Student Feature: Halla Maas

Halla Maas doing research at the Van Raalte Institute

While doing research this summer as part of Mellon Grand Challenges Grant on “Imagining Peace,” I have come to appreciate protesting in a historical context. My partner, Olivia Brickley, and I researched in the Joint Archives of Holland, and we found amazing articles in The Anchor about the Vietnam war and Hope students’ reactions to it. Students wrote articles about the draft, the Kent State massacre, Hope student participation in a protest in Washington D.C., and peace protests on campus. According to one article in The Anchor by Paul Goodman, some Hope students were radicalized to the point where they fought for justice by burning their draft cards. Another Anchor article described how, in 1971, students from Hope College took part in a massive protest for peace in Washington D.C. These students were protesting not only the draft, but also the killing of students at Kent State and America’s involvement in the war in Cambodia.

When the Kent State massacre occurred on May 4, 1970, Tom Donia wrote an article in The Anchor about the events that unfolded. In this incident, four students were killed and nine wounded by national guardsmen because they were protesting to end the war in Vietnam. This massacre led Hope students to protest for peace in Cambodia, Vietnam, and America. Donia interviewed James Stills, a Hope College student, who spoke in the Pine Grove against the war and the deaths of the four Kent State students: “For too long students have hidden in a shell in order to ‘do their own thing,’” Stills said.  He continued, “If we are ever to do anything for our country, the time is now. What others have died to start we must live to see finished, and that is a change.” Stills believed that the younger generation must end what has been started by protesting for peace and justice for the lives lost in Cambodia and at home in America.

Hope graduate Glen Pontier (‘68) resisted the draft, and protested the war during his resulting imprisonment. The Anchor reporter, Mary Houting, wrote an article explaining that Pontier was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, for avoiding the draft. During his imprisonment, he fasted for peace with 11 other inmates, and they became known as the Danbury 11. They began water fasting on August 6, 1972, to protest the American atrocities in Indochina. Pontier stated that they would stop fasting once America stopped committing mass genocide in Vietnam. He shared his thoughts with with Houting about the draft system, saying that “there is little fair about a system which chooses some men to die and others to live, while causing all to exist in a state of uncertainty until their fate is decided.”

On April 24, 1972, the army-navy recruiting center on West Eighth Street in Holland was closed down on Friday as a result of a small anti-war protest staged by Hope students. Image courtesy of the Anchor (April 24, 1972)

Many Hope students who protested focused on stopping the draft. In The Anchor, George Arwady wrote an article in 1966 about John Cox, a Hope student (and later professor of English), who, with a group of nine other students,  protested for peace during the Tulip Time parade. Cox and his colleagues interrupted the parade and marched for peace because they believed that both the draft and the war were unjust.  In 1969, Tom Donia wrote an article in The Anchor about the Academic Affairs Board’s request to the President to cancel classes for a Vietnam Peace Moratorium, where students and faculty would discuss ways to end the war. These students spoke out against the war because they believed that the only way to end the war was through a peaceful negotiation. In 1973, some Hope students stampeded the draft center in Holland. The Anchor article titled, “Decry Killing: Hopeites Stage Protest,” explained that students set up their protest in front of the Army-Navy recruiting center on West Eighth Street. These students shut down the recruitment base and collected 250 signatures for their petition. Their petition read, “We the undersigned believe that God our Father has given man life. He has asked man to prosper and grow, and above all to have faith in Him. What God has given life, let no man destroy. Let neither the leaders of North Vietnam, the U.S., Thailand, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, the People’s Republic of China, the U.S.S.R., New Zealand, or any other nation or person usurp the power of God.” These students believed that the war in Cambodia was killing God’s creation. Because of this, these students protested to end the war in order to save human life.

These protests all had one end goal: peace for a world in disarray. This research helped me to see that protesting can make a difference. Without protesting, we would not be able to advance or even be heard when things are going wrong. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement was important for African Americans because they were getting their voices heard over the oppression that they have lived in for centuries. Feminists would not have been able to change the patriarchal world that we live in without protests. Thus, protesting helps the world because it is a way for other people to hear the voices of the oppressed, concerned, and angered souls.  

