The Reason for the Season?


By Albert Bell

A historian can make himself unpopular by disagreeing with the oft-expressed sentiment that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We don’t know the year of Jesus’ birth. It was probably between 4 and 6 BC. Yes, Jesus was born Before Christ.

As for the month and day, there is no historical evidence that Jesus was born on Dec. 25, not in the New Testament and not in any Christian document of the first couple of centuries AD. The earliest Christian writer to say anything about the date of Jesus’ birth is Clement of Alexandria, ca. 200 AD. He says that different churches, if they observed the birth at all, placed it anywhere from April to September. An anonymous calendar from about 250 AD says the birth of Jesus should be celebrated “on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month.”

By the fourth century the growing church was in competition with pagan cults that focused on the winter solstice, usually around Dec. 22. The Persian god Mithra, whose cult became very popular in the early Christian era, was supposedly born on Dec. 25. Shepherds attended his birth. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia in mid- to late December. They placed greenery and candles in their homes, exchanged presents, and went to parties. Lucian of Samosata, in the late second century, says of those mid-winter celebrations, “Let no one conduct business, personal or public, during the festival, except what pertains to sports, luxurious living, and entertainment.”

Some Christians were attracted to these celebrations, so the church wanted a festival to draw them away. Easter came in the spring; everyone knew that. No one knew when Jesus was born, though, so about 350 AD the bishop of Rome decided that the church would celebrate his birth on Dec. 25. The rest, as they say, is history.

reason for the season

But it’s a very muddled history, as the church picked up traditions from the pagan beliefs of people who were brought into Christianity without entirely giving up their old practices. The Germans gave us trees with lights (“O, Tannenbaum”). Saint Nicholas gradually evolved from stories about a kindly bishop in modern-day Turkey. The Magi became a trio because early Christian artists needed one man to carry the gold, another to carry the frankincense, and one more to carry the myrrh. We have no idea how many there actually were—only that there were two or more. And we certainly don’t know their names, which were attached to them only several centuries later.

All of this is not to say that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth are unreliable. It’s just to remind us that a lot of what we think we know about Christmas doesn’t come from the Bible at all. The “season” had lots of reasons long before Jesus’ birth.

Alumni Feature: Barbara VanHeest

Young adulthood may be the most exciting time in life.  It is also the only time in your life when it seems acceptable for everyone, including complete strangers to ask “What do plan to do after graduation?”

When I arrived at Hope in the fall of 1983, the question was the same, and my answer was very vague.  I had no particular career in mind, and pictured a future where I would wear nice clothes, carry a briefcase, and go to an office every day to do “important” work.  So, with that plan in mind, a Business Major seemed like a good idea.

Turns out that was a popular choice of major with incoming freshman that fall.  My schedule filled up with many core classes and no business classes, and one of those was Modern European History.  That class changed everything for me.  I quickly left my intended Business Major behind and pursued a degree in History instead, which included a May term abroad, and working as a teaching assistant to Dr. Baer in his freshman level courses.

Fast forward 4 years to spring of 1987.  As a graduating senior I was trying to figure out how my History Major skills – which included filling endless blue books to overflowing, long research hours at the library,  piles of notecards with original source citations, and lots and lots of reading – were going to translate into a real job.

What I know now, that I did not know then, was that the skills and preparation I’d received as a History Major translated very well into the business field I’d originally imagined.  I took an entry level management position at a bank, and quickly learned that the ability to sort through a tremendous amount of information quickly and isolate what was relevant to the matter at hand was a skill that most of my peers did not have.  As I moved into different positions, again the experiences as a History Major proved valuable as it was often necessary to make a decision based on thoughtful review of relevant facts, draw conclusions, and write persuasively to an audience I may or may not meet.

My time as a History Major at Hope shaped the way I see and approach the world around me with tools that I put to use daily to further my career in my chosen field.  I learned perspective, thoroughness, curiosity, decision-making, effective communication.  As the years go by I realize how important these things are not only in my professional life, but also in preparing me for all the other important roles I play…student, graduate, wife, mom, mentor, encourager, activist, leader, and teacher all come to mind.

