New Department Chair: Introduction

By Jeanne Petit

JeannePetitAs a new chair of the Department of History, I feel that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I have worked under three fabulous chairs during my time at Hope College: Dr. Albert Bell; Dr. Janis Gibbs; and Dr. Marc Baer. Their leadership elevated our department in many areas, particularly the expansion of student/faculty research collaboration, the globalization of our curriculum and the consideration of the relationship between teaching, scholarship and faith. All of these chairs have participated in creating a strong historical community at Hope College, and I look forward to building on their achievements.

I wanted to convey some of the priorities we have as a department over the next few years. One of our main goals is to be more intentional in helping our students think through their vocations, both as history students and in their lives beyond Hope College. We have always talked with students about how the skills of a historian—critical reading, clear writing, and thorough research—are building blocks for a wide variety of careers. We are working on ways to have our students do more intentional reflection, both in the classroom and out, on the ways their historical training relates to their calling in life. Moreover, we want to help students find more opportunities to explore their calling through internships, job shadows, and independent research projects.

At the same time, we want our students to see the study of history as valuable beyond building a career. Historical thinking involves understanding the complexity of change over time as well as the importance of understanding multiple points of view. It makes us better citizens, community members and people of faith. During these stressful times, we hope our majors can bring much-needed historical perspective to understanding the challenges of our nation and world.

I hope you will read our blog over the next year and see the wide variety of experiences and ideas in which our faculty, students, and alumni are engaged. I would also like to put out an invitation to our alumni. If you have insights about the value of your history major or minor that you would like to share, please contact me. We would love to have you write a blog post for us.

Alumni Feature: Rachel Syens

By Rachel Syens

rachel colorI’ve always loved history. I was the kid who made her friends watch Gladiator over the latest rom-com, stayed up way too late devouring novels like The Scarlet Pimpernel, and insisted on taking summer vacations to historic Williamsburg. I made it all the way to the State level of National History Day with a one-woman play I wrote and performed about Spartacus (yes, you read that correctly), and I helped create a film for my eighth grade algebra class about time travel.

I have always loved to read about history, write about history, and especially see history, but I didn’t know how to translate that infatuation with the past into a career.

My time at Hope College helped me to dig deep into my passion, and I’m proud to call myself a historian today.

You may be asking yourself at this point: what do you do as a historian? I’m a Public Historian. I specialize in researching and presenting history in the nonacademic realm – think museums, historic sites, and cultural heritage. When I first started at Hope, I was in love with all of history – I hated when my friends would ask about my favorite time period because I just couldn’t choose one! The History Department at Hope was wonderful because I was able to take so many classes on different time periods and places in history. I studied the Reformation in Europe, 1930s Latin America, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and Reconstruction-era America.

Rachel Syens on a study abroad weekend trip to London with fellow Hope grads Molly (Mead) Towne and Maggie Almdale.
Rachel Syens on a study abroad weekend trip to London with fellow Hope grads Molly (Mead) Towne and Maggie Almdale.

Hope also provided me with the incredible opportunity to study abroad. I spent a May term learning and living music history in the heart of Vienna, Austria. This kind of cultural learning was so impactful on my life – I wrote a paper on Mozart and less than one week later, I visited his birthplace in Salzburg. I also spent a wonderful semester at York St. John University in York, England, where I took courses on British history, Revolutionary Europe, and Shakespeare. York is one of the oldest cities in Britain, founded in AD 71 by the Romans. Every day, I would step out of my door and into history. It was here in York, running my hand along the Roman walls, walking on cobblestone streets traversed by the likes of Constantine, and attending a church where Guy Fawkes was baptized, that I finally began to discern my vocation.

Seeing history makes it come to life, painting pictures of the past and creating connections between people of the 21st century and those who lived thousands of years ago.

My varied coursework at Hope and my opportunity to study abroad taught me one of the most important lessons in history: all people are connected. We have lived on the same earth, wondered at the marvel of the same moon, felt joy, sadness, love, and loss. I desperately wanted to work in an arena where I could help create those deep connections. This passion led me to pursue a graduate degree in Public History at Western Michigan University. I’m so thankful that Hope pushed me to read, research, and write at such a high level because I felt very prepared for my demanding graduate work. More than that, Hope shaped my love of history into a passion, and that passion carried me through countless late nights, paper deadlines, and projects.

