“And Then Came the Lion”: Remembering Congressman John Lewis

For most of 2020, I’d been able to hold it together, rolling with every punch and willing myself to stay positive as each month took more and more of the life I once called “normal.” Sometime in March, the pandemic came to America and bizarre became the status quo. Right around that time, as we learned more about how the virus was especially dangerous for people of a certain age, or those with compromised immune systems, I started paying more attention to the progress of Congressman John Lewis in his fight against pancreatic cancer.

Selfishly, I prayed for him to stay clear of the virus and keep his light shining to guide us through the cataclysmic chaos that had become the nation’s de facto response to COVID. Still, I knew nothing would keep him from the 55th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” commemorating the debacle that happened on March 7, 1965. On that day, just slightly more than a half-century earlier, Lewis and civil rights marchers had been clubbed and beaten by local law enforcement for daring to insist upon their right to vote. Lewis suffered a fractured skull, the first of what became many injuries he’d sustain for rejecting the second-class citizenship others had been trying to impose upon him.

As someone raised by parents, both from Montgomery, Alabama, and who matured into adulthood in the faded afterglow of the Civil Rights movement, I’d feasted on stories of the exploits of people like Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, Daisy Bates, Constance Baker Motley, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and, of course, John Lewis. The blood spilled and lives lost from the harassment and abuse they’d suffered had literally transformed America into a somewhat less lethal nation for black people. But by March 8, 2020, something had happened, and was happening, to the transformation that Lewis and his contemporaries had given everything to achieve. He spoke of it in a CNN interview, sounding not tired but weary. Very weary.

The reporter said, “In your remarks, you talked about the importance of voting. You said, ‘Vote like you’ve never voted before.’ What did you mean by that?”[1]

Lewis: “I simply meant that we have the power to change things, and the vote is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it. If we fail to use it, we will lose it.”[2]

That was classic Lewis. A true believer in the untapped merits and virtues of America’s republican democracy, and certain that change was best achieved through non-violence, Lewis reaffirmed that the power citizens have to effect change lies in their vote. The son of sharecroppers, he’d seen and felt the violence those in power could wield when voters blessed them with the authority to inflict their cruelty. As such, voting wasn’t just a statement of who should be elected to a certain office but an inventory of a society’s moral strength or weakness; its commitment to fairness and justice; its extension of republican-democratic citizenship to all instead of the privileged few.

There was also the sober warning of “use it, or lose it.” Lewis had lived to see and suffer the possibilities of what the powerful were willing to do in suppressing the vote. He did not take for granted that those same elements were hard at work in the 21st Century and, because of them, democracy and democratic freedoms could never be assumed a perpetual certainty.  

Continuing the interview, the reporter said: “You also spoke about redeeming ‘the soul of America.’ What does that look like?”[3]

Lewis: “We have to make America better for all of her people, where no one is left out or left behind because of their race or their color, or because of where they grew up or where they were born. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house. That’s the American house.”[4]

He was eighty years old. The year was 2020. America was marching into the third decade of the 21st Century and the forces that still sought to not make America better for all of her people, and meant to leave certain people out because of their race or color, or because of where they grew up, or where they were born; the forces that rejected John Lewis’ notion of America being one people, one family, living in the same house, the American house, they had resurfaced and were running out the clock on his life.

I quaked with rage as I reflected upon the fact that, here he was nearing the end, and John Lewis was fighting an updated version of the same battle he’d been waging all his life. The lines of conflict had been drawn long before his birth with 1903 being a watershed due to the publication of The Souls of Black Folk. Written by the brilliant sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist, W.E.B. [William Edward Burghardt] DuBois, it predicted that for the United States of America, the “problem of the twentieth century” would be “the problem of the color-line.”[5]

By the time of Lewis’ birth, on February 21, 1940, bigots could take immense pride in knowing that Jim Crow’s cancerous racism had reduced African Americans to a level of second-class citizenship far exceeding Dubois’ somber pronouncement. Shaped by a society that for nearly four-hundred-years, had found ever creative ways of denying blacks their humanity and freedom, there was little reason for Georgia-born John Lewis (and his contemporaries) to expect justice. Nothing so testified to the grim reality of that truth like the 1955 slaying of fourteen-year-old Chicago native, Emmett Till.

Visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, the Chicago teen went into a grocery store and allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Four days later, on August 28, Roy Bryant (Carolyn’s husband), and “brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped, beat and tortured” the youngster “for hours before shooting him and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin tied around his neck with barbed wire.”[6] During the subsequent trial, Moses Wright, Emmett Till’s grandfather, risked his life when he stood up in court and pointed out the men who’d invaded his home and kidnapped his grandson. An all-white jury deliberated for a mere hour before acquitting Bryant and Milam who later confessed to the murder during a paid interview with investigative journalist William Bradford Huie. Moses Wright left Mississippi and never returned, losing his home and livelihood along with his grandson.[7] 

Only fifteen years old at the time, John Lewis was “shaken to the core.”[8] For him and the people of his generation, the murder of Emmett Till and the subsequent colossal miscarriage of justice stood as grisly metaphors for the racist rot perverting people’s hearts and the nation’s justice, political, and economic systems. The message to John Lewis and his contemporaries was clear: No aspect of black life was safe from racist predators or the system in which they lurked.

There was nothing new about the message, but the messengers had miscalculated. They didn’t foresee Mamie Till’s decision to have an open-casket funeral so the world could see how they’d bludgeoned her son’s face into a grotesque horror. They didn’t count on Emmett Till’s ghost uniting black and white people into a movement of love and non-violence that would expose the cowardly weakness of hate-mongers. And they absolutely didn’t expect to awaken the lion in John Lewis who’d take the fight to them.

The young lion grew into an intrepid warrior who was eventually elected to Congress to help oversee the system which, in another set of hands, had remained idle throughout the 20th Century while black people had been getting lynched, bombed, pillaged, and mobbed. Ever vigilant and ever determined to safeguard the citizenship gains won with blood, injustice became the prey whenever it confronted John Lewis. He’d lived long enough to know that the constrictor, racism, never really slept, never really went away, and never tired of attempting to coil itself around other people’s liberty to choke the life out of their freedom.

And then, just like that . . . he was gone.

“What do we do now?” I wondered, surfing the net for articles on Lewis. “How much harder will it be to fight without this lion to check the enablers of chaos and injustice?”

As if he’d been listening to my thoughts, the words of John Lewis showed on my computer screen from a message he’d “tweeted” in 2018: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”[9]

The lion, John Robert Lewis, was gone but his words live to inspire lions in the rest of us. Onward!