I’m celebrating my 30th year in the banking industry this year.  If you had told me this when I arrived at Hope in the fall of 1983, it would have seemed as unlikely as a car that drives itself, or having a digital assistant named Siri.  But that is just the point.   Here we are in a future that we may not have ever imagined 30 years ago, but the preparation  received as a History Major at Hope has proven timeless.

Student Feature: Studying Law in Spain

natalie fulk

By Natalie Fulk

Basically, since I started taking Spanish in seventh grade, I decided that I had to study abroad at some point while I was in college. I love learning about new cultures and groups of people and I wanted to experience a new culture firsthand. This fascination led me wanting to major in History and Spanish by the time I graduated high school. By this time I had also decided on being a lawyer, mostly because my high school history teacher had been a lawyer before he became a teacher and the way he described it made it seem like a good career for me. Eventually, I added on Political Science as a third major because I took a lower-level Political Science course my freshman year of college and I loved it. However, I wouldn’t say I had an extremely clear grasp on what actually being a lawyer was like; I just knew that studying History and Political Science and going to law school was a good combination and that knowing Spanish is a plus in any career. Now that I am almost done with my study abroad experience, I think I now understand why I chose this path and why it is perfect for me and studying abroad has shaped me towards being a lawyer and understanding more about the field.

I decided to go to Madrid, Spain the fall of my junior year of college, so the fall of 2016. I chose Spain because I think Spain has so much cultural and historical richness and I had learned about the history of Spain very thoroughly in my Spanish classes in high school so I wanted to see all of the places I had learned about. Therefore, while I was researching study abroad programs in Spain, I came across a program by the program CIEE called Legal Studies in Madrid, Spain. This immediately drew my attention because I wanted to take something related to law during my study abroad experience and learn about law in a different country, which would in turn help me learn about law in my own country through comparison. So I chose that program and at the end of the summer took off for Spain.

This program included taking one class taught by the program, Law in Contemporary Spain, and then for the rest of my courses, I am directly enrolled in classes in the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid. Law in Contemporary Spain was extremely interesting because through learning about the process of law in Spain and different social issues and solutions in Spain, I ended up learning more about my society in the United States. For example, we went to a courthouse in Leganés, a city outside of Madrid, and went to the courthouse there and walked through the different procedures that occur there, from lineups for identification by witnesses to trials to weddings. It was interesting to learn about court proceedings in Spain and compare them to the United States. During another class, we talked about the prison system in Spain and how it works to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent recidivism, and this led to a discussion comparing the prison systems of the United States and Spain. This class led me to have a different perspective on law in my own country by thinking about law in Spain and it made me more in interested in studying law.

Also, one of my classes that I took directly enrolled in the university was a law class on the theory of law. In Spain, after students graduate from high school, they immediately start their law studies, instead of going to undergraduate school and then going to law school like in the United States. So this class was like taking a first-year class in law school in the United States. By taking this course, I realize that my writing and analytical skills obtained from my studies so far have made me ready for law school and my majors connect very well to the study of law.  History, political science, and law go well together in that they all force people to analyze material and take into account different perspectives from different parties to form a well-rounded viewpoint or idea. It has been very interesting to study law in another country and through this experience, not only have I learned more about Spain, but I have learned more about my own country and myself.

Happy Thanksgiving!


By Jeanne Petit

While those of us who grow up in the United States connect the history of Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims who came to the United States in the 1620s, the first national celebration of Thanksgiving happened during the bloodiest conflict in American history—the Civil War. In the fall of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the nation to commemorate a day of thanks.  Reading his words today remind us of the challenge and promise of our national mission to build a more perfect union.



By the 16th President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

An Opportunity to Reflect


By Jonathan Hagood

With the help of my eight-year-old son (Tyler) I was recently reminded that I like to travel. It’s a longish story, but here’s the short version.

When my wife and I moved to Michigan in 2008, our oldest son (Jackson) was almost five and Amy was pregnant with Tyler. The three of us had lived in Northern California, Kansas City, Texas, and Buenos Aires; and Jackson has traveled extensively—including a three-day layover in Miami on our return from a year abroad in Argentina. Tyler, born in Michigan at the start of my first full-time job in higher ed, did not travel nearly as much. What’s more important, nearly all of his Michigan friends and classmates have either been to Florida or have grandparents who winter there.