Faculty Feature: Dr. Gloria Tseng

The Historian’s Craft

Renowned French historian Marc Bloch (1886-1944) is one of the great heroes of our discipline. He revolutionized the field of history as one of the chief proponents of the Annales movement, which championed innovations in the study of history—incorporating economics, geography, and sociology; elevating ordinary lives and the mentalities and beliefs of rural society as worthy subjects of scholarship; and working from the vantage point of the long term, that is, across the centuries. More importantly for me on a personal level, he embodied the best ideals of the French republic, patriotism held in balance with universal humanistic ideals, and not a strident nationalism or narrowly exclusive nativism. A French Jew who fought valiantly in the First World War, he volunteered to fight in the Second World War at age 53. He wrote a soul-searching account of the French defeat, Strange Defeat, as the French army was retreating pell-mell in 1940. Due to his service during the First World War, the Vichy government allowed him to continue teaching despite its racial laws. When Germany moved to occupy all of France after the 1943 Allied landing in North Africa, Bloch joined the French resistance network in Lyons, was captured and tortured after about a year, and was executed along with some twenty other resistance fighters shortly after the Allied landing in Normandy and before the liberation of Paris. It was during the two years of teaching in Vichy France that he drafted The Historian’s Craft, a guide to historical methodology and a personal reflection on the value of history as an intellectual endeavor, which would remain unfinished. Both Strange Defeat and The Historian’s Craft were published posthumously. It is evident that history was integral to Bloch, to the entire person. I find it deeply moving that during the darkest hour of his country, active engagement in the exigencies of the moment did not preclude scholarship, and vice versa. If integrity means the whole person without contradictions, then Bloch is an exemplar.

This spring a personal experience, on a much smaller scale than the world-shaking events that dictated the last five years of Bloch’s life, got me thinking about history and its place in the life of a person or family. It started with a phone call from my youngest cousin. “Hey, I’ll trade you the grading of papers for the translation of my mom’s journals,” the voice coming from the phone said. “You don’t know what you’re offering, but sure, I’d be happy to do it,” I retorted bemusedly. This cousin’s mother had passed away a few years ago, and he discovered her journals as the family was going through her affairs. “My dad said that I could keep them if I wanted; otherwise, he’s going to throw them away,” my cousin continued. “Do keep them! They’re precious!” my historian’s instinct prompted me to reply. Three months passed, and I went to Colorado Springs during spring break to keep my promise. I had a plan. We would make a catalog of the journals, twenty-four notebooks in all, during the week I was there. Afterwards, he would scan the entries that interest him most and send them to me for translation. I’d dictate; he’d type. Fancying myself in Geoffrey Reynolds’s place, I had in mind something along the lines of our Joint Archives.

As students of history invariably find out by experience, research proposals often need to be modified in the course of a project. I had several surprises once we started going through the first notebook. First, I had envisioned neat, print-like handwriting that I could skim quickly to get the gist of each journal entry. The reality was far different, and especially challenging for a non-alphabetical language such as Chinese. Second, I had approached it as a project, but it was much more personal for my cousin. I wanted to be systematic; my cousin wanted to have an entire entry translated when we came upon an entry that mentioned him or his two sisters. My “research proposal” had to be modified: we made bullet points of most entries and translated the entries for which my cousin wanted translations. In the end, we got through only one notebook. Third, I had to give up my perfectionism; finding the best expression in English for a certain Chinese term really didn’t matter as long as I got the meaning across. Fourth, and the greatest surprise, was the various effects the translation of the first notebook had on the family. A flurry of emails ensued after my cousin sent off the translation to his sisters and father. My uncle, who had wanted to throw away the journals, thanked me for my labors. Each person in the family remembered different details in the journal entries, and the same material evoked varied reactions. Should I have been surprised? Haven’t I always known that history is about people, who always have different perspectives, emotions, and responses to circumstances and events? I was humbled by the reminder that when we write history, we’re dealing with people and telling their stories. We owe it to our subjects to be truthful, not only to events and sources, but also to their perspectives. It was an “Annales” moment for me.