At a recent event Rachel coordinated at the museum called "From Malaysia to Michigan."
At a recent event Rachel coordinated at the museum called “From Malaysia to Michigan.”

That passion connected me with my fellow graduate students and professors, and allowed me to make a difference as a Teaching Assistant for undergrads. That passion led me to graduate with a Master’s Degree in Public History, officially cementing my title of “Historian,” a dream since I was young. Finally, that passion led me to my job at the Holland Museum as the Volunteer and Tour Coordinator. In this position, I have the privilege of sharing history with volunteers, students, and visitors, both inside the walls of the museum and out in the community.

Alumni Feature: Jackie Huss

By Jackie Huss

Jackie headshotWhen I arrived on Hope’s campus in the fall of 2001 the thought of becoming a history major had never entered my mind. Like many people, I discovered new things about myself during my freshman year and knew I needed to find a new focus. My parents encouraged me to look back on my high school work and volunteer experiences for inspiration for what I would like to do with the rest of my life. The thing that immediately came to mind was my time spent as a volunteer tour guide at the Hackley and Hume Historic Site in my hometown of Muskegon, Michigan. I realized working in the museum field was something I found enjoyable and fascinating as a volunteer, so making it my career path seemed like a no-brainer.

At the beginning of my sophomore year I declared as a history major and started my journey. Although Hope doesn’t have a Museum Studies program, Professors Marc Baer and Albert Bell helped me mold my own learning experience through internships. The first semester of my junior year, I interned at the Holland Historical Trust Museum under the Curator of Education. I didn’t think I wanted to work with elementary-aged children, but this internship started me on a path of sharing Michigan history with the public in easy and accessible ways, which has become my passion.

Leading group of students at Hackley & Hume Histoirc Site
Leading a group of students at the Hackley & Hume Historic site.

The spring semester of my junior year, I took my Seminar class with Dr. Fred Johnson, which was an amazing experience. The topic was the Civil War and Dr. Johnson allowed me to focus my final paper on the Underground Railroad in Michigan, since I had such a passion for Michigan history. I conducted research on campus, at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, and through a series of “field trips” to various locations of historical significance to the Underground Railroad. The paper I wrote has continued to serve as a base of knowledge in my professional career. For example, I have used the paper and the materials I cited in writing the paper as a resource for writing exhibit label text and speaking about the Underground Railroad to various groups in West Michigan.

I applied for a competitive Historical Resources internship at The Henry Ford in Dearborn and was selected as one of seven interns from over 30 applicants. I was placed at their Benson Ford Research Center for the summer between my junior and senior years. I learned a lot about research and working for a large history institution. That internship confirmed that my passion was not just in doing the research, but in sharing it with the public.

My final internship in the fall of 2004 was a turning point in my life. I knew I would graduate a semester early, so I applied for an internship back where it all began, the Lakeshore Museum Center (the parent museum to the Hackley and Hume Historic Site).

My internship with the LMC allowed me to work in all departments of the museum as well as attend my first professional museum conference.

When a position as the Assistant Curator of Education was available I knew that museum education and programming was the direction I wanted to go. I applied, was interviewed just a few weeks before my December graduation, was hired the day before Thanksgiving, and started my career immediately following graduation.

Interested students at the Old Indian Cemetery.
Interested students at the Old Indian Cemetery.

Over the last 11 years, I have grown in my position and am now the Program Manager for our main Museum Center. In addition to creating and overseeing programming for schools, families, and adults, I also have the opportunity to serve as project manager on various exhibits. The largest was a two year complete remodel of our Fire Barn Museum, during which I relied heavily on the research skills I gained while a student at Hope College.

I can honestly say that without the guidance and opportunities I had as a student at Hope, I would not be in a career that is ever-evolving and rewarding!

Student Feature: Alexandra Piper

By Alex Piper, ’17

Ever since I was a kid, museums have been a point of fascination for me. I used to beg my parents to take my across the country to a certain museum or explain to my friends in nauseating detail about my favorite museums and exhibits. When it came time to look for an internship in the Fall of 2015, Dr. Baer directed me towards the Gerald R. Ford museum. As a History and Political Science double major, this internship program played to both of my interests while providing important and necessary work experience.