So, since he was about three years old, Tyler has been asking us to take him to Florida. I told him I’d try, and I did. I applied for various grants marginally related to my research. None came through, but I did learn that having your preschooler ask you if you got that grant application in on time and then, later, whether or not you’d heard back about it is a different kind of pressure from the normal pre-tenure anxiety. Finally, a little more than a year ago, I saw an announcement for a conference in Florida for which a paper I’d been working on would be a good fit. I applied—this time without telling my pint-sized academic coach—and last summer heard back that I had been accepted.

Amy and I didn’t tell Tyler until two weeks before the trip, which was November 2-5 and, in a meaningful plot twist, just before Tyler’s eighth birthday on November 6 (as an aside, Tyler got quite a kick out of various security and airline personnel wishing him a happy birthday after checking his passport). So, Tyler finally got to go to Florida. We stayed on a beach, and all it cost him was two hours sitting in the back of a hotel conference room listening to his father and three other people drone on about “Varying Approaches to the Political and Diplomatic History of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Latin America: From Transnationalism to Populism.” Tyler is an excellent travel companion. We enjoyed the airports, he was happy to spend an unplanned night in a Newark hotel thanks to a weather delay, we played at the beach, and we ate a variety of junk food. He and I enjoyed trips to the local Zoo and Aquarium, and we went on a boat and saw wild dolphins.

hagood and tyler hagood and tyler 2

This trip gave me an opportunity to reflect on all of the travels I’ve made “for work.” My first academic conference, in fact, was in Amsterdam. You can imagine how the conversation with Amy, who was at home with a one-year-old Jackson, went when I explained the “necessity” of that experience. Here are some of the travel highlights that I’ve culled from my c.v.:

Dublin, Ireland: We took both kids to this one. Amy had been to Ireland with her grandparents when she was twelve, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Jackson when he was the same age.

Honolulu, Hawaii: This was thanks to a student whose project I mentored and who “needed” to make an off-campus presentation. The conference was a great venue for the work, and it was a great way to start my sabbatical semester. Amy came along, and the two of us spent a lot of quality time on the beach.

Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland: I was able to leverage presenting at a workshop to gain some valuable time at archives that I had wanted to go to but assumed I’d never be able to visit.

Montreal, Canada: Nice city, wish I could come up with work reasons to go back. Great conference.

Melbourne, Australia: Amy and I figured the odds of our ever going to Australia again were pretty minimal, and so we took advantage of a conference opportunity and dropped the kids off with Grandma. They wanted to go, but we told them they have full lives in front of them. We got to take a picture with a koala, which apparently you can’t hold (they get too anxious, which lowers their life expectancy).

Cambridge University, England: This took some creative fund-raising from chairs, deans, and a provost, but I made it happen. The conference itself was amazing, and I made a lot of useful connections. I need to get to Oxford to make a good comparison…

I have of course been to all manner of domestic destinations: Omaha, Chicago, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Boston, Scranton, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, San Diego, etc. It’s always fun to go places, and I think there is something to be said for the conference experience pulling you out of the comfort zone of “home”. It enlivens the brain’s ability to make connections and think about things from different perspectives. It also helps that I like hotels and airplanes and airports. Some people don’t. I’ve also so far managed to stave off any jadedness that comes from the realization that all of these places are actually quite similar. Globalization is real, particularly when one travels for brief periods to conference hotels, meetings rooms, and downtowns. Still, it’s one of the perks of the job.

In the end, I’m glad I got to take Tyler to Florida and that I got to remind myself how fun traveling can be. Left to my own devices, I’d hunker down for the workshop or conference and then slink back to the hotel room to try and become less behind on grading and email. An eight-year-old isn’t content to look at the program and circle the presentations he wants to go to. Far from it.

“So what are you doing with that History major?” Answer: “Everything.”