Alumni Feature: Rebecca Fry Debowski ’12

Across the desk my adviser told me, “You will never get a history job if you don’t pursue the social studies composite major.  You won’t be marketable.” I distinctly remember this conversation from my sophomore year and the frustration I felt trying to explain to the adviser that my passion is history.   I saw the social studies major as a mile wide and an inch deep.  If there was one thing I had learned already in my history classes at Hope College, it was that history is about depth.  So instead of listening to this advice, I decided to pursue a Secondary Teaching Degree with a history major and English minor.  After seven years of teaching history, I am glad I went with my instincts and pursued the history major.  The skills I developed obtaining that degree have made me the teacher I am today.

These days, history is treated as an expendable subject in many schools. Lots of elementary schools are cutting out history lessons entirely while secondary history education classes focus on preparing students for state tests, simply filling them with facts drawn primarily from textbooks. When teachers rely on the state standards and focus on test scores, the importance of historical skills and critical thinking is lost.   Studying history naturally leads students to explore different perspectives, converse with people who hold different opinions, and express their own arguments backed with relevant evidence.  These were the skills I learned as a history major at Hope College, and these are the skills I try to emphasize every day as an eighth-grade history teacher.

The history department at Hope was never afraid of difficult topics, but rather they embraced them, teaching us how to carefully peel back the layers and perspectives of a given event.  In his British imperialism class, for example, Professor Baer would lecture about one imperialist event from multiple perspectives.  This approach encouraged me to think critically about how I was previously taught about historical fact.  It made me think about my own life and how I perceived events versus how others in my life may have interpreted those same events.  This has carried into my classroom where I continually challenge the notion of single narratives.  History is often taught in schools from one textbook—too often leaving out necessary voices to understand the complexities of events.  To avoid this, I give my students contradictory primary sources on an event and ask them to determine what happened.  When studying the Constitutional Convention, I have students roleplay different groups of people in America at that time.  Instead of just sending upper-class men to the convention, we include African Americans, Native Americans, working-class people, and women.  When we include more people from that time era, the students’ Constitution looks vastly different than the one created in 1787.   This leads to great conversations about what it means when we say “we the people” or “all men are created equal.”  Hope’s history department pushed me to explore what these statements meant within the context of the past, but also what they mean in the world right now.  These are the same conversations I encourage with my students.

Of course, when exploring tough topics, debates often turn contentious.  At Hope, my professors would encourage discussion and debate.  I remember Professor Fred Johnson encouraging me to challenge his ideas and engage with him in dialogue.  In our current political climate, this kind of civilized discourse is increasingly rare.  Our world feels polarized and discussions often feel contentious.  However, my time in the history department taught me when conflict happens, respectful conversations are important.  Just as my professors taught me to present my own views, even when I didn’t agree with theirs, I encourage my students to do the same.  By practicing respectful discourse and listening skills, students become capable of amazing things. I have found that through role-play discussions and debates, students are challenged to think from another’s view point—building historical empathy as well as empathy towards their peers.

My history major has pushed me to teach by emphasizing depth of learning.  Instead of teaching random facts to students in the hopes that they pass a state test, I see the value in teaching historical skills and critical thinking.  By treating the subject of history as an avenue to critical thinking, not only are students engaged on a personal level, but they are better prepared to participate in our world today.  As citizens, we can choose to be poor historians, choosing to only listen to one side of the story and ignoring context, or we can be conscientious historians.  I hope that my students chose to intentionally seek out additional points of view and engage people in difficult conversations.  My students have the power to shape our country and change the world—I cannot wait to see their impact.

It’s Course Registration Time!

Take a look at the upper-level courses being taught by our great professors for Spring! If you have questions about them, please contact Dr. Jeanne Petit (petit@hope.edu).