Cover image is John Lewis in 1967. Photo Credit: Sam Falk/The New York Times

[1] From the CNN Interview and article “John Lewis Marches Across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Commemorate 55th Anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’”. See: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/08/politics/john-lewis-bloody-sunday-anniversary/index.html. Accessed on 20 July 2020. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Project Gutenberg found at the following web address: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm#chap02. Accessed on 18 July 2020.

[6] From the online San Antonio Express News on June 12, 2020, author Cary Clack refers to the book Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, in which Congressman John Lewis recalled that Emmett Till’s murder had left him shaken to the core. See: https://www.expressnews.com/opinion/columnists/cary_clack/article/Clack-This-generation-s-Emmett-Till-moment-15336352.php. Accessed on 19 July 2020.

[7] YouTube Video from the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize,” Part I, “Awakenings: 1954 – 1956, America’s Civil Rights Movement”. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpY2NVcO17U. Accessed on July 18, 2020. Also, in the episode “Brave Testimony” of PBS’s American Experience has an episode 

[8] See citation number six for source data.  

[9] From article “’Get in good trouble, necessary trouble,’ Congressman John Lewis in His Own Words”. USA Today [online]. See: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/07/18/rep-john-lewis-most-memorable-quotes-get-good-trouble/5464148002/. Accessed on July 21, 2020.

The AHA’s “Erasing History or Making History? Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape” Facebook Live Discussion

If you have been following the news about decisions to remove Confederate monuments, or about direct action by crowds to remove monuments, you should take some time to listen to this discussion on “Erasing History or Making History?  Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape.”   You’ll hear two eminent scholars, Annette Gordon-Reed and David W. Blight, discuss what we should memorialize, how we should understand past memorials, and how we should think about keeping or removing them.  If you are looking for definitive answers, you won’t find them here.  This is a thoughtful conversation about the ways in which we should approach the question of memorials.  If you’ve heard anybody say, “If we take down Confederate memorials, what’s next?  Washington? Jefferson?” there’s something in this conversation for you.  Given recent decisions like the one to remove the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, or the statue of John C. Calhoun in Charleston, this is a very timely discussion.  Check it out at the link below.

Gordon-Reed is the author of The Hemingses of Monticello, which won the Pulitzer Prize for HIstory in 2009, and Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (2016).  Blight is the author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001) and  Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018).

Required Reading: The History of African Americans

Black lives matter. When we examine history, we see the myriad ways people made choices and set up institutions to demean and erase the lives of Black people. We also see people who stood up and put their lives on the line to assert the value of Black lives.

The events of the last ten days have felt like an inflection point, one that will determine the future direction of our nation. As historians, we see how times like this do not come out of nowhere, but are the result of a complex array of decisions and actions made by humans in the distant and recent past. Over the last week, the members of the History Department have collected some readings and resources we have found valuable to try to understand the moment we are in, and we’d like to share them in this blog post.

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz. This is about the current plague of violence in Chicago.

The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz.. This one’s about an investigation of a death in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, MI.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. American Christianity has been complicit in the brutality heaped upon black people from the earliest years of the colonial period. Cone squarely addresses a narrative too little known and discussed.

Stony the Road We Trod, edited by Dr. William Meyers. Africans and people of African descent have been systematically omitted from their presence in, and impact upon, the Bible. This source sets out to fill in some gaps.

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. After the Civil War and up to the mid-20th century, white supremacists did their best to reconstruct the antebellum status quo. Jim Crow segregation was the result. Their success was and has been updated for the new millennium.

Martin & Malcolm & America, by James Cone

Pillar of Fire, Parting the Waters, At Canaan’s Edge by Taylor Branch. Excellent narratives of the King Years and Civil Rights Movement.

The Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. A classic “must read” reading from, aside from Abraham Lincoln, one of the most important figures of the 19th century. His rise from slavery to abolitionist, newspaper editor, presidential advisor, ambassador, human rights activist, suffragist, and statesman draws shudders at the thought of the brilliance that was nearly crushed beneath the heel of bigotry.

Preserving the White Man’s Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism, by Joshua A. Lynn. The racist policies of Andrew Jackson and the nation of enablers that made it possible for African Americans to be enslaved, women silenced, and Native Americans kicked across the continent was brilliantly engineered by those who spared no effort to create a “white man’s republic”.

The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Straight talk from the man who inspired Black History Month.

The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Dubois. Dubois predicted that America’s chief problem in the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. He was bullseye correct and might as well have predicted the same for the 21st century.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. More about Douglass and is wonderfully written, awe inspiring.

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. In this pioneer work, Giddings writes United States history with Black women at the center.

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones. This book examines how African Americans battled in the courts and legislatures for citizenship rights during the slavery era.

Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jaqueline Jones. Jones digs up a fantastic array of sources to tell the story of how Black women defined the meaning of their work throughout US history.

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire. McGuire re-writes the history of the Civil Rights Movement by linking it to the history of Black women’s fight against sexual violence.

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. In this autobiography, Moody relates the empowerment that came from her Civil Rights activism, but also the exhaustion and bitterness.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi. This is a National Book Award winner by an American University historian. It examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. Xendi uses five “tour guides” to lead us through the development of racist ideas in the United States: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B.DuBois, and Angela Davis. The title comes from an 1860 speech by Jefferson Davis, when he said that the “inequality of the white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.'”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-nehisi Coates combines memoir and history in beautiful and heartbreaking prose in the form of a letter to his son. It shows how racism shaped American history, but also how it shapes the lives of individuals today. This work is short and accessible. Read it with someone (a few friends, your parents, your church group) and discuss.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. This was a groundbreaking work of documentary theatre, based on interviews that Anna Deavere Smith conducted with people who lived through the Los Angeles riots of 1992. She performed it as a one-woman show. It’s a theatrical take on oral history–well worth reading.

Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots by Nancy Abelmann and John Lie. This looks at how and why Korean Americans were caught up in the Los Angeles racial riots in 1992.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” portal.

Additional note from Dr. Gloria Tseng

A Cry, a Lament, a Prayer of Anguish and Brokenness Offered up to God
“…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26-27).