By Fred Johnson

It makes sense, and I absolutely understand. In today’s twelve easy payment, no money down, reality [non-reality] TV, Facebook “Like,” “Friend,” “Poke,” OMG, #Whatever world, it seems that knowing, understanding, valuing, and majoring in History is an odd choice, maybe even foolish. Of course, historians have long insisted that the skills learned from studying history are the real treasures of the discipline. Still, with college costs burdening family budgets and parents wanting their students to pursue majors that transfer quickly into jobs, touting History as a great choice for a commoditized employment market is a tough sell. Okay, fair enough.

So rather than dash into the strong headwinds of opinion which have long insisted that studying history has little practical value for the “real” world, it’s more productive to examine if, and how, the “real” world has any practical value for history. As a young Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant who was responsible for the lives of the Marines I commanded, there wasn’t a day when history didn’t come to my rescue. With more enthusiasm than experience and more cockiness than common sense, the skills of research, information assessment, precise question development, facilitation, public speaking, team-building, and leadership that I learned as a History major helped me succeed. Period! The decisions I made by employing the skills taught by history had to be right because if they weren’t, people died.

fred johnson

Senior officers understood that “wet behind the ears” 2nd Lieutenants made mistakes, but they expected those mistakes to be few, widely spaced apart, and steadily decreasing in number. Frankly, the content of my favorite historical topics didn’t offer solutions to my immediate daily problems. After all, it was history. On the other hand, the process of studying and learning that content, developing the oral and written communication skills needed to articulate it, and refining the critical thinking essential for success in any field, anytime, anywhere were gifts that the historical content gave and has continued to give.

While working as a Training Coordinator at an an aircraft wheel and brake manufacturer, my co-workers had little interest in, or use, for history. After all, the product was aircraft wheels and brakes and history was, well, history. The information I taught at the company had to be conceptually precise whether it was related to chemistry and physics or federal and international standards for quality performance and safety.

I wasn’t particularly qualified to work in a manufacturing facility that used high-tech Computer Numerically Controlled [CNC] machines to produce aircraft wheels and brakes. I wasn’t particularly qualified to give instruction on how to operate those machines, teach the techniques for chemically treating aluminum and steel, or provide detailed guidance for the Carbon Vapor Deposition/Carbon Vapor Infiltration [CVD/CVI] processing of our most expensive brakes. My knowledge gap in all those areas was filled by employing the investigative research, source identification, information analysis, and writing skills learned from studying history. My ability to teach classes on those and many other high tech subjects resulted from oral skills that had been strengthened through class discussions, public presentations, panel participation, and orally defending history papers.

Winning the respect and confidence of our talented mechanical and electrical engineers resulted from possessing the skills to research, analyze, and blend into multilevel instruction the work they did as it related to the work of our brilliant machine operators on the shop floor. There was no room for failure because, for those who fly commercial airliners and those who manufacture the wheels and brakes those aircraft land on, there’s no tolerance for a bad landing. None!

It wasn’t until coming to the apparently “not real” world of Hope College to teach history that I finally used history purely for history. When telling students that the skills and expertise I learned from history supported me, empowered me, and, frankly, kept me employed in every non-history job I’ve ever had, their eyes fill with understandable doubt. For even in an institution dedicated to exploring and nurturing the spirit and the intellect to develop whole human beings [rather than merely graduating more highly skilled employees] there’s tremendous pressure for scholars to chase majors that will get them a job. That’s shortsighted, but it is what it is.

The reality of the commoditized workplace offers assurances that there’ll always be a need for those aspiring to be mere employees. On the other hand, for those who seek to both get a job and have a vocation; for those who’d like to develop skills that’ll help them succeed in just about any occupation, anywhere, anytime; for those who dare to risk learning a discipline that will enrich their lives and vicariously impart the traits of leadership; for anyone who desires to learn writing skills that will get noticed and earn promotions; for the few who want to become dynamic public speakers of great influence; for those wise enough to know that the key to future prosperity lies in mastering knowledge of the past; for those who seek to refine their understanding about the dynamics of teamwork and collaboration; for citizens who prefer knowledge and facts to the toxic bamboozling of pundits. For those looking to get the biggest bang for every tuition dollar spent in their quest for a college degree, majoring in History will yield a powerful dividend in that area the commoditized workplace knows so well: ROI – Return on the Investment.