History 200-02A The Holocaust (GLI)
TR 1:30-2:50 pm
Janis Gibbs

The Holocaust is probably something most students have encountered, either in school, in movies, or in literature. (Think Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful on screen, or Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, Night.)  In this class, we will look at the reasons for the development of a plan of genocide by the Nazis, and at the methods by which they carried out their plans.   We will use video, written primary sources, and historical analyses to study the Holocaust.  It’s not cheerful, but it’s important. Think about the genocide of the Rohynga in Myanmar today, or the genocide in Darfur in the early 2000s.  As human beings, we are bound to understand atrocity, so we can resist it.  This half-semester class fulfills the Global Learning International requirement.

 

History 200 01B: Peace Movements in the 20th-Century U.S. (GLD)
MWF 9:30-10:20 am
Jeanne Petit

Most history classes emphasize the impact of wars. This class will shift the focus of United States history and examine those who tried to prevent war and ensure peace. We will do a survey of peace movements that emerged during different contexts in the 20th-century United States with particular focus on the following: the Women’s Peace Party of the World War I Era, the labor movement of the 1930s, the labor movement of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement that emerged in the 1950s, the Vietnam-era peace  protests, and the late 20th-century anti-nuclear movement.

Note: instead of a traditional research paper, students in this class will be building a research-based website.

 

History 218 01: The Middle Ages, Byzantium and Islam (GLI)
MWF 11:00-11:50 pm
Janis Gibbs

Are you a fan of Game of Thrones?  Would you like to find out where George R.R. Martin found his inspiration?  Come and study the original game of thrones!  In this course, we investigate an age of faith, of warfare, of economic and political fragmentation, and of the invention of new institutions.  For a little variety, we’ll study plague, and a poisoner. (Sound familiar?) We will begin with the closing years of the Roman Empire and follow political economic and social developments between the fifth and fifteenth centuries. Major themes in the course include religion, state formation, social structures, everyday life, commerce, war, and intercultural contact. Besides the conventional topics in Western European history, we will examine the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of Islam. This course carries the Global Learning International (GLI) flag.  Come find out about meat and mead, and the transformation of the world in the Middle Ages.

 

History 280 01: Modern Imperialism
TR 9:30-10:50 am
Lauren Janes

As France faces attacks from citizens aligned with ISIS, as the United Kingdom negotiates leaving the European Union to avoid immigration, and as Syria–a former French mandate–fights a brutal civil war, the recent history of European imperialism in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continues to have a dramatic impact on the present. In Modern Imperialism we will examine the history of the British and French empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries while considering the impact of imperialism back on Europe. Much of our course will focus on the process of decolonization, especially on the partition of India, the Algerian War for independence, and the development of minority dictatorial rule in the mandate states of Iraq and Syria.

 

History 314 01: Modern Japan and Korea (GLI)
MWF 1:00-1:50 PM
Wayne Tan

In the global economy, Japan and Korea are among the world’s leading nations driving economic and technological developments. Japanese and Korean brand names and icons are everywhere: Toyota, Samsung, Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and Psy’s Gangnam-style dance. In this course, we will ask these questions (and more): How did Japan become an empire? How was Korea implicated in World War II? What are the origins of the Korean War and the rise of North Korea? Why are Japan and Korea important for today’s U.S. foreign policies? This course focuses on key issues in Japanese and Korean history in the East Asian and global contexts since 1600 and explores how Japan and Korea have become the modern nations that they are today. (Fulfills the regional requirement; pending GLI)

 

History 355 01: U.S. Foreign Policy (GLD)
MW 3:00-4:50 PM
Fred Johnson

This course traces the historical development of United States foreign policy from the 1898 Spanish-American War to present day. In this period the U.S. emerged as a world power, offset the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War [1945 – 1990], and currently claims title as being the world’s lone superpower. Through readings, discussion, presentations, and special projects, students will examine and assess the forces, trends, and circumstances that have simultaneously facilitated and threatened America’s rise to global dominance. Students will also examine America’s contemporary international challenges and develop solution strategies by comparatively assessing the rationale and methodologies employed by U.S. policymakers to navigate past foreign policy crises.

 

 

 

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.