I first met Ingrid at a conference organized by Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, England, almost ten years ago. She spoke of her experiences as a missionary co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in South Sudan, serving as a mobile trainer of adult literary teachers in Sudan. I remember being deeply moved by her lively and humorous presentation, which also made me laugh, most unusual for an academic conference. Subsequently a friendship developed between us, and I have appreciated her spiritual and academic encouragement and insights ever since. Ingrid had received her Ph.D. in Literature from Rutgers University and taught Black Feminist Theory and African Diaspora Literature at the University of South Carolina before becoming a missionary. Currently, she and her husband, Andrew F. Walls, missionary and pioneer scholar in the field of world Christianity, are an independent missionary couple affiliated with the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Akropong-Akuapem, Ghana, and the Walls Centre in England. They are members of Crown Terrace Methodist Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. They also worship at Shiloh Church in Oakland, California, Ingrid’s home congregation, when their itinerant ministry brings them (back) to the US. Their passion is the development of Christian scholarship, especially among African brothers and sisters whose cultural roots are in primal religions. Ingrid’s current research focus is on the Christianity of the first African diaspora to the Americas.
Ingrid sent this prayer to me about a week ago. On the one hand, it is a lament offered up on behalf of the communities of color and a cry to God for justice long-deferred in this country; on the other hand, as the worldwide ripple effects of the demonstrations in American cities have shown, the cries of those long marginalized in our society and those who stand with them in this country have resonated with all who long for justice in their own communities around the world. She has generously agreed to let this prayer be shared here.

This World…
for the killing fields of American Streets

by Ingrid R. Walls
This, this is our world now, no sheltering for homo sapiens, no grasslands where humans roam free; this is our home now, where the predators are us, the ones set free to choose life…this is where now the lines between the evil and good are finer than silken thread…this is where the dead video their lives for us to see, to look and make calls to heaven from our mobiles…this is where generational tears will not do, unless they splinter the threads of gleaming hate and gloating murder still connected across time and space….this is where there is no haste to make amends, or to mend broken hearts too crushed to be mended…this, this is where holy wills must keep pumping the blood line of new life into the veins of a world kneed down, its head on the ground, its rib bones stark from the hunger within, its belly bloated and keep swelling by too much, too much just too many mass killings, and law reaper killings, and drive by killings, and killings that drain-out breath from the breathing, and aid from the disabled, and bury care for the elderly, and killings too that look like sanctioned changes to the status quo….this ground is grown dried, soaked right through to the bone marrow with the wounded fear that all this dying gives… …but dry bones can still live…they can still be knitted back together with the Word…the word in the limb, in the eyes, in the nose, in the mouth and the touch of the chosen…to see, and to keep watchful and to steer the way forward back into day light again, in this world, this world, that once used to be our home….
© 2020 ingrid reneau walls

What to Listen To, Read, Watch and Explore This Summer!

Hope History Buffs: we’ve compiled a list of recommendations to fuel your history needs all summer long!


Backstory – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“This podcast explores themes in U.S. history, from issues like Jim Crow to vacationing. They usually include perspectives from 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. They also have special theme episodes–here’s one about the 1918 Flu Pandemic.”

Fall of Civilizations – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“While I tend to gravitate to US history, I’ve become fascinated by this podcast which explores the fall of societies that had reached great heights and tries to understand the perspectives of those who lived through it. The podcaster looks at a wide geographic range, including the Aztecs and the Han Dynasty of China. The first episode looks at the collapse of Roman Britain: ‘The Work of Giants Crumbled.'”

Rachel Maddow’s “Bagman” podcast – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“It’s about the Nixon Administration, and the fall of Vice President Spiro Agnew.”

BBC Witness History – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“These are short radio broadcasts about history, told by people who were present. Sometimes, it’s archival audio, and sometimes it’s interviews with people retrospectively.”

Throughline from NPR – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
Throughline is wonderful, though it’s mostly focused on American history topics, but the episode on ‘How the CIA Overthrew the Iranian Document in 4 Days’ provides good historical context on Iran before the revolution.”

Radio Lab – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“The recent episode on the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya is a revealing story of how historians are still uncovering hidden truths of the recent past.”

The History of Rome by Mike Duncan – Dr. Bram ten Barge
“For students who haven’t taken any courses about ancient Rome yet, this is a fun podcast covering Roman history from the very beginning to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (however you view or conceptualize that last one…”

A Piece of Work – recommended by Alison Lechner
“I gobbled up every episode of this podcast as soon as it dropped. If you are an art-lover or even just a museum-fan, this podcast is such a good fit. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City goes behind the scenes at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in NYC to give the story behind some of the museum’s most iconic pieces in their permanent collection. I’m an art history buff and I still learned so much from this.”

Dolly Parton’s America – recommended by Alison Lechner
“If you’re in need of a feel-good podcast that is also a commentary of the current state of pop culture in America, look no further! Jad Abumrad (co-host of RadioLab) hosts this personal and inspiring podcast that focuses not only the life of Dolly Parton, but the recent history of the United States.”


Hard Times by Studs Terkel – recommended by Dr. Jeanne Petit
“This book is made up of oral histories taken in the 1960s and 1970s of Americans who lived through the Great Depression. Terkel interviewed a wide range of Americans, who tell stories of both suffering and resilience.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“This is a wonderful book about Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution.”

The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“These are great big fat historical novels about the Second World War. They’re older, but still worth a read. The protagonist is a US Navy officer, but there’s a big cast of characters. It was also a TV miniseries in the 1980s.”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – recommended by Dr. Janis Gibbs
“A meditation on what we can learn about liberty, democracy, and tyranny from a brilliant historian of the twentieth century. It’s profound–and it’s short. Don’t be intimidated.”

The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil – recommended by Dr. Wayne Tan
“This is a great book about how the Marshall Plan was engineered right after WWII. It looks at the politics of financial assistance to Western Europe by the US and USSR’s challenge to the new global order.”

Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith Sheffer – recommended by Dr. Wayne Tan
“This book exposes the troubling history of intellectual disability in Nazi Vienna and shows how scientific investigations of autism fed a systematic plot to eliminate children deemed mentally unfit.”

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“For those who like to read graphic novels or are willing to try, Persepolis is a wonderful graphic memoir about growing up during and after the Iranian revolution. It’s also a compelling coming of age story. The film Persepolis is also great, but of course I recommend reading the book first.”

The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes. “If you like Persepolis, you might also like The Arab of the Future graphic memoir series. In this series Riad Sattouf tells about his childhood growing up in rural France, in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and in Hafez al-Assad’s Syria.”

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“The Day of the Jackal is a thriller novel about a (fictionalized) assassination attempt on Charles DeGaulle by the OAS (a real organization that did attempt to assassinate the French president after the Algerian War). It’s a great page-turner.”

The Dig by John Preston – recommended by Maggie Burr
“This tells the (fictionalized) story of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial and accurately reflects some of the drama/excitement of digging.”

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher Krebs – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“A riveting account of the journey of an ethnographic text about the Germanic North, written by a Roman senator in AD 98, which would come to have a profound influence on major movements and events in European history, including the Reformation and the formation of Nazi ideology. An important book and accessible to non-Classicists.”

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott – recommended by Dr. Marc Baer
“A fictionalized account of the CIA’s actions to get a copy of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. It appears to be well researched, and is told from the POV of Pasternak’s muse/mistress Olga Ivinskaya and the women who worked in the CIA’s typing pool–who were smarter than their male supervisors.”