Like many people, I had a limited knowledge of Gerald Ford and his rise to the presidency in the mid 1970’s.

Working in the museum gave me a hands-on way to learn about President Ford and the historical context of the country he presided over while also learning the technical side of museums.

At the museum, I worked as a Collections Management intern under the Registrar, Jamie Draper. Jamie had an extensive knowledge of how museums work, but also knew so much about Gerald Ford and his life. One of my favorite parts of the internship was my ability to openly ask questions anything in the museum and learn so much from Jamie.

IMG_5242The main part of my internship consisted of doing behind the scenes work in Artifact Collections. This included basic photography, artifact cleaning and numbering, encapsulation, building custom storage mounts, accessioning, and cleaning up old records.

One of my favorite projects included handling a donated collection of over 150 Bicentennial items. This collection included lunch boxes, cooking supplies, pop cans, toys, and other objects celebrating America’s 200th birthday. IMG_5080Prior to working with the artifacts, I had not realized how significant the Bicentennial was for Americans at the time. Jamie helped me to understand that it was important for Americans to celebrate two hundred years of freedom and democracy, especially after the distrust that followed the Watergate Scandal, Vietnam, and a series of economic problems. I love the feeling of contributing to the museum’s collection and protecting a part of history.

I was also very fortunate to work in the museum during a few exciting times. The ArtPrize competition was happening in Grand Rapids at the beginning of my internship, and I was able to participate in setting up the museum to host the art. I learned how long of a process ArtPrize is, but it was exciting to see how the entire competition comes together.

IMG_5209I was also lucky to work in the museum while it closed down for renovations. This created a special project for the interns because we helped take down the entire core exhibit in the main part of the museum. This exhibit included artifacts that had not been handled in years like Watergate break-in tools, Betty Ford’s inaugural dress, Nixon’s pardon, and various head of state gifts. Working with these artifacts and experiencing that part of history in a tangible way was certainly an amazing experience.

When I started the internship, I was not sure how my education at Hope would apply to the job. I had never worked in a museum, but my job went beyond just technical skill. I worked on researching and writing about artifacts, a job aided by the historical writing skills my professors taught me. When writing about an artifact, I knew how to put it within a historical context. This ability made the entire learning experience richer.

IMG_5152This museum internship is a job that I will remember for a long time. I learned so many lessons, skills, and how to balance a school semester and work. Most importantly, however, I learned about Gerald R. Ford and the American presidency. Handling artifacts created a real approach to history, and helped me understand Ford a president, but most importantly, as a human.

I was privileged to work with people who understood and cared about the Fords as people, but also cared deeply about history. My supervisor, Jamie, and the curator, Don, taught me more than just the tactical side of museum work, but instilled important lessons about American history that I will be able to use in my future. I am fortunate to have worked under a relatively unknown President, and I hope that I can take this new knowledge and apply to both my History and Political Science majors, as well as teach others about President Gerald R. Ford.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area, go check out the newly renovated Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum!

Vienna Summer School, 2016

By Janis Gibbs

Janis in Vienna 1I am writing from Vienna, Austria, where we have just finished six weeks of May and June classes, and celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Hope College Vienna Summer School. I have spent my summers teaching in Vienna since 1998, under the directorship of my colleague, Professor Stephen Hemenway of the English Department. He has just finished his forty-first summer as the Director of the Summer School. The Vienna program was founded by the late Dr. Paul Fried, who was chair of the History Department for many years, and was Hope’s first Director of International Education.

450px-Holy_Roman_Empire_Crown_(Imperial_Treasury)2In Vienna, I teach the interdisciplinary humanities general education course, which combines history, philosophy, and literature. We focus on the theme of empire, and we take advantage of many of the cultural opportunities available in Vienna. Together, we visited Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial Habsburg tombs, the imperial treasury (where we saw the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, pictured here), and the Museum of Military History. Because this is the 100th anniversary of the death of the Emperor Franz Joseph, there were lots of chances to see exhibits focused on his life and times.