Faculty Feature: The Emotional Responsibility of a Historian

Dr. Wayne Tan

At a time when the humanities appear to be in a crisis mode, with declining enrollment numbers across campuses, I want to share my thoughts about how, from a faculty’s perspective, the work I do in history relates back to the core issue of what it means to be in touch with my humanistic outlook. As a historian, it is my job to think critically, articulate my thoughts clearly, and write cogently. This was what I was taught in school and also a lesson that is dear to my heart. Herein lies a question that I had only recently started to reflect on: Can the process of doing history be one that is also rooted in emotions? That is to say, a process that doesn’t pit mind against heart, but instead, one that marries mind with heart? For the longest time, haunting every analytical turn of mind is the fear (stoked gently by conventional wisdom) that emotions cloud judgment. Analysis at its best, we are told, should be clinical, exacting, and stripped of emotional biases in order to present an objective truth. But does it have to be this way—for a historian, fully absorbed as is to be expected in his/her task, to maintain an emotional distance from the object of analysis? After all, is not analysis itself also a subjective experience that is intended to produce a personal interpretive result?

Perhaps owing to my research background in disability history, I am partial to methodological approaches that scour the pages of history to seek out traces of unrepresented and underrepresented communities in our societies. The point of my work, summarized here at the risk of sounding hackneyed, is to give a voice to these communities—communities that have historically struggled for the right to exist despite as well as because of their disabilities and for the opportunities for a better quality of life. This research has also led me down a different yet parallel path of personal growth: I feel deeply for the human subjects who are at the center of the narratives I construct. To disclaim the power of emotions would be disingenuous. I could not ignore the anguished pain I felt upon first reading the case of Carrie Buck (institutionalized and sterilized against her will) in early 20th-century America and her uphill fight against a social system bent on condemning any sign of feeble-mindedness. She was forever ensconced in a legacy of martyrdom because of the inhumanity she had suffered. Nor can I suppress the upwelling current (and sometimes sinking weight) of grief and distress each time I bury myself in victims’ harrowing stories about radiation sickness in the wake of the 1945 atomic bombings of Japan and more recent local and state media reports of residents’ concerns about PFAS contamination and lead exposures from the alleged industrial pollution of drinking water. If these feelings fall under the broad lexical reach of the word “empathy”, then I am proud to identify with an empathetic audience.

There is a reason why I turn to writing. If I could reinvent the metaphor of giving a voice to the voiceless, I see a new significance in restoring emotions to my stories and perspectives—not the formulaic types that evoke sympathy as the be-all and end-all of writing, but the kinds that provide a well-considered context that would frame the writer’s emotional response. The stories I write shape the narratives I tell inside and outside the classroom, in the repertoire of courses I teach here at Hope College and also the everyday conversations I have. Words themselves are a historian’s consummate instruments to disclose thoughtfully an emotional inner self that is inseparable from the context. The singular act of writing, in all its complexity, weaves together the dense substance of words, which impart an emotional complexion to prose. To say this differently, words reveal as much about the emotional state of the writer as they do about the emotional profiles of the characters portrayed and described. That is why when I write, I own my words and take ownership of my emotions. When I speak, I do likewise. This is the emotional responsibility of a historian to himself/herself and to the subjects at hand and my personal response to why history and, more broadly, humanities matter to us. Now more than before.

Alumni Feature: Daniel Owens

Daniel R. Owens
M.Phil Candidate, International Peace Studies
Trinity College Dublin

When I sat down to write this piece about how studying history at Hope has shaped my career and worldview, I found myself unsure of where to begin. Do I write about conducting archival research on the Liberian Civil War and exploring the role of historical narratives in post-genocide Rwanda? What about the semester I spent studying post-conflict transformation in Durban, South Africa? Or perhaps I should devote this space to detail the countless conversations I had with the department’s professors—in their offices, over coffee at Lemonjellos, and even over dinner—about history, yes, but also my aspirations, sense of calling, and fears.

After a few moments staring blankly at my computer, my history training kicked in. Where should I begin? By reviewing what has already been written on this blog, of course! Two themes quickly became evident that mirrored my own experience in the department—the ability to think critically and communicate effectively. I’d like to offer my own perspective on these topics, focusing in particular on critical thinking.

