What I Learned from the Children of Agent Orange

Governance in today’s world often resembles organized chaos, existing solely for the prevention of complete anarchy. Specific people, or groups, with destructive intentions take charge while others either applaud or shake their heads, wondering about the decisions of such leaders. Passively accepting defective, corrupt governance as if there were no other choice also causes much suffering and injustice. Citizens in a democracy must stay informed about the actions of their government or risk the costly consequences risked by such ignorance. 

During the 2019 Vietnam May Term, I witnessed the long-term effects of what happens when national leaders take actions that are harmful to citizens, and others. Such was the case for American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians who were exposed to the deadly chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. 

Molly Douma with Vietnamese schoolchildren.

From 1962 – 1971, the U.S. military sprayed vast amounts of Agent Orange across parts of Vietnam. The goal of the program, known as “Operation Ranch Hand,” was to kill off vegetation to make targeting the enemy easier. The real, long-term consequence of this operation, however, was that the chemical seeped into the water table and caused multiple generations of Vietnamese children to be born with various mental and physical disabilities. While the U. S. government has, in recent years, taken actions to assist with cleaning up the devastation caused by Agent Orange, it still insists that there’s no direct connection between the chemical and subsequent generations of children with birth defects. 

Vietnamese children who had been exposed to Agent Orange.

During our trip to Vietnam, our class visited a facility for children struggling with the mental and physical effects caused by Agent Orange. As I played hide-and-seek and catch with these loving and joyful children, it pained me to know that their learning challenges, and the ostracism they’ve suffered, was caused by a chemical introduced by my own government. One could only wonder: “What would have happened if the political leaders during the Vietnam War had been able to look into the smiling faces or hear the laughter of the children whose lives were going to harmed by Agent Orange? Would it have made a difference? Would there have been a different outcome?” 

Many politicians have had the luxury of being safely removed from conflict and the consequences of their decisions. That separation also allows them to ignore possibilities regarding the moral bankruptcy of their actions. The violent chaos that has engulfed the opening decades of the 21st century has proven that such separation, reinforced by indifference and ignorance, is neither workable nor safe. 

Nations of the 21st century need leaders who comprehend that their policies ultimately become personal. For a global superpower like the United States, having leadership with that kind of awareness is especially important, because as the children affected by Agent Orange taught me during the 2019 Vietnam May Term, we need to pursue what is good and what is just and demand the same from those who have been given the privilege to govern. 

Molly Douma, Class of 2022, in Vietnam last May.

Spring 2020 Courses are Here!

Not sure which History classes to take in the Spring? Our upper-level courses are available below for your perusing! If you have questions about them, please contact Dr. Jeanne Petit (petit@hope.edu).

History 141-01 A The Historian’s Vocation (2 Credits)
MWF 12:00 -12:50 PM | Janis Gibbs

Do you love history, but struggle to answer when people ask you, “What are you going to do with that history major (or minor)?” In this course, we will examine the ways the study of history can become the foundation of your larger vocations in life, whether in a career or as a civically-engaged member of your community. We will consider how the skills you will develop as a historian (reading critically, researching widely, writing effectively) provide a foundation for a variety of careers, as well as for a life of meaning and purpose. As part of this course, students will work with the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career, learn practical skills, such as how to write a resume, and develop a plan for pursuing experiential learning opportunities that will aid in vocational exploration and discernment.

This course is required for all history majors and minors who entered Hope College in the Fall of 2018 and later.
Pre-requisite: HIST 140 (can be taken in the same semester)

History 200 01A: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (2 Credits)

R 6:30 – 9:20 PM |Albert Bell

Ovid’s Metamorphoses are the source for many of the myths familiar to us from antiquity, such as Pyramis and Thisbe (the inspiration for Romeo and Juliet) and Pygmalion and Galatea (the inspiration for My Fair Lady). But Ovid ran into trouble. The emperor Augustus disliked the tone of his poetry so much he sent him into exile. This course will read selections from the poem and examine Ovid’s troubled life.