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – recommended by Dr. Marc Baer
“The novel goes into greater depth on the case focused on in the movie and how he worked other cases. It couldn’t be more timely.”


The Lost Legions of Varus – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“A great documentary on one of the defining military moments in European history.”

The Odyssey – recommended by Dr. Bram ten Barge
“This is just the best. A 2-part miniseries on Homer’s Odyssey that ended up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Directing of a Miniseries or Special.”

The Battle of Algiers – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
“For students interested in the Algerian War and its aftermath, The Battle of Algiers is a really tough but revealing film.”

Television Series

History Cold Case – recommended by Maggie Burr
“This series examines a different burial group from around the UK for each episode. They’re a great mini-lesson in archaeological science (and in the different time periods the burials date to), and they always culminate in a facial reconstruction of the deceased, which is fun.”

Downton Abbey – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes
Downton Abbey finished a few years ago, but most students haven’t seen it, and it’s currently all available on Amazon Prime. It tells the story of an English aristocratic family and the household staff as the aristocracy was breaking down in the early twentieth century. I often reference the Crawley family when trying to describe the type of young men who moved to Kenya in the interwar period. History buffs will enjoy the setting of WWI, the Irish War of Independence, and shifting gender and class roles. Downton Abbey really shines at telling the stories of the changing lives of the working-class people who serve the Crawley family.”

The Crown – recommended by Dr. Lauren Janes “The Crown is on Netflix and focuses on the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, beginning with her wedding and then her coronation (at only 25 years old). While much of the series is palace intrigue and the drama of the royal family, the queen’s world and work are set in a broader context with lots of discussion of British politics and global issues related to the British Empire and the Commonwealth, though viewers should remember that these stories are being told from the British perspective.”

Mrs. America – recommended by Alison Lechner
“This show has a lot of fans in our department! Mrs. America is about the political divide in the United States when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced, amidst the period of second-wave Feminism in the 1970s. Power players like Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Schlafly, and Shirley Chisolm are expertly cast (especially Tracey Ullman as a dead-ringer for Betty Friedan). What I love about this show is that it re-examines this movement in the history of American Feminism through a twenty-first century lens: each side of the ERA debate gets equal coverage, and we begin to see the origins of the push for intersectionality within the Feminist movement that will lead to the third-wave at the end of the century.”


Online Museum Collections – recommended by Maggie Burr
“Not a book, podcast, or movie: many museums have highlighted their online collections during the Covid crisis, but the Treasures section on the Ashmolean Museum website is one of my favorites. It’s great partly because the graphics are excellent, and partly because they do a good job highlighting the whole range of their collection (and the blurbs explain why the objects matter).

We hope you’ve enjoyed our summer entertainment recommendations! Feel free to share your history-related recommendations in the comments below.

The House that Albert Bell Built

Dr. Fred Johnson shares his immense gratitude for Dr. Albert Bell, who is retiring next year after having served at Hope College for 42 years.

Dr. Albert Bell

On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Dr. Albert Bell submitted grades for his students to the Hope College Registrar’s office for the very last time. Without fanfare, without celebration, and without notice, he did it with the same consistent, methodical excellence that had been the foundation of his forty-two-year career. Like other parts of life that had been disrupted by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the History Department’s plan to have a fond farewell gathering for our colleague was canceled. The missed opportunity to wish Al “All the best” as he strode into the next phase of his life added to the heartbreak being caused by the hyper-contagious viral killer. The rapid pace and scale of change signaled that, in many ways, nothing would ever be the same — or would it?

From one perspective, Al Bell’s final sabbatical and retirement from Hope’s History Department magnify the certainty that we’re in a new normal. Then again, as a result of the same consistent, methodical excellence that he always shared with his students, the History Department’s functional “new” normal will be much like the “old.” Because this is the House that Albert Bell built.

Every history faculty member currently serving in the department was either hired when Al was Department Chair, or, had the honor of getting his vote to join its ranks. During that process, Al drew from the deep well of his wisdom to assess candidates as the department added women and people of color. Working with his Master Historian colleagues, Marc Baer, Larry Penrose, Bill Cohen, Neal Sobania, and Earl Curry, they collectively prepared the department for a fast approaching and increasingly different demographic future. While others made loud, boisterous noises about the virtues of diversity, Al, Marc, Larry, Bill, Neal, and Earl accomplished the goal rather than talk it to death.

I still shake my head in wonder at the beautiful cosmic judgment of having Al shepherd into existence such gender and racial change. As a native South Carolinian and a southerner, a region still burdened by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, he understood the corrosive insanity of racial bigotry. As a proud, loving father of daughters in a country that still devalues a woman’s work even when she does the same job as a man, Al didn’t need schooling about the urgency for gender pay gap justice. I can’t say for certain the degree to which those factors motivated Al, but the results of women outnumbering men and people of color being more than tokens in the history department speaks loud and clear.

During spring 2000, Earl Curry rode off into retirement. Larry Penrose followed shortly thereafter. Then Bill Cohen announced he’d be doing the same. Neal Sobania moved on to become a Dean at Pacific Lutheran University. By then, Al had passed on the duties of Department Chair to Janis Gibbs then Marc Baer both of whom added their own brand of spectacular proficiency and leadership to a difficult job. Moving with the effortless grace of water shaping itself to a new reality, Al now led informally, generously sharing his storehouse of knowledge as we navigated the increasing complexities confronting higher education, the humanities, and historians.  

Soft-spoken and that rare person whose “No” really means “No!” and his “Yesses” the same, Al’s spare “Cut to the chase” style of conversation left no doubt that if and when he chose to share his perspective, we were getting a jewel that had been polished many times over.

Another shock came when Marc Baer announced his retirement. In a department meeting, I offered to grovel if it’d help change his mind. People laughed and so did I, until I got back to my office and wept. Why? Because you don’t come to cherish someone like I did, and do, Marc Baer and not dread the terrible emptiness you know you’ll feel from not seeing them every day.

Al was now the last of the full professor historians who’d been on the faculty when I arrived in August 2000. He reveled in his role as the department’s elder statesman, laughing good-naturedly on one occasion, when during a student visit day, I introduced him as Hope’s ancient historian. Such a faux pas Al didn’t mind, but he’d speak up quick when someone encroached upon his territory as the department’s self-proclaimed curmudgeon.

On that subject, Al brooked no competition. He also liked to remind us young whippersnappers, usually with a smirk, that only he had earned the right, through time and dedicated service, to grouse about whatever he d****d well pleased! 