Janis Gibbs and John Knapp Vienna 2016This past weekend, we had a wonderful celebration in the Vienna Woods, attended by this year’s Hope Vienna students, as well as alumni, family, and friends of Hope College. President John Knapp also joined us for the festivities. We had a lovely buffet dinner, with orange and blue decorations supplied by Board of Trustees member Brian Gibbs, who has also been a participant in the Vienna Summer School for more than thirty years.

I always enjoy teaching in Vienna because I can see students discover all kinds of things about European history and culture.

The opportunities in Vienna are rich and varied. In May, we all went to a German-language production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” (called “Anatevka” in German), which took on special significance in light of the current refugee crisis in Europe. For a few days in May, the regular routes of public transportation near our classrooms were disrupted because many world diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, were meeting in a nearby hotel to discuss possible responses to the Syrian civil war.

When we visited Prague, we saw the memorial to the Bohemian nobles executed at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s, as well as more modern sites associated with the life of Franz Kafka, whose work we read in class. Many of us attended a free, outdoor concert at Schönbrunn Palace by the Vienna Philharmonic.

Last week, we were shocked, as were people around the world, by the Brexit vote. Studying (and teaching) in Vienna gives all of us, I think, a more immediate sense of history, and of the importance of world events occurring right now. It always gives us pause to realize how much Austrians know about American history and politics (and how little we, in return, know about Austria, at least at the beginning of the summer.) We hope, by the end, that we all have a better sense of the history of our host country.

Studying (and teaching) in Vienna gives all of us, I think, a more immediate sense of history, and of the importance of world events occurring right now.

It’s a treat to introduce students to Vienna. I’m happy to be a part of Hope’s long-standing Vienna Summer School, and I’m looking forward to many more successful summers in Vienna.

Alumni Feature: Cory Lakatos

cory_lakatosStudying history at Hope College helped keep me from becoming a snob. It turns out that this gives you a greater advantage in the world of work than you might realize. What do I mean? Well, before I get into that, let me give you some background on how I got where I am today.

I graduated from Hope in 2012 with a double major in history and English literature. At the time, I thought my history major would serve me well as I went on to graduate studies in English, in addition to its great intrinsic value.

To make a long story short, plans change.

God in His providence often doesn’t work the way we think He will.

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t end up going to grad school. I moved back to Holland to be close to my girlfriend, a history minor with another year to go at Hope (we got engaged soon thereafter, and are married now). I started hunting for a job, and I ended up landing a part-time retail job I frankly would have avoided if I’d had my druthers. However, one shouldn’t be too proud to work a menial job when necessary, and it did help make ends meet.

Around the same time I was talking to a connection at church, a local business owner and history buff who happens to be friends with Dr. Baer, the outgoing chair of Hope’s history department. He asked me if I had any editorial experience, and I mentioned my work at Hope’s student newspaper, in addition to my two writing-focused majors. Pretty soon I had picked up a second part-time job as an editor at his company, and before too long I worked my way up to a full-time position.

That’s how I came to be the office manager and chief copywriter at Black Lake Studio & Press, a strategic communications, marketing, and publishing company on 8th Street within sight of Hope’s campus. My designer colleagues and I like to say that we “help good people do good things,” working collaboratively with entrepreneurs, businesses, nonprofits, ministries, authors, and thought leaders to help them articulate their message and engage their audience. My role is mainly concerned with project management, writing, and editing.

lakatos-graduationBut what does my job have to do with being a history major and not being a snob? Well, there’s nothing like studying history to cure a person of “chronological snobbery,” which the great C.S. Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” Young, twenty-first-century Americans are perhaps even more prone to this error than most, so I could have easily fallen prey to it. Learning to understand and appreciate people who lived in different times and places is one of the hallmarks of an education in history, and when done properly it eliminates chronological snobbery. It also kills other forms of snobbery and fosters many transferable skills.

Understanding that people think differently than you and being able to learn from them and communicate with them on their own terms whether you agree with or relate to them or not is essential in my work. I learned to do it through history research and writing. Sure, I didn’t communicate directly with the people of the past, but I listened to them in their writings and joined a conversation they had started. I do something similar when I listen to our clients and their customers, figure out what messages resonate with them, and write accordingly.

Earning a history degree has also given me research skills that are helpful during the discovery phase of projects.