Student Feature: Margaret Dickinson


By Margaret Dickinson ’17

Summer research is one of the main reasons I decided to come to Hope way back when I was a senior in high school. The opportunity to work within my field of interest seemed like the perfect way for me to determine if I could see myself doing that work for the rest of my life. So, I came to Hope, declared a physics major the second semester of my freshman year, and proceeded to do two years of summer research within the physics department.

Now, you are probably wondering why I’m writing for the History Department’s blog if I worked in the physics department. Well, through those two summers of work, I discovered that life as a physics researcher became less and less appealing to me. So there I was, a first semester junior studying abroad in London who had no clue what she wanted to do with her life. And that’s when I discovered my love of all things history. Through the courses I took in London, I found that I loved the type of reading and writing that are done in history courses and I wanted to do more of that kind of work when I got back home.

My first day back on campus at Hope last spring, I changed majors, advisors, and my entire class schedule. I went from having classes mostly in physics and other sciences to a schedule composed of only history classes. Throughout the semester, I found myself enjoying the work even more than before, and I began to actively pursue my interest in attending graduate school for history. So, when I was given the opportunity to do summer research within the history department, I was delighted.

This summer I worked with a group on a project for Dr. Janes. She is currently on sabbatical writing a book about the modern history of global food. For our work, we helped her build up a library of sources and began some initial research on specific foods she is planning on highlighting within her book. I got to study the history of curry and its relations to modern imperialism particularly relating to Britain and India (side note: I am interested in studying modern British political history so this was right up my alley). As a group, we also got to spend time working in the culinary archives at the University of Michigan.

This round of summer research was a very positive experience for me. Getting to spend time in the U of M archives really allowed me to better understand how in-depth history research is performed. By this point in time, I’ve realized that the more time I spend reading and writing history, the more I love it.

If anyone reading this is considering doing summer research, I would like to highly recommend that you do it. It’s clearly played a very important role in my story so far, and I have gained a lot of clarity by actually engaging in work within my fields of study. Even if you don’t plan on attending graduate school, the analytical thinking abilities and research skills that you develop through this kind of work are easily marketable in almost any field. Most importantly, the relationships that you build by working closely with faculty members is very rewarding and has certainly impacted my intellectual growth through my time at Hope.

Why I Study What I Study

Welcome, New History Professor, Wayne Tan!

wayne tan

By Professor Wayne Tan

Here I am sitting in the comfort of my office, the newest faculty member in the awesome History Department! As I’m writing this blog post, I can’t help but reflect on the one thing that I sometimes take for granted: my journey to work. I mean it in the physical sense of getting to the workplace. My office, as you might well know, is located on the 3rd floor of Lubbers Hall. On the many days when I am brimming with energy, I race up the 4 big flights of stairs to the 3rd floor without much effort. But, I can remember just as many days when I wouldn’t lift up my leaden feet and would consciously choose the convenience of a ride in the elevator.

I realize, however, that this flexibility of choice is a privilege. And, indeed, it is an immense one. How would I, if in a wheelchair-bound state, have reacted to the predicament when the elevator broke down (on the several occasions when it actually did)? What if my vision failed me someday, and I couldn’t find my way upstairs, past the heavy nondescript doors and down the hallways? Or, what if I was so seized by a paralyzing fear of heights or falling that I couldn’t venture beyond the first step? These questions seem to have a hypothetical ring to them—the imponderable what-ifs in life. Yet they are real issues to those among us who labor under the value-laden label of disability—physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities. In fact, these individuals, whom we are quick to call disabled, have populated the pages of history, at times fading out of the collective historical consciousness. As a corrective to the general linear narrative of progress, I have made them the subjects of my own research in disability studies, my field of interest and specialty.

You might ask, “Why should disability matter at all?” I’d like to invite you to join me in exploring this question in my new course “Disability and Medicine in Global History” in Spring 2017. My short answer: disability matters to us because it is about difference—being different, celebrating difference, and using difference as the starting point of our introspective frames of mind. Modern times have much to teach us. But so does our distant past. One guiding philosophy comes from 11th-century Chinese Neo-Confucian thought. Virtue, it is said, comes from knowing how to examine the things that are close at hand. No project is too daunting or ambitious, if we set our sights on the stuff of everyday life—our routines, activities, and encounters, however ordinary they may seem.