Beneath the curmudgeonly exterior there existed a gifted teacher, writer, and artist from whom there’s still much to learn. Because along with his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, an M.A. from Duke University, and his MDiv. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Bell is a profound scholar of the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds. Most intriguing of all, he’s a gifted storyteller who, in addition to his scholarly work, has produced a prolific body of mysteries set in ancient Rome.

In the years (too many) that I’ve been slogging to get my dissertation revamped for publication, Al published All Roads Lead to Murder: A Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Blood of Caesar: A Second Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Corpus Conundrum: A Third Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Death in the Ashes: A Fourth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Eyes of Aurora: A Fifth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Fortune’s Fool: A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Gods Help Those: A Seventh Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, Hiding from the Past: An Eighth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger, The Flute Player and, well, you get the picture.

As of this writing, I remain in awe of the unwavering discipline that Al brings to his work, and I’ve challenged myself to be similarly dedicated. Rather than explaining how he cranks out his books he simply does the work. Anyone with eyes to see who’s willing to look will discover that there’s no complex magic behind Al’s publishing success. I imagine that if he were to explain his methodology he’d say: “Turn off the TV. Put your keister in a chair. Place your fingers on a keyboard and, type.”

There’s so much that’s been lost in this season of COVID-19 chaos. My frustrations with those losses are compounded by feeling helpless to do nothing but watch the world get stood on its head. Because I can’t hasten the production of a vaccine. I can’t stop the economy from spinning further out of control. I can’t explain people who believe that sacrificing seniors is a lesser evil than sacrificed profits. I absolutely cannot comprehend the bizarre logic that advocates household disinfectants for a cure. But I’m not totally helpless.

I still have the power to say thank you to my friend and colleague, Dr. Albert Bell, Professor Emeritus, of the Hope College History Department. Thank you, Al, and Marc Baer, Larry Penrose, Bill Cohen, Neal Sobania, and Earl Curry for building a department whose commitment to rigorous research and critical-thinking, superb teaching, and proficient writing never ceases challenging me to be better. Thank you, Al, for picking me up at Gerald R. Ford airport when I flew in for my campus interviews. Thank you for inviting me to participate in the West Michigan Writers’ Workshop because that’s one of your sacred spaces and you chose to share it with me. Thank you for cutting me off when I was berating myself for the stupidity of running for Congress as a Democrat in West Michigan and you said: “You were just a decent guy, trying to do a good thing.”

For the care and attention to detail; the passion for teaching and guiding our students; the diligent dedication to the craft, scholarship, and art of history; the determination to ensure that the house you built would be stewarded by capable hands when you departed, thanks a million times over, Al. 

Dr. Albert Bell came to Hope in 1978, when he split his time between classics and history. In 1994 he moved full-time to the Department of History and became chair of the department for the next 10 years. He has served on various committees and was chair of the Academic Affairs Board for a year. Most of Dr. Bell’s current research focuses on the Roman writer Pliny the Younger, who lived in the late first century AD. The entire History Department will miss him and his vital contributions as he steps into this new chapter next year!

Dr. Bell’s primary field is Roman history, especially the early Roman Empire. He has a strong interest in the development of the early church in the context of the Roman Empire. In addition, he has taught Latin and Greek and still enjoys the study of those languages. Since 2001 he have been writing a series of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome.

Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 1977
M.Div., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1973
M.A. Duke University, 1969
B. A., Carson-Newman College, 1966

Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1966)
Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Award, Western Kentucky University Libraries (2008)
5 Best Mysteries of 2008 by Library Journal for The Blood of Caesar (2008)
Dr. Bell has had numerous articles, reviews and stories published, along with 10 books.

In his free time, Dr. Bell enjoys working in his flower beds and collecting old baseball cards.

Spring Stories 2020: Chapter 3

History Department Chair, Dr. Jeanne Petit, shares how remote teaching has been going for her during this time.

My New Classroom

It was all so breathtakingly fast. On Monday, I was warning my students that we might have to do distance learning, on Wednesday, I told them we were doing it for sure (now go take that test, HIST 161 students!), and by Thursday, they were gone. By the next week, as I began to set up my virtual classroom, it started to become clear that I would not get to see my students together in person again.

It was so fast. And it made me think about humans who have lived in times of abrupt change, whether because of war, environmental catastrophe, or, like our times, pandemic. I now have a more visceral understanding of how quickly old routines can be replaced with new realities.

My old Monday-Wednesday-Friday teaching routine revolved around tromping down to the Chapel Basement, room 16 to teach World War I America at 9:30. Ironically, things became disrupted just as we had just arrived at the point of class when the 1918-1919 influenza was ravaging the world, causing untold more deaths than the war that was concluding. After that class, I would head back to Lubbers Hall to teach my US survey class in good old Lubbers 120, one of my favorite rooms. We were just finishing our section on the Cold War when our class was forced to move off campus.

Dr. Petit’s makeshift classroom at home.

Now I am in my new classroom–a computer set on a puzzle box on a paper-strewn dining room table (those who have been to my office will know that this is not out of character). Instead of walking in and chatting with early comers, I now log in and wait for the distinctive “bloop” noise of students logging in themselves. Instead of answering lingering questions at the end of class, students blink out in a second or two.

I can’t say I like this new classroom. I miss the physical presence of my students, the conversations, the verbal back-and-forth. But I have been pleased by the ways we’ve been able to recreate our classroom communities in new ways, all of us figuring out how to unmute ourselves and share our ideas.

I want to thank my students. You have soldiered on this semester even with the disruption and distraction. I know it has taken me three times longer to accomplish anything, and I have so admired the way you have read complicated texts, completed papers, found ways to do awesome presentations on your research, and participated in “office hour” meetings with me.

More than that, though, I commend you the way you continued to engage in the study of history, continued to learn about the Red Scare and the Harlem Renaissance, the Brown v. Board decision and the 1970s oil embargos. As we are living through a “historic” event in real time, I believe the study of the past is important. Knowing history can give us perspective–we see the endurance and frailties of humanity and how people had to make agonizing decisions with uncertain outcomes. You stayed with it, and I am more grateful than I can say.

I hope next fall we are back in the classroom again, studying the past in physical community with each other. But this experience has renewed my faith in my students. Whatever comes, we will find ways to learn together.

Spring Stories 2020: Chapter 2

The spring semester of 2020 has not worked out the way any of us expected it to, or hoped it would. Since Hope College announced, on March 10, that we would be moving to on-line education after Spring Break, we have all been on unfamiliar pathways. We are figuring out how to manage, one day at a time. As historians, we also know that we are living through historic changes. Future historians will study this period, and write about it, and help us understand it, with the benefit of perspective that we can’t have right now.

If you would like to contribute, please send your contribution to Professor Gibbs. There’s no deadline. We’ll keep posting at least through the first week in May, and if the community finds this project helpful, we’ll keep going over the summer.

