was to walk through, I am proud to live in a country that works hard to educate people on the darkest parts of history. This is not just African American history, this is American history and it must be remembered and discussed. We must do this.

I walked out of the museum humbled and determined to contribute to educating others on the importance of understanding history. The experience also made me appreciate the presence museums on a deeper level. I have had so many friends tell me that museums are boring, that they only focus on people that are dead, and devote time to events that are irrelevant (fellow historians, I know we have all had at least one friend say this to us). I will say this: history is never irrelevant. My visit to the NMAAHC has pushed me to think harder about how I educate those around me and the ways I can teach others in a compassionate, understanding, and loving way about how we can use lessons of the past to create a better and more humane future. Spread love, even in the hardest times.

If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., please visit the NMAAHC. Timed passes are available on their website. The lines are long and the crowds are big, but it is completely worth it. It should also be noted that I only had an hour for lunch, so my goal was to quickly walk through the exhibits to see what the museum held. There are upper levels devoted to community and culture galleries that I plan on visiting again. There is no way to fully experience the museum in an hour, or even in one day. If you are unable to visit this museum, consider contributing in a different way: have these difficult conversations with your family and friends, do not shy away from tough issues, and push yourself to be compassionate towards people who face different struggles every day.

Welcome Back!

JeannePetit

By Jeanne Petit

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the American Historical Association Meeting in Denver, Colorado. Each year, thousands of historians from all regions and all eras get together at this meeting to hear about the latest research and see all the latest history books that have come out in the past year. I had the plpetit at AHAeasure of attending sessions about fashion history, Catholic thinkers of the 20th Century, and using history to write about current events. I also participated in a session about religious encounters during World War II and presented a paper titled “Demand for National Action: Protestant and Catholic Women in World War I America.” Someone even tweeted our session! You can read his tweets here: https://twitter.com/danielsilliman/status/817469381160505344

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Dr. Lauren Janes also came to Denver to network with other historians about the pedagogy of World History through her poster presentation on “Teaching World History with Food History.” We were also excited to see her new book, Colonial Food in Interwar Paris on display at the Bloomsbury exhibit!

 

And now we are back and getting ready to start our semester. I hope you’ll follow our blog and please email me (petit@hope.edu) if you have ideas for blog posts.