For me, studying history at Hope was not about memorizing dates and events; it was about learning how to analyze messy, competing narratives and ultimately weaving them together into a coherent argument. Through this process, I came to realize that nothing occurs in a vacuum. Exploring the context surrounding a given event or action is often the first, essential step to take in order to unlock explanations (or at least better understand) something that at first glance might seem nearly impossible to comprehend. Allow me to offer three examples of why this matters and how my history training has served me well in this area.

First, as a graduate student in peace studies at Trinity College Dublin, I found that determining potential avenues for resolution to conflicts—be it in Ireland, South Sudan, or Central African Republic—always required a lengthy look back at prior events and the people that shaped (and continued to impact) the conflict.

Second, in my current role working for a leading online travel agency, I’ve learned that how partners and colleagues respond to the requests I make is closely linked to factors that go beyond the specific issue at hand. By keeping things such as their underlying interests and responsibilities as well as their perception of me at the forefront of my mind, I am better positioned to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

Finally, in keeping with recent trends, one of the overarching themes of 2018 so far has been rapid change. Headlines of dramatic shifts in politics, economic policy, and technology seem to appear on daily (or hourly) basis. It can be exhausting and more than a little stressful to keep up. That said, I’ve noticed that examining the context of each blaring headline can help make things far less startling, enabling me to more easily grasp what is driving these events or actions. In short, my history training has positioned me well to confront the all-important why question.  

Faculty/Alumni Feature: Chad Carlson, ’03

So I’m in a social setting, mingling with a new acquaintance. I’m asked what I do.

“I’m a professor.” Bad start, haha.
“Of what?” Obligatory response.
“The history of sports,” I say, getting uncomfortable. I don’t like where this inquisition is headed.
“So you must know a lot about sports.”
“Sure, I guess,” I answer noncommittally.
“Well then, do you know who won the World Series in 1984?” Ugh.

As a historian, I’m offended by this question and the many like it that I’ve received over the years. History is not trivia. And yet so many people seem to connect sport history with sport trivia, as if my time in grad school was one long training session to acquire orange wedges (Sports and Leisure) in Trivial Pursuit.

But I have a parlor trick that usually satisfies those who ask about my profession. I can name every team that has ever won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship. (This might be my epitaph!) I have this trick down pat not because I study sport history but because I love college basketball.

It’s my love for college basketball that led me to write the book, Making March Madness: The Origins and Early Years of the NCAA and NIT Basketball Tournaments. I knew all the facts long before I began writing the book.

But what separates me from any other college basketball fan is the fact that I’ve studied history. My book is not an almanac of facts. There are a lot of facts in it, but they serve as nails that fasten the floorboards of the story. My book is a history. It’s a reconstruction of the ways that individuals and organizations navigated the social, economic, and political forces of the 1930s and 1940s to create and sustain the college basketball postseason tournament that has become among the most popular events on the annual American sporting calendar.

The story is fascinating to me. The more time I spent at university archives scouring through previously untouched telegrams, handwritten letters, and microfilms, the more amazed I was at the way certain coaches and administrators created and sustained what is now known as March Madness. The tale is unlikely, unusual, and, more importantly, untold.

The tournament had an inauspicious start. When college basketball coaches offered to run a 1939 college basketball national championship tournament under the auspices of the NCAA, two similar events already existed. Third on the scene, without a home base, without many of the top teams in the country, at the end of a decade marked by severe economic depression, and with the uncertainty of escalating international political tensions, the inaugural NCAA tournament actually lost money. Indeed, the NCAA covered a debt of $2,500 to keep the event going in 1940.

In 2010, CBS and Turner Broadcasting committed to paying the NCAA $10.8 billion for the rights to televise March Madness games. In 2016, the deal was extended for another 8 years, adding $8.8 billion to the contract payout.

This means that a small, poorly attended basketball tournament in 1939 that lost $2,500 has transformed into a mega-sporting event that, 85 years later, makes more than $1 billion per year.

These are some of the facts, the trivia points that people want to know when they ask what I do. And these facts matter. They serve as touchpoints of the past and they flavor the story. But the history, the academic work of understanding human behavior of the past, is in the narrative I’ve created. It’s in the flow, in the trends, and in the arc of the story.