I hope you and those you love are all well. We miss you, and we’ll look forward to hearing from you.

– Dr. Gibbs

Caleb Corell, Senior from Grand Rapids, MI

Currently I have so much time in my days to be filled, and so many different options.  Simple “amusement” is not the answer to what I should fill my days with; rather, I should fill my days with activities that help edify creation. 

I am constantly reminded of the generic dullness of what life could be like right now without interests.  By interests, I am not referring to the “interest” of watching The Office or anything that may amuse oneself.  Because, as I recently discussed in a poli sci class, amusement is the opposite of the intent of creation–it drowns time in meaningless, murky, activities. 

To amuse is a word that comes from the late 1400s in France.  It has roots in an old French word, amuser.  This word refers to a fool, hoax, make fun of, or cause to amuse.  The word amuse then means to divert attention, beguile, or delude.  Later on, when the word adapted into middle English it meant to distract from serious business.  Although this word, amuse, has changed over time, the word, bemuse, retains the original meaning of the word.

 “Muses” were, in Greek mythology, created to remind humans of the existence of beauty.  In other words, the muses’ intent was to edify creation.  Thus, the word “amuse” or “amusement” means lacking in true edification of beauty, or not in the pursuit of creating beauty.

The need for drowning time in thoughtless devotion to what is now slowly becoming a “hobby,” watching Netflix or Hulu, has engulfed society in its clutches.  One need only to stop and listen to a first date these days to realize the pervasiveness of this issue.  The fallback question while on a date is “what show are you watching right now?”

Writing this post makes me sound like I sit on a throne high above while condemning the masses, but I am no better.  After a full day, there is nothing I want more than to sit down and watch a TV show, let my mind go to mush for a couple hours.  This though, is the issue right now.  Watching Netflix or Hulu is the easy way out.  Let the mind sit, stagnant, as the cold glow of a TV screen fills one’s senses.  I give in to this impulse more than I’d like.

During this time of social quarantine, I am trying to break that habit. I have devoted myself to reading books for pleasure and not for a requirement.  Instead of waking up and watching TV, I try to spend time reading books that will “edify creation” by reminding me of my interests.  I am currently reading Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. This book reminds me of my favorite recreation, outdoor adventure.  Abbey’s detailed descriptions of the American southwest allow me to recall my own outdoor adventures.  But more importantly, it reminds me to search after the beauty in creation and to seek the adventure that allows me to use the body that has been given to me through creation.

I do not advocate for outdoor adventure right now, but rather when we have the chance to leave our homes to seek the places that push us towards the beauty of creation.  The best time to start building good habits that will help in times of more freedom is right now.  Not when we get out of this time of quarantine. 

The point of this post is not to convince the reader to analyze political philosophy or seek outdoor adventure, but rather, to look to the places that hold true interest and edify creation.  In this, true beauty will reside and as Dostoevsky said, “beauty will save the world.”

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

-Edward Abbey from his book Desert Solitaire

Caleb’s backpacking shoes. Hopefully they will get some use soon.

Spring Stories 2020: Chapter 1

The spring semester of 2020 has not worked out the way any of us expected it to, or hoped it would. Since Hope College announced, on March 10, that we would be moving to on-line education after Spring Break, we have all been on unfamiliar pathways. We are figuring out how to manage, one day at a time. As historians, we also know that we are living through historic changes. Future historians will study this period, and write about it, and help us understand it, with the benefit of perspective that we can’t have right now.

We can, though, think, talk, and write about our own experiences. In this blog series, “Spring Stories 2020,” the Hope College History Department has invited all of our students—majors, minors, and other students enrolled in our classes—to think about and document their experiences. We have invited students (and faculty!) to submit short essays (a paragraph or a few) or creative works about their experiences in the time of the coronavirus. We hope many—even all!—of our students will choose to participate. We’re on a winding and unfamiliar road, and we are not physically together. We can be a virtual community, though, and we hope that you will contribute your own ideas, and benefit from the contributions of others.

If you would like to contribute, please send your contribution to Professor Gibbs (gibbs@hope.edu). There’s no deadline. We’ll keep posting at least through the first week in May, and if the community finds this project helpful, we’ll keep going over the summer.

I hope you and those you love are all well. We miss you, and we’ll look forward to hearing from you.

-Dr. Gibbs

Aine O’Connor, Senior from South Bend, IN

“Almost two summers ago I wrote an article about the 1919-1920 Spanish flu in Holland for the Joint Archives. I remember being frustrated at being asked to write a whole article about an event that didn’t seem to have much of an impact on Holland. There’s no story here, I thought. And who will care?

View of Centennial Park from Aine’s Hope College Housing

Suddenly, lots of people care. Lots of people care because one hundred years ago Holland closed its churches, and its schools, and its restaurants. Hope College moved to remote learning, in this case through correspondence classes. One hundred years ago people shut down their lives for the summer, trying to stop the spread of disease. And in a wildly unexpected turn of events, one hundred years later people are doing the exact same thing.

A new generation will now stop taking things as simple as church bells for granted. Both our futures and our present-day lives have been upended, as friends move home and goodbyes that weren’t supposed to happen for another month… happen virtually? Or don’t happen at all? These times are strange and difficult and surreal and painful and isolating. But history has taught me that I cannot actually call them unprecedented, and there is an incredible comfort in that. Because when the flu in Holland finally started to go away a hundred years ago, they held a parade. Because of them, I have to hold out hope for future celebrations.”

Katy Smith, Freshman from Plymouth, IN

Quarantine Reality

by Katy Smith

Unprecedented. Crazy. Life-changing. 

Words I hear on humankind’s tongue everyday.

Flatten the curve, they urge. 

“This is history in the making,”

I try to remind myself, watching the world

from the window of my bedroom.

Talk of apocalypse and dystopia seem to become 

reality. The grim, morbid brutality 

of that sentence is not lost on me. 

Some say because we’ve watched Mother Nature

suffer for so long, staying silent and turning

our eyes away, that now it is our turn. 

Some believe this is proof that humankind

is the problem. 

I refuse to be quite that dark. 

I hear this was inevitable, it was going to happen

one day or another. 

Classmate after classmate packs up their

swimsuits and cameras to escape on a lavish

impromptu vacation, while we are stuck in unplanned

staycation in our kitchens. 

I seethe watching them, posing on the beach

only continuing to perpetrate harmful

stereotypes older generations pin on us. 

Be responsible! I want to shout.

But all I do is log off for an hour. 

“Don’t forget to turn in those essays due

this week,” I sort through emails. 

A professor gives a heartfelt speech about mental

health, during this trying time. I tuck

those words into my back pocket when 

trying to do work becomes pointless. 

Poet in Quarantine

My phone dings. 

