Alumni Feature: “What on earth would I do with a history major?”

 

 

 

 

 

By Jessica Patrick Majerowicz ’04

I arrived at Hope College with no idea what I wanted to do.  I enjoyed history but had not considered pursing it as a career.  As soon as classes began I was surrounded by the history department in some form or another; Professor Baer was my advisor/freshman seminar professor and I had ancient civilizations with Professor Cohen.  One day Professor Cohen pulled me aside and asked if I had ever considered pursuing a history major. I was surprised and said that no I hadn’t.  He said I should. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. But then the obvious question came up, what on earth would I do with a history major?  I figured I had two choices: teach or live in a cardboard box.  I was a little nervous about teaching- most people I knew who wanted to teach had been dreaming about it since they were little and that was definitely not me!

To make this work I knew I needed to teach high school or college. One of my favorite things about history is it is not black and white, but nuanced and downright messy.  It teaches us how to think critically and challenge commonly held beliefs.  I wanted to teach students old enough to really grapple with some of its complex questions. There is also the issue that I am very sarcastic and was afraid I would make kids under the age of 14 cry.

After student teaching, I knew I was in the right place.  High schoolers are so fun; they are trying to figure out how to be adults but are still kind of goofy.  It’s not always easy but there is nothing more rewarding than when a student finally understands a concept or simply figures out that hard work translates to success.  I always thought I’d only want to teach AP kids, but was surprised to discover I liked teaching students with disabilities just as much.

I’ve also had some really unique opportunities as a teacher.  While spending a semester at the University of Aberdeen my junior year, I was bit hard by the travel bug and a few years after graduation I was hit with a desperate need to get out of the country.  Unfortunately, the downside to teaching is that it’s not the most lucrative field and travel is expensive.  Luckily I discovered a company that did tours for students and decided to give it a try.  It’s fantastic! Traveling with students is amazing- getting to watch them experience firsthand what they learned in school is the ultimate teacher/history nerd high. I’ve done four tours with students- one to Greece and China and two to Italy (and I’m taking another group back to Italy this summer).

One of the things I’m most proud of is the creation of a new elective. After I finished my master’s degree in global history I decided it was time to put my new skills to use by creating my dream class. I proposed a women’s history/studies elective to our school board and it was unanimously approved. It has run for three straight years and keeps getting bigger every year. I run it as a seminar/project based course where we go through the basics of women in world and U.S. history and tie it into modern women’s issues.  I’m very passionate about women’s issues worldwide and this course gives me the opportunity to make my students more aware.  They are continually shocked by the human rights abuses women still face in the modern world and want to help change things.  To encourage my students to think about how they could create real change in the world they create a hypothetical organization to combat a particular issue for their final project.  They do a fantastic job and I have no doubt that some of my students will actually turn their project into something real in the future.

I never pictured myself as a teacher but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  So if you are thinking about pursuing teaching with your history degree but don’t feel like you fit the profile of a typical teacher, never fear. There is no one right way to be a teacher and you may just find your own uniqueness is just what future students need to succeed.

Seeing is Appreciating: An Ai Weiwei Exhibit in West Michigan

 

 

 

 

By Gloria Tseng

Ai Weiwei is not a neutral figure. His work is intentionally provocative. He has bucked the authority of the Chinese government and the power at the disposal of an authoritarian regime, having suffered physical abuse during a stint in prison and personally witnessed the government-ordered destruction of one of his studios. In short, Ai’s international renown is inseparable from his reputation as a political dissident.

Having read about the artist, his political activism, and the wide range of media in which he works, I had an ambivalent opinion of Ai and his work. I admired his courage but did not appreciate his angry, intentional, and at times crude provocations. His is a needed voice—I reluctantly acknowledged—but I wondered if I would find beauty in his work. Thus, when I first learned that Ai’s work would be exhibited at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, I was thrilled. What a treat it would be to see the exhibit with students who are taking my Modern China class this semester! Off we went on a rainy Tuesday evening in February, joined by Professor Steve Smith from the Department of Economics and Business and Mrs. Smith.