The ability to read a cultural artifact verbally and visually has also been useful. And after four years of writing history papers, I am able to effectively structure an argument, back it up with solid, convincing evidence, and explain a concept clearly and succinctly. I need to do that every day in my job. On top of that, learning to play by the Chicago Manual of Style’s rules has also been to my advantage, since it serves as Black Lake’s go-to style guide.

In short, whether the Lord leads you down the path you were expecting or some stranger trail, and whether you end up working in the academy, the business world, or somewhere else entirely, you’re going to need communication skills, and you can’t afford to be a snob. There’s nothing quite like studying history to form you in this way.

June 23: an historic day

By Marc Baer

EUUN0001Next week, on June 23, British voters will participate in an historic event, the United Kingdom European Union (EU) membership referendum, popularly known as Brexit. At this moment polling reveals a razor-thin margin in favor of leaving.

British membership in the EU has been controversial since 1972, when the UK joined what was then the European Economic Community. In 1975, 67 percent of voters voted yes in a referendum on remaining in the EEC. Currently, “leavers” (also known as Eurosceptics) believe that a UK outside the EU would be better able to control immigration. There’s also hostility directed toward un-elected EU bureaucrats in Brussels making too many decisions for the UK, thereby undermining national sovereignty. As one leaver commented, “All that money we’re sending to Belgium and them telling us what to do.” Many people seem ready to vote for a Brexit even though polls show they also think that leaving will be risky for the British economy.

UK-Union-FlagBritons who want to remain in the EU believe that departure would not only undermine their country’s economy but as well marginalize the UK’s role in Europe and globally. Younger Britons are generally comfortable with a multicultural society and prize the ease with which they can travel to or work in the 28 EU nations. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of those 18 to 34 years old in Britain had a favorable view of the European Union, compared with 38 percent of people 50 and over.

Labour party voters favor Remain, while a majority of Conservatives prefer leaving the EU. Support for EU membership is high in Scotland, with 60 per cent backing Remain. There is talk that if Brexit passes, Scotland will vote to leave the UK and as an independent nation join the EU. Voters in Wales slightly favor Remain, while those in Northern Ireland are more pro-EU than any other British region—by something like a 3 to 1 margin. All this suggests how divided the United Kingdom is at this historic moment.

You can go to British Media Online to follow developments. Recommended sources include The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; The Financial Times; BBC News; The Telegraph; EU Observer.

History and French and Secondary Education, Oh My!

By Miriam Roth

Me in front of Chenonceau, my favorite castle of the ones I visited. It is a fascinating historical landmark— originally built in 1513, and both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici "embellished" it. Also, it's just magical!
Me in front of Chenonceau, my favorite castle of the ones I visited. It is a fascinating historical landmark— originally built in 1513, and both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici “embellished” it. Also, it’s just magical!

“What’s your major?” It’s a question that any college student has answered a thousand times, and I am no exception. My answer, though, is a bit of a mouthful any way you slice it.

Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who smashes three disciplines together and goes for a double major. I came to Hope tentatively leaning toward some combination of History and French, with Education lurking somewhere in the back of my head, and—well, what can I say? Three years later, this is where God has led me. I’ve had my ups and downs, but right now I’m three quarters of the way through my tenure as an undergrad, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In finding my way to studying History, French, and Education at Hope, I have the History department to thank. It was the outreach of History Professor Marc Baer which convinced me to come to Hope. Throughout my journey here, it has been a tremendous blessing to know that my professors are always willing to encourage and challenge me on a personal level. In fact, I have received incredible support from the faculty and staff of all three disciplines in which I am involved, and as a result I’ve had a variety of interdisciplinary experiences which have allowed me to combine my passions in exciting ways.

Here are some of my favorites:

Summer History Research in Washington, D.C.
Me with fellow Hope College researchers Ian, Sam, and Jon at the Library of Congress.
Me with fellow Hope College researchers Ian, Sam, and Jon at the Library of Congress.

As part of a two-month summer research project with faculty mentor Professor Jeanne Petit, I and three other history majors traveled to Washington, D.C. There, we studied documents about the 1918 United War Work Campaign that were housed at the Library of Congress and other archives. In addition to honing my historical research skills, I also got to work a little bit with French (reading and translating some French-language newspapers) and with Education (thinking about how to make our final project, a website, an accessible learning experience for the public). We also interacted with student research teams from Italy and Pakistan. I found these interactions to be wonderful opportunities to engage in intercultural learning, which is an important aspect of all three of the disciplines that I study.

