Student Feature: Sarah Lundy

A visit to the Place de la Concorde, one of my favorite spots in Paris

When many people imagine the French capital, trips to the Eiffel Tower, coffee in outdoor cafés, and strolls along the Seine are what typically come to mind. My Paris story is somewhat different. Though I definitely enjoy these aspects of Parisian life, I was not really a tourist during my two-week return to the city this May. Instead, I had the chance to be a researcher, doing archival work at the American Library in Paris (ALP).

The opportunity to conduct student research at such a prominent institution was both exciting and full of unknowns. Although I was in Paris as part of an amazing team (fellow student Michaela Stock and English professor Dr. Natalie Dykstra), I had limited archival experience prior to the project. It was a bit daunting as well to think that I, as a history and French undergraduate student, could contribute in any way to the largest English-language library in continental Europe. Once there, however, my apprehensions fell away. The Library welcomed us with open arms and we were soon up to our elbows in archive boxes and old books. I have always loved books, and I think my love of stories is one of the many factors that first drew me to history.

An inscription written to Boulanger (in French!) from her friend and student, Thea Musgrave
Searching through books from Nadia Boulanger’s personal collection

Archives have a beautiful way of telling stories. Comprising much more than simply books, their collections span decades, movements, and genres to paint a picture of the past that one letter, article, or picture cannot illustrate on its own. At a location like the ALP, which has been accumulating literature since its establishment in 1920, there are quite a lot of stories to be told. My research team and I explored just one of those through the personal collection and records of French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger. The project gave me invaluable practice in handling archival materials and taught me that seemingly ordinary things can have historical value, too. It let me personally hold history in my hands. As a bonus, I even got to use my French!

It is sometimes easy to reduce the facts and timelines that historians study to impersonal accounts, rather than attribute them to the real people who actually lived them centuries, years, or minutes ago. Yet while photographing letters and transcribing inscriptions written to Boulanger, I also learned just how important it is to look at the lives behind the history. The remarkable things about her were not the number of years that she lived, or the number of books that she owned, but rather the number of people that she influenced in her lifetime. Boulanger was a loving friend and mentor to American and European musicians alike. It was impossible to tell her entire story in two weeks, but I am hopeful that the research and materials we assembled will help to preserve her legacy for generations to come.

To me, Paris itself is a living legacy as well. Nadia Boulanger and the archives of the ALP are just tiny pieces of that great story. I am so thankful to have had the time to dive into the city’s history, if only for two weeks. Everything has a story to tell, and we can all be storytellers.

Alumni Feature: Mike Douma ’04

Assistant Research Professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and Director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics.

When you have a free afternoon sometime, go visit the archives of the Holland Museum, and ask for an old account book of the Boone Lumber Company (collection T00-1600.5). Set the account book in front of you on a table, open it somewhere in the middle, lean forward and breathe. Suddenly, the smells of a 19th-century lumber yard will fill your nostrils. Trapped in those pages, for well over a hundred years, is the dust of oak, cedar, pine, and hemlock, a testimony to a past age.

Typically, when historians want to learn something about the past, they seek words, not smells. They also tend to put texts before photographs, and letters before old buildings.  All too often, historical research is limited to the papers of politicians at the national archives. And, at many universities, history is taught as mostly a set of fixed content, separate from one’s one interests and personal history. Sometimes, history can feel distant and impersonal.

But as a student at Hope College, I was inspired to look at history from different angles and find connections to my own concerns.  I read my fair share of classic texts by Alexis DeTocqueville, Frederick Douglass, and the like, but I also participated in oral history projects, surveyed local historic architecture, wrote for campus publications, worked in and traveled to archives and museums. Classroom lessons in historical thinking inspired me to think about the myriad ways one might approach historical questions. History department events and invited speakers initiated me into the cult of the footnote. By the time I went off to graduate school in history, I had a set of diverse and profound experiences that taught me to approach the past from different angles.

Now, having written a book titled Creative Historical  Thinking, I can reflect on what makes a creative environment.  Creativity, it seems clear, can only develop when people feel comfortable in asking questions and “playing” with ideas.  In his famous 1938 study Homo Ludens (playing man), Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explained that play was the cessation of formal rules, which could be set aside for a short period of time, so that we can experiment with new ideas. Play is not disorder and lack of seriousness; it is precisely what we must do if we are to discover new kinds of order, as well as new and serious bits of information. Play, Huizinga wrote, was at the core of culture.

Hope College certainly offers a comfortable environment for those who wish to ask questions. Indeed, there is a campus culture of inquisitiveness and respect.  In a small, friendly history department, students enjoy the advantage of being able to forge relationships and get personal feedback from their professors. Small group exercises in class give students the opportunities to think creatively about how history is written, and who controls the narrative. Connections to local historical agencies give students the opportunity to practice in the field.

The old proverb rings true, that people might forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Hope makes you feel like a person, not a number. Studying history within a liberal arts tradition highlights the importance of individuals and individual rights, of culture and tradition, religion and being.  In the process of studying history, we not only satisfy our own curiosity, but we build connective social tissues. History must always begin with the individual, develop through curiosity and play, and come together for social ends as we relate what we have discovered. Whether it is studying their Reformed heritage, their own ethnic background, or the great moments in world history, Hope history students have real opportunities to think creatively about history, and to approach it from their own perspective.

To be creative, you must put your fears aside and be open to new experiences. So, I implore you to start looking for new ways to think about and write history. Get my book. Or, for other inspiration, go to the museum; get a whiff of that lumber yard account book. It just might bring you back in time, and change how you think about the past.

Welcome Back Everyone!