Seeing his work in person gave me a newfound appreciation of Ai as an artist. His versatility—mastery of both traditional art forms and digital media, as well as many genres in between—is even greater than what I previously read about him. Seeing the actual artworks, and not merely pictures of them, brought the man’s creative gifts to the fore. The visual arts “speak” eloquently where words fail.

One of my favorite installations at the exhibit was a pile of ceramic river crabs—each one skillfully crafted, inviting the viewer to a feast of sorts. River crabs are a treat in Chinese cuisine. Ai invited his fans in November 2010 to a party featuring river crabs upon learning that the authorities of Shanghai were going to demolish his newly built studio in a village near Shanghai. The destruction of the studio occurred in January 2011. The crabs, long digested by now, were an “eat-and-tell” commentary on the Chinese government’s motto of promoting social “harmony”—héxié—which sounds almost the same as river crabs—héxiè. The ceramic ones, of course, continue to “speak” in protest against the arbitrary powers of the Chinese state wherever they are exhibited.

As for Ai, he continues to speak through his art, offering provocative and thought-provoking reflections not only on conditions in his native China but also on issues faced by our global world. One of his upcoming exhibits, entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” will open in New York City in October. Ai will build more than 100 fences and installations across several boroughs of the quintessential American metropolis. Is anyone interested in going to New York this fall?

Alumni Feature: Tim Fry

“Do you think your college prepared you to succeed in law school?” It seemed pretty clear the interviewer from my top choice law school did not believe Hope College prepared me for a competitive environment.

You may not know it yet, but Hope is not well-known outside Michigan. Wearing “HOPE” sweatshirts, since graduation, led to multiple “what a nice sentiment” comments. With the exception of my boss in the federal government (a Calvin grad), our school was an unknown commodity in the DC-metro area where I worked prior to law school. For me, Hope was not a brand instantly opening doors. You have to be able to open your own door.

The History Department can help you do that. I agree with my fellow alums’ contributions to this blog – reading, analyzing, and writing are critical. They will
get you far. The History Department challenged me in all the same ways. I’ll never forget my first essay being returned with more red ink than the black ink jet provided when turned in. I still read Hemingway from time to time before writing. Write short, concise sentences, Tim, not run-ons. Many moments challenged my thinking in class.

But, for me, faculty mentorships gave me the most. Some have since moved on from Hope, and some are still on the faculty and checking in with me. All have been critical. I was invited to their offices and even homes. I was challenged intellectually. I felt respected; an adult; a professional; an equal (even if I still use honorifics, e.g., Dr.). Assignments were not just assignments; professors were going to challenge arguments I considered minor. I’d have to consider texts I would not have otherwise read. It raised my game. It gave me confidence that I could succeed.

Hope allowed me to serve in the student government. I traveled and studied in Washington, DC, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. I met my wife. All were important (especially my spouse, who is going to proof this blog post), but to my career, this mentoring and belief was critical.

Today, I work at a major international law firm with over a thousand attorneys. I serve healthcare clients involved in major mergers and acquisitions addressing the complex and changing healthcare regulatory landscape. I hope to become as trusted an advisor as the History Department faculty were for me. Indeed, I ask and am asked very similar questions – Have you thought about it in this other way? Have you looked at this other source? How do these two circumstances interact? How can we improve this together?

Seven years after my law school interview, I don’t remember my answer. Time, however, has answered. My law school classmates bestowed an honor on me as the member of our class who had done the most to preserve the traditions of our law school. A national legal organization and my school awarded my student legal note (a legal academic paper written by students) with awards. Last year, my law firm acknowledged me among a handful of associates for excellence. Yes, interviewer, I can make it. Thanks to growth spurred by mentorship and support from the History Department Faculty, I can make it anywhere. You can too. Get involved. Get to know the faculty and build relationships. The best way to know that you are equipped to go toe-to-toe with other professionals is to have already succeeded by facing similar critics and collaborators in the History Department.