My parlor trick helps me occasionally in Trivial Pursuit and every so often during Trivia Night at the local establishment. But the history of March Madness is so much more complex.

So when you watch March Madness this year, know that there’s a deep, rich, and nuanced story of its origin and early years. The story is compelling and attractive, and it brings an acute and robust context to any facts that anyone can rattle off about the event.

In short, it has a history—a story that I’ve tried to reconstruct as a historian…who also knows some trivia!

Chad Carlson is  Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach at Hope College. He will be leading a History Colloquium titled “Why March Madness Matters: Reflections on a Popular Sporting Event’s Forgotten History. The talk will take place on Wednesday, March 28 at 7:00 pm in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium.

Student Feature: Mariah Bensley

Mariah Bensley in Venice

It was never my plan to declare a major during my junior year at Hope. I had a solid psychology major in process and on the way to completing my degree. My feet were firmly planted on the on the snowy sidewalks of Holland, so it was a surprise to many, especially my parents, when I changed my history minor into a second major. I am pursuing two majors in what appears to be two very different fields. On the surface, one is a social science while the other has roots in the humanities. However, what many people do not realize is how perfectly these two majors complement each other. In fact, I am surprised the world has not officially declared them sister fields of study and made some sort of interdisciplinary course requirements for both majors.

As I grew up, I was never certain of my future. One day I would be convinced that I should become a counselor, and the next I was planning out my world travels as a professional journalist. There was barely a career aspiration that lasted longer than a month or two, so upon coming to Hope, all I was certain of was that I was uncertain about everything. Nevertheless, when one is taking classes and paying tuition, there tends to be an urgency to find and create a path for themselves. Through personal reflection, I tried to find a common thread behind each of my potential professional interests. What I found is that I love more than anything is trying to understanding people: what people do, and more importantly, why they do it.

With this in mind, I felt the obvious major to pursue was psychology. I get to take classes where I learn the inner workings of the brain, the science of behavior and what defines a person as a unique individual. We learn to understand motivations, likes, dislikes, and quirky traits. However, all this understanding of the human mind still left me feeling unsatisfied. I, therefore, decided to consider a history major because I love stories. As we know by studying works of historical non-fiction, a person’s motivation is nothing without their succeeding actions. In the big picture, what a person chooses to do and how that affects others is essential to understanding the world in which we live. Choices, actions, and consequences all mingle together to create the century-old web we know as history.

A view of Sienna, Italy

This semester I am pursuing an incredible opportunity to study history in Siena, Italy. In my course, The Black Plague we began by learning the facts and numbers: which areas succumbed to the disease first, the death toll, and so on. I like to refer to this information as “Jeopardy Questions.” That is, Quick facts that would likely come up on everyone’s favorite prime-time trivia show. However, as historians, we are called to uncover more. In the course, we have been able to read primary source material, personal journals, and books written during the medieval time. Citizens of the day believed the plague was the end of the world, so once it was over chaos ensued across Europe. There was a power grab and extensive slaughter ensued. Citizens were scared and those who survived saw an opportunity to change their fate. People wanted answers for why this awful disease took so many and affected everyone. Christians blamed Jews, and brother abandoned brother. I was able to research the uncertainty, the conflicts, and the impact. I learned about the choices, the actions, and the consequences. In other words, I used insights from each discipline to develop a more intimate understanding of this tragic event.

“History is written by the victors.” This famous quote by Winston Churchill tends to encapsulate much of our study of the distant past. After all, history is made up of stories, written about people, by people, and for people about the human condition. Psychology and history are two sides of the same coin. On one side, history teaches us how human nature affected the past. We learn details about kings and queens, generals, and the ordinary of all ages who lived in different social/political structures and made an impact on the world. On the other side, psychology teaches us the relationship between the individual and the social, the nature of why people built or followed the paths that they did.

I am happy with my choice to combine psychology and history.  The two fields complement one another and strengthen the learner. I truly feel I am a better historian because I know how to look at the past through the lens of a psychologist.