Welcome back everyone! We in the History Department are happy to be starting our teaching again and look forward to a great semester. But we also enjoyed a summer full of research and travel with students as well as accomplishments in our own scholarly and creative writing.

Dr. Fred Johnson got involved in the national conversation about race in our nation this summer. In July, he had an editorial published in the Washington Post which provides a historical perspective the relationship between African-American art thriving alongside racism. 

Darwin

He also worked on his book project that builds on his Civil War Research. The book will be titled: Worth to Us An Army: Lee’s War against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. When he’s not busy traveling to archives or publishing in major newspapers, Dr. Johnson takes his dog Darwin for long walks on the dunes.

The cover of Dr. Bell’s new middle-school novel.

Dr. Albert Bell completed a middle-grade novel, What You Wish For, which is a story about two 11-year-olds, Sandy Walker and T. J. McKenzie, who become pen pals through a school assignment. When they meet in person, they find that neither is quite what the other expected. As their friendship develops, they have to fend off a local bully and get to try their hand at solving a century-old mystery surrounding the Walker farm. He also worked on his eighth novel in his series of mysteries featuring Pliny the Younger. It has the working title Hiding from the Past, and it puts Pliny and his companion Aurora back in a small Alpine town where they investigated a murder ten years earlier but did not solve it. Their efforts to do so this time are complicated by an early spring blizzard and by a Gallic chieftain who wants revenge for the death of his son, whom Aurora killed defending herself. Hopefully, it will be out next year! This fall, he will be preparing for his sabbatical, where he will turn to his scholarly research on Pliny by examining his image of himself as a writer and his concept of friendship.

Dr. Tseng, Audrey Grant and Andrew Walls. Walls is the namesake of the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool-Hope University.

Since our faculty study all regions of the world, summertime also means time to travel to teach and do research abroad. Dr. Gloria Tseng began her year-long sabbatical, where she will be completing her book on Protestantism in 20th-century China. This summer, she presented papers with impressive titles at two conferences in Great Britain. The first was in Edinburgh at the meeting of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity, where she gave a paper titled “Liturgical and Spontaneous Prayers in Republican China: Indigenization as Seen through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Wang Mingdao’s Teachings on Prayer.” She presented the second paperan in Liverpool at the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity, “From Separation to Civic Engagement: Chinese Christians and the Chinese State and Society in Contemporary China.”

Dr. Wayne Tan had the honor of being an invited faculty presenter on the topic of disability in Japan at the NEH Summer Institute on “The Global Histories of Disability” held at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. He also completed his book manuscript on the social and cultural history of blindness in Japan and submitted it to the University of Michigan Press. We look forward to the book party when it is released! Dr. Tan also served as a mentor to Aine O’Connor, a student in the Mellon Scholars Program, for her digital humanities project on a database of disability and disabled characters in young adult literature. He provided some advice about the framework while Aine did a thorough research and analysis of hundreds of books and mastered the digital tools to build this site. He got to learn about disability from a different point of view and Aine combined her passion for English literature and history for this project.

Dr. Janes showing Hope student Anna Benitez the view from Montmartre in Paris.

Dr. Janis Gibbs and Dr. Lauren Janes continued to lead two of the most popular May Terms at Hope College. Dr. Gibbs completed her ninteenth summer as a professor at the Hope Vienna Summer School. Her students, along with those of the Vienna Summer School’s Director, Professor Stephen Hemenway and Professor Brian Gibbs, had a great day visiting the Austrian Gymnasium (high school) in the Kundmanngasse, where the students met Viennese students, and talked about life, culture, politics, and education in Austria and the United States.  She also worked on her research project, developing the story of Hermann von Wied, the Archbishop with two funerals, one Catholic and one Protestant. She also had some time for fun and saw “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on a trip to London in July. Dr. Janes co-led the third year of the Paris May Term, where she and Dr. Heidi Kraus (Art and Art History Department) lead students on an experiential exploration of the art and history of Paris. When she returned, she continued working on her book, Nourishing the World: A Global History in Three Foods and One Dish. Dr. Janes and her family have also used the summer to work on building an outdoor wood fire pizza oven in her backyard–we can’t wait to try it out!

The research team examining Hope College during the Vietnam Era. From Left to Right: Halla Maas, Dr. Pam Koch, Olivia Brickley and Dr. Petit

I stayed closer to home this summer. In May, Dr. Pam Koch (Sociology and Social Work) and I worked with two Peace and Justice minors to create a web exhibit titled “Hope College and the Vietnam War. The students, Halla Maas and Olivia Brickley, spent four weeks exploring the Holland Joint Archives, examining newspaper, yearbook, letters, and other manuscript records. They also did an oral history interview with Dr. Donald Luidens, who was a Hope student from 1965-1969 and a leader in student protest. Through these sources, the students examined both anti-Vietnam War protests as well as other social movements and protests that emerged during that time, such as the Civil Rights movement and the emergence of feminism. This project was funded by the Mellon Grand Challenges Grant and the website should be up soon as part of the larger “Imagining Peace” website. I also wrote an article with another long, impressive title: “We Must Not Fail Either the Church or the Nation”: Mobilizing Laywomen in the World War I United States.” This will be appearing in early 2019 in a special issue of The U.S. Catholic Historian on the theme “War and Peace.”

First 5k, Grand Rapids Color Run

Throughout this whole summer, our wonderful office manager Raquel Niles has been there to help me get out our end-of-the-year report and help all of us learn the new accounting system being put into place. And she had another great achievement–running her first 5K at the Grand Rapids Color Run!

And now we turn to our teaching (or in the case of Dr. Tseng, sabbatical research) and look forward to the challenges of the new academic year. Good luck to us all as we start again!