History 200 01B: Cosimo, The Renaissance Man (2 Credits)
R 6:30 – 9:20 PM | Albert Bell

Cosimo de Medici dominated the city of Florence for the first half of the 15th century without ever being elected or appointed to an office. Using wealth acquired from his bank, he hand-picked people who were chosen for office. He also hired artists to decorate the city and his home. But he lived in the terror of going to hell when he died because he was so rich and, according to Jesus, rich men could not get into heaven. Cosimo’s efforts to buy his way out of hell created the Italian Renaissance.

History 255 01: World War I America (GLD)
MWF 9:30 – 10:20 AM |Jeanne Petit

This course will examine how World War I changed the United States politically, socially, culturally, and economically.  We will focus on the war’s impact in many areas, including industrialization, unionization, urbanization, the environmental movement, progressive politics, the freedom struggle of African Americans, women’s suffrage, immigration, the Red Scare, and the cultural transformations of “the Roaring Twenties.” 

Flagged for domestic global learning.

History 268 01: Glory & Decadence: Russian History from Peter the Great to the USSR (GLI)
MW 1:00-1:50 PM |Wayne Tan

Russia is, arguably, one of the most influential nations today on the global stage. With humble beginnings as fragmented principalities, it grew into a vast empire spanning Asia and Europe by the 19th century and, as the core of the Soviet Union, dominated world politics for much of the 20th century. A land of untold riches, it was also a land of enigmas and contradictions. What is Russia’s identity today? What are the origins of Russian imperial traditions and institutions? How did its literature convey the political anxieties of the centuries? How did the 1917 Revolution affect the rest of the world? Why did the Soviet Union emerge and then slowly unravel? What lessons does the story of Russia hold for the future of global diplomacy and conflict resolution? This course explores these questions by surveying Russian history from the time of Peter the Great to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and recent developments in the 21st century.

This course is flagged for global learning international & fufills the regional requirement of the History major.

History 341 01: World War II: Collaboration and Resistance (GLI)

MWF 11:00-11:50 PM | Gloria Tseng

This course aims to explore one specific dimension of twentieth-century history, namely, how societies and individuals faced the moral ambiguities caused by the Second World War. Our goal is to learn about the significant events of the Second World War as it unfolded in different parts of the world.  But more importantly, we will examine several noteworthy individuals and the specific circumstance in which they made significant moral choices and acted for good or for ill. It is the instructor’s hope that each person in the course will be challenged to consider what it means to act ethically in situations that require discernment and courage.

History 351 01: Slavery and Race in American (GLI)

MWF 3:00 – 4:20 PM | Fred Johnson

From its origins as a British colonial society to its dominance as a global superpower, the United States has struggled to resolve conflicts arising from issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration. This course examines how such factors have influenced the overall development of the United States while exploring strategies for reconciling those and related challenges confronting Americans in the 21st century.

History 370 01: Modern Middle East (GLI)

MWF 2:00-2:50 PM | Janis Gibbs

To understand what is going on in the Middle East today, it is crucial that we understand its history. In this course, we will survey the social, political, religious, geographic, and economic history of the Middle East, broadly defined to include the regions of North Africa and Iran, as well as the core lands of the Middle East, from Turkey through the eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Most of our attention will be devoted to the modern period—that is, the period between the 19th century and the present. To understand the context of the history of the modern Middle East, we’ll spend the first few weeks considering the rise of Islam and some of the facets of the history of the earlier Middle East that influence the region today.

Flagged for Global Learning.

Don’t forget! Dr. Lauren Janes is leading the 2020 Paris May Term: Art, History, & Global Citizenship.

This is a Grand Challenges Initiative Pathways course. This qualifies as HIST 131 (CHII), HIST295 (Europe Since 1500), Art 111 (FA1), or Senior Seminar. Contact Dr. Janes at janes@hope.edu to apply.