Reflecting on the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Entry into World War I

By Jeanne Petit

One hundred years ago, on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, and on April 4, Congress declared war against Germany. As we reflect on the impact of this war on our nation, we first turn to the loss of over 100,000 American soldiers in combat or from disease. In the larger picture, however, the United States losses pale in comparison to the millions of Europeans who perished. The American Expeditionary Force only participated in a major way during the last seven months, although their contribution was decisive in many battles. Yet when we look beyond the U.S. military role, we can see the many ways that World War I impacted American society.

For one, the war forced Americans to face how diverse their society had become. Since the Civil War, over 20 million immigrants had come to the United States, making up 15% of the population. Native-born troops found themselves fighting alongside immigrants from 46 nations. Officials also had to confront the greater religious diversity as they built the army. At first, the War Department asked the Protestant Young Men’s Christian Association to provide recreation services to the troops, but they received complaints from Catholics and Jews, who argued that large percentages of the soldiers, particularly the nearly 20% who were immigrants, were not Protestant. To accommodate this religious diversity, the military allowed the Knights of Columbus, and the Jewish Welfare Board to also have recreational facilities.

The War Department did a less impressive job of dealing with African-American soldiers. The Army was still segregated, and African Americans faced continual abuse and violence and were relegated to the worst jobs, like digging latrines and removing the dead. Those who had the opportunity to engage in battle proved their worth as soldiers, such as the infantry regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters. They fought for 190 days and ceded no ground to the Germans. They received the French Croix de Guerre and returned as heroes.

The nation’s growing diversity also became an issue at home. Some leaders, like Theodore Roosevelt, argued that immigrants had to reject “the hyphen” and prove themselves to be “100% American.” German Americans felt the brunt of suspicion as native-born Americans went to far as to purge German words from their vocabularies. For instance, sauerkraut became known as “freedom cabbage.” Yet the Wilson administration knew that they could not alienate immigrants, and they used propaganda to promote their inclusion into American civic life. One poster, titled “Americans All.”  had an image of Lady Liberty and an “honor roll” of Irish, Italian, Slavic, Scandinavian and other ethnic names (although not German). Many immigrants embraced the opportunity to prove their love of the nation by enlisting in the Army, participating in Liberty Loan campaigns, and volunteering for the Red Cross.

World War I also made apparent to Americans how central women had become to their society. Over 20,000 women served as nurses during the war, and for the first time, active duty women served in other capacities, mostly clerical duties that freed men to fight. Thousands of women also went to France and worked for the YMCA and Red Cross. The women known as “Hello Girls” served as bilingual telephone operators and the Salvation Army’s “doughnut girls,” named after the treat they made for soldiers, became the most popular sight on the front. Beyond service to the military, American women on the home front took up industrial jobs in munitions factories and other areas as men volunteered or were drafted.

During this time, the decades-long fight for women’s suffrage reached a crescendo. Some women took militant action, such as when Alice Paul chained herself to the White House gates and compared Wilson’s anti-suffrage stance to the oppression of the German Kaiser. Other activists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, argued that wartime service proved that women deserved full civil rights. Woodrow Wilson became convinced, and on September 30, 1918, he backed women’s suffrage, declaring, “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” Congress passed the 19th Amendment a year later, and on August 18, 1920, it was finally ratified.

This summer, I will be working with a team of history majors to examine the impact of World War I on a very specific part of the U.S. home front: Holland, Michigan. We will do research in local and regional archives to find the perspectives of the soldiers who went to France to fight the Germans and Siberia to fight the Red Army. We will also read about the perspectives of the men and women who stayed in Holland and see how the war shaped their lives. One central question we will explore is: how did the war affect the ways the people in this community, largely made up of Dutch immigrants and their descendants, saw themselves as Americans? We will be creating a web exhibit that will present our findings–look for it in the fall of 2017!