HIST 295: Disability and Medicine in Global History
MWF   1PM-1:50PM       (Spring 2017)

This is what History is all about, as well: an attitude toward learning. I am heartened by what I know, but even more encouraged to seek gems in the lessons I had not known. How much more joy I would reap if I should begin learning, not through any express recourse, but instead, one step at a time! Step by step, flight by flight, and level by level. Patiently, mindfully, and purposefully. That journey, in my view, is also a privilege.

Student Feature: Colin O’Connor

By Colin O’Connor


I came to Hope College to study history. As a freshman, I took a survey course in ancient history and learned how to write a paper as a history student in the history workshop. When I was signing up for my sophomore fall classes, I had the chance to take a course on the history of the modern Middle East with Professor Gibbs. I decided to take the course because I had not ever formally studied the Middle East and with the current news headlines of the day, I figured that knowing the history of the area would aid in my understanding of the conflict. After learning the history of the Middle East, I saw the course list for Spring 2016, and on it was a chance to put my knowledge to use in. I signed up for Hope’s Model Arab League class with Professor Awad knowing only that I would get to go to some sort of conference with the class, at some point in time. The class only met once a week on Tuesday nights and only took up a half semester, but it was a great time! In the class, we looked at the Middle East, and especially the country we would be representing in the conference, Lebanon. For most of the class time, we looked at the cultural, political, and general history of Lebanon and the greater Middle East. In class, we also took the time to practice the methods and procedures of the Model Arab League itself.  That meant going over the dialogues, line by line, that every country would have to go through to exercise motions and introduce resolutions to fellow delegations.

The day of the conference my fellow delegates and I headed out to Grand Rapids where the conference was to be held. When we arrived, we took our seat and were treated to one speaker attempt to defend Wahhabi Islam (the religion of Saudi Arabia), and another speaker discussed the details of the conference and the benefits Model Arab League provides to students. Over the course of three days, there were several planetary sessions, in which the different delegations discussed various matters pertaining to the different committees we were placed on. It was an awesome chance to put my historical knowledge to the test. I was able to defend Lebanon from other nefarious Gulf Coast countries that did not have our interests at heart. In doing so I received a distinguished delegate award from the conference from my efforts. The entire weekend was a blast at the Model Arab League, but it would not have been without the knowledge I gained from studying the Middle East.


Alumni Feature: Jeff Harrison

By Jeff Harrison

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I entered Hope College in 2008 and graduated in 2012. I enrolled in a Civil War course taught by Professor Fred Johnson my first semester, loved the discussions I had with my peers in that class, and  knew I wanted to major in history from there on out. As a side note, I recently traveled to Austin, Texas for work and got a beer with a friend I met in that class!

I work in sales at a cybersecurity company in Ann Arbor, MI called Duo Security. Although I did not pursue a career specific to my history degree, I am very glad I studied history at Hope. I made some great friends while involved with Phi Alpha Theta and the program opened doors for good internships at museums in Holland and Grand Rapids as a student. These internships were a great way to learn outside of the classroom and helped prepared me for my career after college.

I remember the grading rubrics in my history classes being very focused on writing, communication and critical thinking skills. There was a learning curve when I first started the program.  By the time I graduated and entered the “real world,” I was very confident in my writing and overall ability to communicate with others via email, LinkedIn, presentations, proposals etc.  Communication is “key” in the workplace: teams and individuals that can communicate well with others, no matter what field of business, are more successful than those that cannot. It seems like whenever I hear about an issue in the office it stems from poor communication between employees, clients or both. Potential customers aren’t impressed by someone whose writing sounds juvenile.

Hope’s history program fine-tuned the skills I need to work well with others in a professional setting. Drafting and reviewing papers taught me a lot about writing style and grammar. Team projects, “mock debates” and discussions we held in class were good practice for presenting ideas and articulating the thought processes behind them. This expertise is used on a daily basis in my sales role.

I encourage you to check out the Phi Alpha Theta organization and the department’s internship opportunities if you’re unsure about whether or not a history major is right for you. The professors are great and the smaller department’s personal touch prepares you for what follows your time at Hope!

  • Jeff Harrison