Graduate Insight: A History Degree at Work

Jennifer Cimmarusti (’18) at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center in Douglas, MI.

Hello to all the current History students, faculty and staff, and alumni. It has been well over a year since I stepped foot into Lubbers to attend a class and a lot has changed since then. I took a well-needed year off from school to figure out what I exactly was going to do with my newly acquired degree. After some soul searching, I started volunteering at my local museum. At the time, I was considering museum work but was having trouble getting my foot in the door. Then, Dr. Janes passed along a flyer for a museum internship in Douglas, MI. And, after a few short weeks, I started working at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center.

My official job title is the “Communication and Events Intern” but that hardly fits what I do. I have worked in nearly all aspects of the museum, from archives to customer service. My first big project was working on the annual newspaper, The Historical Chronicle. It was my responsibility to call advertisers, pick articles, lay out the page design and edit copy. It was truly a challenge for a newcomer like me. Thankfully, we were able to complete the newspaper and have it printed for the summer tourists. My other work included creating advertisements for events and exhibit openings, working as a greeter and cashier, and writing articles for the monthly newsletter. Along with that, I was able to work in the archives and cataloged all of the center’s LGBTQ items. My favorite project was working in the art gallery. In August, the History Center opened an exhibit on local artist and art teacher, Cora Bliss Taylor. I researched the artist and helped collect paintings for the exhibit. I also played a role in writing the artifact labels. It was hard work, but I loved every minute of it. From my experience at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, I now know I want to become a museum curator and will be applying to graduate school for Museum Studies.

Artist Cora Bliss Taylor’s exhibition didactic from the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, featuring Jen Cimmarusti (’18) as Assistant Curator.

My advice for future historians: if you think you might be interested in working in a museum – try volunteering. I know from first-hand experience that small museums have many projects and not enough people to help. On behalf of The Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, we would like to extend a special invitation for Hope students to intern for class credit. If interning does not fit your schedule, you can still volunteer your time for the experience. The History Center currently needs help in arranging their holiday events, writing the monthly newsletter and annual newspaper, and working on Fall 2019 and Summer 2020 exhibits. If you are interested, please let them know! Saugatuck and Douglas are a short distance from campus (about 20 minutes). If you do not have transportation, no problem. There is a bus service, the Interurban, which travels from Holland to Saugatuck and Douglas.

For questions, contact Eric Gollannek.
Phone: (269) 857-5751, Email: info@sdhistoricalsociety.org

**If you want history credit for it, please contact the Hope College History Department.

Student Feature: Reed Hanson

Reed with a Franciscan friar in Assisi.

Going to Rome felt like a death sentence the first week. I knew nobody else from Hope and didn’t have any other friends from high school in Europe with me, so I was plagued by intense feelings of isolation and loneliness for about a week after I arrived. It reminded me of freshman year all over again, except multiplied by a new language and culture that is completely foreign to anything I had ever experienced before. I came in thinking ‘I am going to find travel buddies right away and plan all sorts of amazing and wonderful adventures!’ But when that didn’t happen I was left confused and aimless. I knew I shouldn’t waste this experience overseas but I felt homesick and longed for familiarity- something that would make me feel better.

It wasn’t until going to Malta the second week of February that I leaned into myself and really felt convicted. I went with one of my housemates and his friends, so I stayed in an apartment with four guys I didn’t know at all. I decided to travel the island by myself and it was easily the best decision I have made while being in Rome! I knew right then and there that I don’t need to depend on others for going on trips! Going solo through Malta allowed me to do things I wanted to do, and I got so much more out of it than if I had stayed with other people.

The Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta

As a result of that realization, I have traveled to Cassino and Florence solo, and have planned trips to Venice and Normandy by myself. People might say that I’ll be lonely there, and having friends can make experiences better (Like Assisi, I traveled with two amazing friends and it was my favorite town I’ve been to in Italy!), but I also learned that it’s okay to travel alone and see the things I want to see and enjoy this beautiful country on my own terms. In addition, I am staying an extra few weeks after my program ends to explore Europe and see my uncle in Egypt, and I found a good friend from the Bible study here who is also staying! He and I are spending time in London and Dublin the second week of May.