A passive aggressive email from that same

professor about how we are not working

hard enough.

I bike down my country backroad

to escape. The truth of this monstrous matter

is we must give grace to our fellows. It is all we can give––

though if you can donate masks, please do.

Some of us are working from home

Some of us are mothering and teaching baby siblings

Some of us are unexpectedly unemployed

Some of us are sick and scared

Some of us are compromised, covering for shelter

Some of us are relapsing into another breakdown

Some of us are struggling to get out of bed

Humankind must look at the sun each day,

call a friend just to hear each other’s voices,

go for a walk and listen to the birds sing,

cry and yell and scream and punch a pillow, for God’s sake!

Make art and clean the house,

stick to a schedule or throw the schedule away for a week,

sing in the shower so loudly your throat aches,

do homework to the best of your ability and

recognize that your quality of work will not be the same

and that is okay.

Above all, humankind has to 

hold tightly to one another, even if that means virtually;

Give hope like it’s candy on Easter;

Remember today and turn the phone off about tomorrow;


Reach out to your mother, your sister, your

childhood neighbor. 

Remind one another that we are strong beyond belief.

Hope, grace, and love. It’s all we can give.

Keep sharing your stories with us and join us in this time of #KeepingHope.

Fall Into Our New Courses!

We know – the last thing you are thinking about in these cold winter months is this fall, but registration is right around the corner! Take a look below at the upcoming upper-level History classes coming this Fall 2020 semester and save your picks for when registration starts in the week of March 30th.

HIST 141-01: The Historian’s Vocations (Gibbs) – MWF 12-12:50p

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

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)

HIST 200-01A: The Crusades (Gibbs) – MWF 9:30-10:20a

Image by Fabio Valeggia from Pixabay 

In the late eleventh century, groups of European Christians marched on the Middle East, carrying or wearing the banner of the Cross, and crying, “God Wills It!”  The Crusades brought Europeans and Middle Eastern people together, most often in violence, but sometimes in peaceful cultural exchange. Spend seven weeks investigating the causes, the stories, and the results of the Crusades.  We will examine them from both the European and the Middle Eastern point of view. Do these long-ago wars matter in the twenty-first century, and if so, why?
Fulfills Pre-1500 OR Global Requirement

Hist 200-01B: Peace Movements in the 20th Century U.S. (Petit) – MWF 2-2:50p

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library. (1963). Equal rights in ’63 Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c7d26ee0-6be8-0135-43c5-4b491f56ccf2

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 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. Fulfills U.S. Requirement. (Grand Challenges Initiative Pathways course) (GLD)

HIST 242: Topics in 20th Century European History (Tseng) – MWF 2-2:50p

Image by Andre Drechsel from Pixabay

This course surveys the history of twentieth-century Europe from three chronologically overlapping vantage points. These are “the age of catastrophe,” “the age of secular ideological extremes,” and “the limits of secularism.” Implied in the organization of the course is the argument that each of these vantage points in some ways epitomizes the century. The events and developments examined in this course are chosen to reflect these concerns. In addition to mastering the main events and developments that have defined the twentieth century, an important component of the course is to reflect on current events in light of the history of the past century. In other words, we as a class will learn to “think like a historian.” Fulfills European/Regional Requirement.

HIST 314: Modern Japan and Korea (Tan) – MWF 1-1:50p

Image by Sofia Terzoni from Pixabay

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.

HIST 355: U.S. Foreign Policy (Johnson) – MW 3-4:50p

Image by Oliver Zühlke from Pixabay

This course traces the development of U.S. foreign policy from the 1898 Spanish-American War to the present. In this period the U.S. emerged as a great world power, assumed center stage during World War II, offset the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and currently claims title to being the world’s lone superpower. Through readings, discussion, and special projects, students will examine the historical progression of America’s rise to global dominance and analyze the international challenges facing the nation as it strives to formulate an effective foreign policy in the 21st Century. 
Fulfills U.S. Requirement.

Questions about requirements? Check out the History Department website here.

International Insights: The Cultural Wealth of Japan

Hope History Major Brennan Church (Class of 2020) reflects on his trip to Japan during a 2019 May Term.

The 2019 Japan May Term Cohort

This past summer, I participated in the 2019 Japan May Term Program along with eleven other Hope students and two faculty leaders. I was very enthusiastic about exploring Japan, as this was my first time to Asia. I was anxious to see all the beautiful temples, taste the abundance of delicious food, and, of course, test out my two semesters of Japanese.

For three weeks my companions and I stayed in Tokyo where we attended classes at Meiji Gakuin University. The classes focused on various Japanese topics ranging from traditional Japanese theatre (called “Kabuki”), to the business environment in Japan, to the ninja, to Japanese pop music, and to the baking of Japanese sweets called “Wagashi.” To my delight, these classes were frequently followed by field trips to observe firsthand. My favorite excursions were to the Tokyo Sumo Championship and a professional baseball game.

Hope students with their Meiji Gakuin friends.

Meiji Gakuin was a gracious host. We were paired with several Japanese student volunteers who were more than excited to share their city with us. Most days I only had one class, which provided me with plenty of time to explore Tokyo with my new friends!

Tokyo is so technologically advanced that some parts of it feel like you’re in the next century. Motorized carts in certain restaurants bring out your sushi seconds you order. Trains are always on time, fast, and silent. No space goes unused. Shops and restaurants have taken up residence even under the street, forming an underground world of sorts. Everything is immaculately clean, and don’t even get me started on the restrooms.

In beautiful contrast to the high-tech urban scene are gorgeous traditional Shinto shrines and the frequent festivals where it’s common to see people wearing kimonos. I was shocked to learn that awe-inspiring buildings like the Tokyo Imperial Palace and Tokyo’s famous Sensoji Temple had been destroyed in WWII because the reconstructions look as if they’ve stood there for centuries.

The busy streets of Shinjuku: Tokyo’s busiest district.

While Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, getting around is surprisingly easy! There are almost always signs in English, and it’s rare not to find a subway entrance nearby. People are so orderly in Japan, too! They always keep to one side on walkways and escalators, which assisted me in the subway on days when I was in a time crunch to make it to class.

Although I knew that Japan and the U.S. had been on friendly terms since the end of the post-WWII American occupation in 1952, I had expected there to still be some bitterness toward Americans. However, the complete opposite seemed to be true based on my interactions with the Japanese. They seem to adore American culture, including its music, food and clothing brands, and sports. Many young Japanese desire to learn English, and I tried my hand at teaching a little to my newfound friends and host family.

People in Japan show great respect to all foreigners, and they are so polite! For example, when my class took the shinkansen (bullet train) to western Japan, the train staff bowed to the passengers in each car regardless of the nationality of those in the car. I was surprised by this gesture because the staff had no reason to show me such respect, yet they did!

