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 ( 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

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)

A History Minor’s Insights

This week, we’re talking to former History Minor Marly Borovich Torres (Class of 2012) as she shares how her minor helped her in her post-grad field of child therapy.

Marly Borovich Torres was a 2012 Hope Alum and History Minor.

What was your area of study at Hope?

While at Hope, I doubled majored in psychology and sociology and had a minor in history.

What are some of the things you learned as a history minor?

I enjoy helping people and learning about their stories. I’m endlessly curious, and have a deep compassion for humanity at large. I have loved history since early elementary school. I would check out book after book about topics like Anastasia and her royal family, Ancient Egypt, and the Holocaust. What I learned through my history studies at Hope was how to have a more thorough appreciation and understanding for human existence and how people have both remained constant and changed throughout the ages. Studying history has helped me learn and grow as a person, and has benefited my practice as a therapist.

Marly (left) was also a member of the Sigma Sorority.

How do you see your history minor benefiting your career track and where you are now in your career?

A minor in history was a perfect pairing to my two degrees in the Social Sciences. The combination ultimately led to my Masters in Social Work. If you have an understanding and appreciation of history, it is much easier to help others. Understanding a person’s history, and then linking that to world events, customs and culture, definitely helps aid in the therapeutic connection and in therapy sessions. My history minor at Hope will continue to benefit me throughout my career because as long as people have ties to and ascribe meaning to their pasts, and as long as we can continue to learn from our past as humans, history will be relevant.

Marly by Big Red in Holland.

If someone was on the fence about possibly becoming a history major or minor, what would you say to them?

I would highly advise someone who was on the fence to give a history class or two a try at Hope! If you are unsure of whether to major in the subject or not, consider that learning about humans and our history as people is always relevant regardless of what you pursue after graduation. Hope has an excellent history department, fabulous faculty, and more than likely your classes will be held in the more beautiful and historical buildings on campus, so what do you have to lose??!

Anything else to add?


Transformed by Hope: An English & History Alum Returns

Meet our new Office Manager & Hope Alum ’12, Alison Lechner, as she shares how her experience at Hope shaped her career.

How did your Hope education shape you?

Alison Lechner, Class of 2012

I feel very blessed to have earned a liberal arts education and that has absolutely benefited me in my career post-graduation. I was History and Environmental Studies composite major, which allowed me to tailor a lot of my research in a way that I know I would have never been able to do had I gone to a traditional university. I eventually went on to work in arts administration and earn my Masters in Art History, and I know that my writing skills set me apart as a candidate in the art world. In grad school, I was much more prepared than most of my classmates when it came to research writing and critical thinking. The liberal arts do such a tremendous job at teaching you how to think, not necessarily what to think. I’ve spent a lot of my art historical research on the notion of institutional critique, and I think my interest in that topic was inspired by this innate sense of questioning that I learned here.

Alison with her research on artist Carrie Mae Weems displayed at an exhibition at the Jepson Museum of Contemporary Art in Savannah, 2018.

I also took writing courses that allowed me to be creative. I know my work in copywriting and art criticism has truly benefited from the creative writing courses I took at Hope. Heather Sellers was my creative writing professor and was my first example of how much discipline needs to be a constant companion of a creative life. She often preached to us about routine, prompts, and a need to see your writing as a kind of muscle that should be stretched and challenged in order to grow. I’m a highly organized person (hence why I love being an office manager), and I think her way of approaching the writing process really made sense to me as a creative person who also needs order to produce results. I’ve never been some bohemian artist; I thrive on strategy and timelines, and Heather was the first person to show me that there was more than one way to nurture your life as a creative. That has probably been one of the most important things I ever learned at Hope.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Alison as a Freshman at Hope (center), 2008.

I have a 3-way tie for this! Two recent choices are Michael Pollen’s How to Change Your Mind and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, plus one from my college days: Marion Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead.

Pollan is an exceptional researcher, someone who has a real talent for fleshing out the origins of the topic he is writing about – in this case, the use of Psilocybin in therapy. I learn so much from his writing, both from a historian’s perspective and from a deep appreciation of his ability to make complex topics engaging.

Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World really inspired me to pursue work in the arts and is a refreshingly honest take on how the modern art world operates. Working with and for artists on a large scale can be both challenging and rewarding, and Thornton doesn’t shy away from the sometimes contradictory aspects of working in the arts. I re-read it usually once a year and I always take something new away from it every time.

I was really lucky to read Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead in Heather Seller’s ENGL 454 class, and it quickly became my favorite book of all time (See my lovely classmate Stephanie Mouw’s similar adoration for this text in her blog post). Winik’s skill as a poet is so visible in her short stories; she creates these incredibly tender, artful vignettes of people she knew who have died. I’ve had a recent loss of someone who was really larger-than-life, and Winik’s writing always seems like the most complete understanding of grief which otherwise has felt like such an enigma.

What do you now wish you had learned or done in college?

Alison with Senator Tim Kaine during the Washington, D.C. semester, 2011.

I wish that I had been more focused on my life after college, which is something that took me longer than I’d like to figure out. My advice is to talk to professionals whose career you admire while you’re in school, and don’t stop learning even once you are out of the classroom. Stay curious about the things you love and they will never become work.

What are your goals for the History & English Departments?

Alison (left) with her Hope roommate Anne in 2011.

I would love to gain more exposure for both departments among the student body. Both English and History are programs that are applicable to wide variety of career paths.  I believe a core foundation of writing and research are so vital to success in the working world; being able to communicate your ideas effectively and creatively is truly invaluable. All of the professors that work in these departments are so passionate about their area of expertise and we are really lucky to be able to learn from them.

What do you like to do in your free time?

You can catch Alison taking photos all around campus for both departments’ social media, like this one from Lubbers.

I’m an avid boxer and I love being active – yoga, lifting, running, hiking. Since I’ve moved back to Michigan, I spend as much time outside in nature as I can. I’m also a photographer and try to participate in the arts scene between here, Saugatuck, and Grand Rapids – my goal is to start writing art reviews, which I was lucky enough to do in Atlanta [where Alison spent the past 7 years]. I try to spend a lot of time with my family and close girlfriends here as well, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move back.

Hope Graduation, 2012.

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 (

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 to apply.