I chose Rome for the History and Classics program, my two majors. Seeing things that I learned about in class for years has been a dream come true; I have studied Latin since middle school, so seeing the Roman Forum and thousands of ancient inscriptions across the city has opened my eyes and allowed me to learn the material unlike any other semester. In any given week, we learn about certain subjects in class and then go out into the city and see them in person later! There have been so many times this semester where I have been completely speechless as I stare and admire Roman ruins that have survived for two thousand years.

The Roman Forum, from the Capitoline Museum

Every week I am blown away at things I see that we learn about in lecture, and I can’t help but praise the Lord for putting me in this amazing program. For being able to travel outside the city and explore Italy and Europe. To see the Normandy battlefields in France, Zurich and the Swiss Alps, London/Dublin and the British Isles, and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. All of it is for His glory, with each part representing His majesty. This city, this experience, this world is night and day compared to Holland, Michigan, and yet I am oddly charmed by the inviting sense of wonder Europe offers. I will miss all that Italy has to offer when I fly home in May. Except for the cigarette smoke. I can’t stand the smoking.

Overall, Rome has been an absolute blessing. The food has been kind to me, the views and scenic sights have blown me away with their magnificence and elegance, the small towns in the Italian countryside have given me memories I will carry with me for years to come, and the abundance of Roman ruins have been a daily reminder of why I came here. I discover something new about this Eternal City on a daily basis, and a lifetime of living here wouldn’t be enough to uncover every secret Rome has to offer.

Day of Giving

Hope Day of Giving starts this Thursday, April 11. This year it’s all about “Give to What you Love,” and for 36 hours you can give directly to support the Hope History Department as we work to teach historical thinking skills, expand students’ global engagement, and engage students in original research.  You can help us keep making a difference by heading to http://dayofgiving.hope.edu  this Thursday and giving directly to the History Department or to student scholarships.


Fred Johnson teaching students in Vietnam-War era bunker during Vietnam: History, People, Culture May Term in 2017.

Your gift, no matter the amount, is an investment in today’s history students. Your contributions will help us further enrich our majors and minors with experiences that help them engage with history and cultures around the world.

We hope to offer financial support to history students pursuing summer off-campus study in programs like the Vienna Summer School as well as newer options like history May Terms in Paris and Vietnam. We also want to continue to support summer student research projects, like the team of history majors who created the website  We All Must Do Our Utmost: Holland, Michigan in World War I. We would like to increase opportunities for students to present their research at national history conferences, as Aine O’Connor (‘20) did this winter at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association.

Avery Lowe (’19), Aine O’Connor (’20), and Natalie Fulk (’18), worked with History Department Chair Dr. Jeanne Petit and Mary Riepma Ross Director of the Archives Geoffrey Reynolds in the summer of 2017 to create a community resource on local history in WWI.

Interested in supporting other programs at Hope? You can give to more than one area, including our greatest need: scholarships!  http://dayofgiving.hope.edu

Thank you for participating in Day of Giving!



It’s Course Registration Time!

Take a look at the upper-level courses being taught by our great professors for Fall 2019! If you have questions about them, please contact Dr. Jeanne Petit (petit@hope.edu).

History 141-01 The Historian’s Vocation
MWF 12:00 -12:50 PM
Jeanne Petit

Do you love history, but struggle to answer when people ask you, “What are you going to do with that history major (or minor)?” In this course, we will examine the ways the study of history can become the foundation of your larger vocations in life, whether in a career or as a civically-engaged member of your community. We will consider how the skills you will develop as a historian (reading critically, researching widely, writing effectively) provide a foundation for a variety of careers, as well as for a life of meaning and purpose. As part of this course, students will work with the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career, learn practical skills, such as how to write a resume, and develop a plan for pursuing experiential learning opportunities that will aid in vocational exploration and discernment.