An important aspect of Japanese culture is service to others. Both at Meiji Gakuin and at my homestay, everyone was very accommodating and planned their day around what I wanted to do, which was often visiting temples, castles, and singing karaoke. Karaoke is so popular in Japan that there are buildings dedicated to just karaoke! At these locations, people rent a room for just their group so singing is unintimidating, and the song selection to choose from is extensive and multilingual. One day my friends and I even went to Tokyo Disneyland! Conversing in Japanese with locals and going on adventures with Japanese students was truly the highlight of my time in Japan.

I found that Japanese people are more than helpful if you ask. One time I found myself lost in the Shinagawa district of Tokyo while I was going to meet my friends for a yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) dinner, so I stopped inside a nearby office building and asked the receptionist if she could point me in the direction of the restaurant. Instead of simply telling me, the employee got up from her desk and walked with me all the way to the restaurant. How kind!

My homestay took place east of Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture. I was hosted by the Kanazawa family of Matsudo, who were wonderful to me. Much of my time with them was spent away from their house; instead, we were at their ancestral home in Tateyama. I assisted them in cleaning up their ancestral gravesite. This was followed by a picnic in a bamboo forest nearby and my first visit to an onsen (a public bath). I found the onsen to be awkward initially, but once I got over my nerves, it was relaxing.

The Kanazawas and I returned to Matsudo. My host sisters showed me around their town and their school. I began to realize what it felt like to be a minority. Matsudo and Tateyama were small cities, and as far as I could see, I was the only non-Japanese person in either of them. This made me appreciate more what life must be like for people of color in the U.S. Much to my displeasure, the homestay was only for a weekend, which was not nearly long enough. My host family treated me to a sukiyaki dinner (beef and vegetables dipped in raw egg), a dish I highly recommend.

Back in Tokyo, our program concluded after each of the Hope students presented their research on Japan. I presented on the unification of Japan and the legacy of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Then my fellow travelers and I embarked on our weeklong expedition around western Japan, passing through Kanazawa, Kyoto, Kobe, and Hiroshima.

Kanazawa, a city that bears the same name as my host family, is a very small city and a former samurai fortress town. Kyoto is a paradise for any person interested in Japanese history. There seem to be too many ancient structures there to count, as Kyoto was the only major city spared from the American air raids. Most of these structures are accessible to the public. My favorite was Fushimi Inari, a shrine that includes a wonderful mountain hike, but foot traffic is heavy.

Nara’s Todaiji Temple

Taking a day to see Nara, Japan’s first capital, is also enjoyable. Todaiji Temple won’t disappoint; it’s magnificent. Just watch out for the deer in Nara; they tried to eat the clothes off my back when I ran out of food! Next, we briefly stopped in Kobe, a city famous for its savory steaks. They are expensive but well worth it. We met some local students at Kobe Gakuin before making our way south to Hiroshima. The shinkansen truly are the best way to travel in Japan; they’re incredibly comfortable and never have to stop for cars, as they operate on a completely different track system. Japanese engineering is marvelous.

I found Hiroshima to be deeply thought-provoking. The streets were far less active than cities I’d visited previously. We saw the Genbaku Dome, the last standing structure to survive the bombing. Then we moved onto the memorial and museum which included many firsthand accounts of the atomic bombing. This experience made me acutely aware of the tragic results of war and the effect of atomic weapons. How well the city is rebuilt today really speaks to the work ethic of the Japanese people. If one had no knowledge of the bombing, one would never know it had happened.

Hiroshima’s Genbaku Dome, a remnant of WWII.

After Hiroshima, we returned to Tokyo for the final portion of the May term. We reconnected with our Meiji Gakuin friends who kindly took us to the fireworks festival in nearby Yokohama! Soon after, my Hope friends, my new Japanese friends, and I went our separate ways, but I know I’ve made some friendships for life. I returned to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, not to leave, but instead to meet my father, who had taken time off to come visit me!

Showing Japan to my Dad was the ultimate bonding experience! I got to impart all the knowledge I’d gained in my month-long tour, really impressing my Dad with how much I’d grown while away. He’d never heard me speak Japanese before then, so with me acting as our translator, his pride was over the moon.

The two of us traveled around for an additional week after the May term. I wanted to give my Dad the complete Japanese experience, so we hit four cities in seven days. Each day, I exposed him to a different Japanese food. One delicacy any traveler to Japan should be sure to try is okonomiyaki (Japanese omelet); it’s exquisite!

I showed him Tokyo, which I’d become skilled in traversing by that point. Next, we headed to Tokyo station to catch the shinkansen to Nagano. However, we got disoriented in the terminal after our tempura lunch (breaded and fried food), which almost led to us missing our train. We bolted across the platform and made it onto the train right before the doors closed… Imagine the scene in Indiana Jones where the hero slips through the closing temple door right before it shuts.

My father and I at Osaka Castle.

Nagano is a mountain settlement famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, something the people there are still very proud of. We stayed at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), which looked like a home from the Tokugawa-era (1600-1867). Our ryokan hosts were so friendly; they provided us with two gourmet Japanese-style meals a day and any supplies we needed. They even drove us all the way back into Nagano city from the mountains so we didn’t have to catch the bus! The man who owned our ryokan was a Shinto priest. He invited us to sit in on his service in a nearby mountain-top shrine. It was the most incredible, authentic experience of my trip!

However, I was motivated to visit Nagano, not for the ryokan, but for the snow monkeys. We hired a guide to show us the national park close to the city where visitors can come face to face with the red-faced, white-furred monkeys. I loved every second of it! Before leaving Nagano, we took another hike because this place was gorgeous! We trekked through the forests and villages, finding various shrines as we went, and stopped for soba noodles on the road. There were bears around the area of our hike, but we were undeterred. Nagano is a fabulous get away from the city.

We closed out our adventure with a return trip (for me) to Kyoto. The two of us briefly attended a samurai school in Kyoto, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Then we caught a shinkansen bound for Osaka. Osaka is a prominent port city and renowned for its food culture. It seemed to me like everywhere I went I’d see a takoyaki (octopus dumplings) restaurant. We rented bikes and rode through the city’s crowded streets, sometimes going faster than the cars, and other times at a snail’s pace. We made a stop at Osaka’s most impressive structure, the imposing Osaka Castle. Today the castle is a museum, so one can walk through most of it. The view is amazing! The following day, we made the journey back to Tokyo for the homeward leg of the trip.

This May term opened my eyes to the cultural wealth Japan has to offer. It inspired me to continue my Japanese language studies with even more vigor! I’m eager to return to Japan and motivated to experience other parts of Asia.

Brennan Church (Class of 2020)