This course is required for all history majors and minors who entered Hope College in the Fall of 2018 and later.
Pre-requisite: HIST 140 (can be taken in the same semester)

History 200 02A: The Iron Curtain: Eastern Europe during the Cold War
TR 1:30-2:50 PM
Mizuho Nakada

This course will focus on the relationship between Eastern-European citizens and their communist party regimes during the Cold War. The course will explore how people were mobilized for and also spontaneously participated in the “national socialist revolution” of 1950s. We will also examine the changes in later decades as those in civil society contested their regimes in the 1960s and then shifted to conformity and retreat into private life in 1970s. Special emphasis will be placed on the compatibility between social justice and civil liberty.

History 200 01B: Asia in Western Imagination (GLI)
MWF 1:00-1:50 PM
Wayne Tan

What is Asia? Where are Asia’s boundaries? How do we encounter Asia in everyday life? In this course, we will find answers to these questions through a survey of historical sources written since the 1800s about travels in foreign lands, the violent clash of empires, and the possibilities and limits of cultural exchanges. We will learn how to read texts and images—how English-speaking and non-English-speaking writers encountered the Other, how knowledge was disseminated across cultural borders, and how we, as contemporary readers, have inherited some of these assumptions. In other words, we use Asia as a space for questioning how we render the foreign vaguely familiar, and produce (and reproduce) what we thought we always knew.

Flagged for global learning international.

History 210 01: The Roman World (GLI)
MWF 2:00-2:50 PM
Al Bell

The Romans dominated the Mediterranean world for centuries. Their language, literature and architecture are still the basis for western culture. Sometimes they seem like modern people, except for those funny togas, but when we look at them more closely we see that their culture might have been a thin veneer over the barbarism of gladiator games, slavery, and vast inequality between social classes. Through the study of written documents and archaeological remains we will try to understand who the Romans were and why we are still so fascinated by them.

Flagged for global learning international.

History 252 01: Civil War America (GLD)
MW 3:00-4:50 PM
Fred Johnson

This course spans the years from 1820 to 1877, starting with the Missouri Compromise and progressing through the Civil War and Reconstruction. During this period, as the United States expanded its territorial boundaries, forged a political identity, and further achieved a sense of national unity, sectional rivalries, industrialization, reform movements, and increasingly hostile confrontations over the language and interpretation of the Constitution led to crisis. This course will examine how those factors contributed toward the 1861-1865 Civil War, with subsequent special emphasis being placed upon how the conflict and post-war Reconstruction influenced America’s social, political, cultural, and economic development as it prepared to enter the 20th

This course is flagged for global learning domestic.

History 295 01: Ancient Rome & The Third Reich: Facist Appropriations of Classical Thought
MWF 2:00-2:50 PM
Lee Forester & Bram ten Berge

This course is an in-depth examination of Nazi Germany and the ancient Greco-Roman ethnic perceptions that influenced the formation of Nazi ideology. We start by looking at Tacitus’ Germania, an ethnographic account of the peoples, geography, resources, and customs of the Germani, the Germanic tribes that eventually overthrew the Western Roman Empire. We will then analyze how this text, and the Roman perceptions of the Germanic peoples expressed in it, were appropriated by the leaders of the Third Reich to support their vision of racial superiority. This course will train students to recognize the dangers in using ancient documents to justify modern beliefs and practices.

History 357 01: U.S. Cultural History (GLD)
MWF 9:30-10:20 AM
Jeanne Petit

Spanning the years from the Civil War through the late 20th century, this course examines the ways both ordinary people and elites created, challenged and shaped American culture.  Students will consider cultural history on two levels.  First, we will explore changes in the ways American men and women of different classes, races, and regions expressed themselves through popular and high culture—including forms like vaudeville, world’s fairs, movies, and literary movements like the Harlem Renaissance.  Second, we will analyze the influence of cultural ideas on political, economic and social changes, such as fights for African-American and women’s rights, the emergence of consumer culture, class struggles during the Great Depression, participation in World War II, protesting in the 1960s, and the rise of conservatism in the 1980s. Students will learn the various ways historians interpret cultural phenomena and then do their own interpretations in an extensive research paper. Flagged for global learning domestic.

History 395 01: Friend or Foe: China and the U.S. in Trade, War, and the Missionary Movement
MWF 11:00-11:50 AM
Gloria Tseng

America’s trade war with China has been much in the news, the latest episode in a multifaceted relationship that began in the eighteenth century. The US was a young nation; China was a declining empire. Yankee merchants were eager to make a fortune in the China trade, and missionaries were eager to take the Gospel to “China’s millions.” As the young nation became the leader of the free world, and revolutionaries turned China into a Communist state, the two countries have been both allies and enemies, and their citizens have regarded “the other” with curiosity, benevolence, suspicion, admiration, contempt, or hostility at different points in the two countries’ relationship. This course offers a historical overview of this evolving relationship.




Alumna Feature: The Accidental Archaeologist

Crystal Hollis ’10 looking for graffiti in Southwark Cathedral

Hello, I’m Crystal and I stare at walls. No really, I spend hours in small buildings shining light on walls and recording what I see – I’m an archaeologist who specializes in medieval graffiti. I didn’t plan to be an archaeologist; I just kind of ended up here and happen to love it.

I first learned of medieval graffiti when I was visiting old churches on a study break during my MA in London. Initially, I was drawn to the scavenger hunt aspect of graffiti – that I could find some cool things that no one else had noticed, or if their existence was posted somewhere that I could follow the directions, see them for myself, and check them off my personal list.  Eventually, this gave way to a deeper interest in the reasons behind the graffiti and inscriptions I was finding. I wanted to understand their role in medieval society and be able to take that knowledge to breathe life into the distant past. I started to look past the big beautiful inscriptions and focus on the more common and mundane – understanding that sometimes a scratch was just a scratch, but that other time a scratch on the wall had a meaningful purpose like protection or remembrance.

Inscription of a swan in St. Albans Cathedral

Graffiti became a doorway to understanding and tangibly connecting with the average person of late medieval and early modern society – the more marginalized and forgotten individuals who only show up as a blip on the historical records’ radar if they’re lucky. While staring at a stone, I’ve witnessed a whole culture–gossip in Latin on the walls, pleas for remembrance during a plague, a whole host of animals and faces, staves of music carefully laid out, building plans, and even reminders to pray.

My time at Hope set the foundation for the work I do today. While much of what I do starts out in the field with observing, recording, and cataloging graffiti, the real work takes place behind the scenes when I get back from site visits and have to ‘do something’ with the data. Researching building histories through primary sources, finding corresponding secondary sources, and of course writing all make up the part of my work that people actually see – publications and presentations. Not to sound like a cliché, but HIST 140 (the class where Turabian, editing, rewriting, and source selection is taught) has ended up being my life-saving toolkit all too often. I still have Turabian on my shelf. I still read my papers out loud and edit them viciously. I still get notoriously picky about what I submit.

Hope also prepared me for the odd blend of history and technology that I use to document, sort, and analyze my finds. My minor in computer science – where I learned basic database construction and design – has been crucial to storage and analysis of my graffiti data as I have thousands of images that need to be organized and easily accessed. At the time I wasn’t sure if having a history major and computer science minor would really be useful and it turns out the blend of humanities and science education I received has been perfect for my career in archaeology.

When I graduated with my history degree I never thought I would end up an archaeologist, much less a specialist in historic graffiti. There was no grand plan there I must admit–I just found something I loved and used the tools I had to make it work. My work has taken me to some amazing places like behind the scenes at the Tower of London and the roof of Southwark Cathedral in search of inscriptions and their stories. It’s hard work, and in some cases, I’ve had to play catch up in terms of archaeological education, but at the end of the day if you want to do something badly enough, I’ve learned you can figure it out, make it work and excel.

Crystal Hollis, ’10

After spending nine weeks in Europe researching churches and cathedrals this summer, I’m looking forward to a number of new projects. Next year I’ve been booked to speak for the second year in a row in central London, and following that I will begin projects on graffiti in two Hertfordshire churches. I’m hoping that a proposed project in Finland will also be on my list next year. Finally, the beginnings of a PhD in the UK are on the horizon for next autumn. I never thought I’d get this far but I’m excited to see where I end up going.


Faculty Feature: Jeanne Petit

We’re excited to start a new semester here in the history department. And as I often do, I began the year by attending the American Historical Association meeting, which was in Chicago this year. This conference brings together scholars from all different geographic regions and all fields of history, from ancient Mesopotamia through the late-20th century. Those of us who attend the conference can hear historians present their latest research, attend panels on innovative ways to teach history, and get to see all the latest scholarship at a massive book exhibit. At the University of Toronto Press table, Dr. Lauren Janes and I found the textbook Dr. Heidi Kraus co-authored!

Lauren Janes and Jeanne Petit with Dr. Kraus’s book

Both Dr. Janes and Dr. Wayne Tan presented papers at the conference. Dr. Janes presented a paper called “#Couscousgate in Historical Context: Food and Identity in French Politics.” She made some innovative connections between current controversies and a larger food history. She looked at recent instances over the past decade where French politicians have manufactured political scandals around food. In all of these “scandals,” French politicians reflect many of the same racialized ideas about food and French identity that they did in the period Dr. Janes discusses in Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire, the 1920s and 1930s. You can read a quick take on #couscousgate here. Dr. Tan’s paper “Larger than Life: The Legacy of Helen Keller in Japanese Disability History” explored the historical contexts of Helen Keller’s two visits to Japan before and after World War II (WWII). His presentation focused on the life, career, and networks of the blind Japanese activist Iwahashi Takeo (1898-1954), who became one of Keller’s closest allies and a champion of the blind population. Dr. Tan argued that by placing Keller in a narrative that connected her with activists like Iwahashi Takeo, the disability history of early 20th-century Japan could be told differently as a transnational history.

Avery Lowe (‘19), Aine O’Connor (‘20) and Sarah Lundy (‘19)

We were particularly pleased that three Hope history majors attended the AHA this year: Seniors Sarah Lundy and Avery Lowe, and Junior Aine O’Connor. Aine’s poster was accepted for the Undergraduate Research session. At this session, she presented the work she did on a Mellon Scholars research project directed by Dr. Tan titled “‘There Were Many Like Us’: Stories of Russian Orphanhood.” Through this project, Aine recovered the voices of children who lived in Russian orphanages in the late 19th and 20th centuries. You can read more about her research, and see a digital timeline of her work here:   https://bit.ly/2JyhxdR.

Aine O’Connor (‘20) and Dr. Tan with Aine’s poster

The students also participated in other parts of the conference. Sarah attended a job fair for history graduate students and got information about careers at the Henry Ford Museum, the Smithsonian, the Newberry Library, and a research consulting company. Avery Lowe’s favorite session was “Telling Big Stories in History Museums: Exhibitions, Narrative, and Synthesis.” Aine liked this session too, saying that “the speakers were clearly on the cutting edge of digital humanities, from fully interactive maps of New York City to detailed, visual biographies of soldiers who lost their lives in World War II.” They also went to the book exhibit on the last day, when all the editors were getting rid of their stock, so they scored some free books. Avery summed up their experience thusly: “Overall it was cool to hear different aspects of history discussed by some really incredible scholars as well as be surrounded by people who are just as passionate about history as we are.”

The Prudential Building lit up in honor of the wildcard game. Sadly, the Bears lost.

Part of the fun of the AHA is getting the opportunity to get to know the host city. I enjoyed the opportunity to walk around downtown Chicago neighborhoods, and attend sessions that explored Chicago history. Dr. Janes got to meet up with Hope college history alum Katlyn Kiner. Next year the AHA will meet in New York—I hope I will be there!

Faculty Feature: Climate Change?

When we approach the end of the year weather becomes one of our main concerns. Will we have a white Christmas? Will storms hamper our travel plans? How much winter will we have to endure (or get to enjoy, if we’re into outdoor sports)?

One of the biggest public debates going on right now is about whether, or how much, the earth’s climate is changing. Our government has issued a report, based on data from a number of agencies, which endorses the idea that the earth is getting warmer and that this change will have drastic, even cataclysmic, consequences by the middle of this century. But our president dismisses the report.

Mr. Trump might look at the weather where I live, in west Michigan, and note that the month of November, 2018, was one of the coldest on record, with the temperature averaging almost four degrees below average. Or he might ask the folks in New England about the huge snowstorm that has already hit there. What global warming? he might say.

Well, historians learn to look at things over a long span. When we study what has happened to the earth’s climate over the centuries and millennia, we find that it has in fact changed a lot and changed a lot of times. Between 1100 and 800 BC drought was a major cause in the collapse of the Mycenean and Hittite cultures. When rainfall amounts returned to normal, the Greeks began the development that led to the Golden Age of Athens.

Around 50 BC Julius Caesar described how the winters in Gaul were so cold that rivers froze. The weather in France today is nothing like that. From ca. 1000-1250 AD the earth experienced what is known as the Medieval Warm Period. Data collected from tree rings, core samples, and other sources indicate that average temperatures were several degrees higher than before or after that period, and the effects were noted around the globe. Then, from 1500-1700, the earth went through the Little Ice Age, when temperatures hit all-time lows.

In addition to such long-term trends, we have encountered short-term anomalies. For a couple of years (535-536) during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian clouds, possibly from a volcanic eruption or the impact of a meteor, created a pall over the earth. The historian Procopius, an eyewitness, said “the sun gave forth its light without brightness.” In the early 1300s northern Europe was beset by several years of persistent rain, so heavy that crops failed for several consecutive summers, causing widespread famine. The year 1816 is known as “the year without a summer,” when crops failed because of a fog-like mist that hung over the northern hemisphere. Freezing temperatures were recorded throughout the summer, leading to crop failures and famine.

So, taking the long view, one might wonder what we can say about climate change. It is undeniable that animals and plants are being found farther north than ever before because the climate is more hospitable to them. In my own neck of the woods, it has definitely gotten warmer. Forty years ago I used to put away my lawn mower by the middle of October. Now my grandson mows for me until early November. Holland’s Tulip Festival used to start in mid-May.

Since the flowers kept getting ready earlier and earlier, they moved the start back almost two weeks.

Have humans caused these changes? They do seem to occur on their own, but I believe humans have had a major impact, primarily because of the damage we’ve done to the earth’s forests. A lot is written about how much of the Amazon rain forest has been destroyed, but when Europeans arrived in the New World, it was said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River without touching the ground. Europeans wanted farm land, so they started chopping down trees. The state seal of Indiana shows a man taking an axe to a tree.

Well before that, Native Americans had burned the forests to provide grazing land for buffalo.

Early settlers in my area recorded that the forests were so thick it was difficult to swing an axe, but that didn’t stop them. Then the lumber industry took over. By 1900 there was hardly an old-growth tree left standing.

An arborist friend of mine says it’s rare to find a tree in Michigan that is 125 years old. I’ve planted half a dozen trees on my property. I know that’s not going to make a dent, but it’s something I can do, in addition to whatever steps I can take to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

I don’t know if we can reverse the effects of climate change, but if we don’t try, we’re running the risk of leaving a bleak landscape for our children and grandchildren.

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.