Semester Abroad in France
Me with my friend Emily (a recent Hope grad) in front of one of Nantes's most famous attractions, the giant mechanical elephant at the Machines de l'Ile. The Machines are inspired by Jules Verne, and this one walks, carries people, and even sprays water out of its trunk!
Me with my friend Emily (a recent Hope grad) in front of one of Nantes’s most famous attractions, the giant mechanical elephant at the Machines de l’Ile. The Machines are inspired by Jules Verne, and this one walks, carries people, and even sprays water out of its trunk!

Last fall, I spent about three and a half months living in the city of Nantes, which is in historic Bretagne in northwest France. This was the perfect opportunity for me to grow my language skills and interact firsthand with French (and bretonne) culture, but also to engage with history and education.

I was able to take two history classes which, thanks to support from Hope’s history department, counted toward my major. One of these classes, “France and the Atlantic World,” allowed me to learn on-site by observing remnants of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century port activity around the city. I also visited numerous cathedrals, châteaux, and other historic landmarks in Nantes and around France.

On the Education side, I had an internship teaching English in a French school, for which I largely developed my own lesson plans and curriculum. With all of the opportunities that study abroad brings for all sorts of majors (and combinations thereof), I cannot recommend it enough!

Presentation at the National Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

Studying History Education means that I not only think about understanding and analyzing history myself, but also about effectively teaching students how to develop historical thinking skills and master key content.

As part of a project for an Education class and the Mellon Scholars Program this past spring, I conducted a case study on Document-Based Learning, a fairly recent initiative in History Education. This was my first substantial foray into History Education research, and I came away with new appreciation for and understanding of teaching history and thinking historically. As an added bonus, I have been accepted to present my research at the NCSS’s National Conference in Washington, D.C. this December, alongside social studies educators from across the country!

So, yes, I am one of those crazy people who smashes History, French, and Education degrees together, but looking at where such craziness has led me, I feel nothing but grateful for the path I have taken. I highly encourage any student interested in History to combine it with other majors and minors, and to engage in the wonderful opportunities that come with interdisciplinary learning.

Goodbye, kind of

By Marc Baer

Most of you know that after a wonderful 33 years teaching at Hope and an especially delightful 6 years chairing the History department, as of June 30 I will have retired; professor emeritus will be my title. (I looked up emeritus: it’s Latin for “out of merit,” which seems about right for me).

But many of you probably don’t know that I will have had the shortest retirement in history. I retire as professor and chair on June 30. Today I start work as interim Dean for the Arts and Humanities at Hope. Wait, you say, you can’t do math: you’re starting a new job BEFORE you retire from the old one. My answer: I’m a history major; I don’t do math. 🙂

we-are-the-baerTo be serious for just a moment, I’ve had a wonderful sendoff. Students in the last 2 classes I will have taught—Introduction to Modern European History and British and Irish History since 1700—said some nice things; some conspirators organized a mass tee-shirt event as part of our department’s end of the year celebration/appetizer challenge (which, by the way, I lost for like the 10th time in a row); and my colleagues had a lovely dinner event for me, complete with great presents. So I’m feeling very honored.

Plan A had been give away my books and move out of my office (happened), a bucket list trip to Banff (still happening, next month), serving as one of the faculty advisors for Mortar Board (still happening), and volunteering as a mentor for Upward Bound students (probably postponed for a year).

Plan B is to move 2 floors down to the dean’s office (happened today) and spend 13 months managing 9 departments and 4 programs. I’ll have a lot to learn, including what it means to change calling, from serving students to serving others who serve students.

What I’ll miss the most is the close relationship with the extraordinary students I’ve worked with over my time at Hope—as fellow researchers on book or article projects, as teaching assistants, as mentees in the Pew Society (now Klesis), as advisor but particularly as friends. When I’m asked what has brought me joy in my work it’s that.

So, I’m moving on (actually down, from Lubbers 329 to Lubbers 124—please stop by if you’re on campus), and beginning a 13-month adventure. After which, I really will retire. I mean it this time—maybe.

Alumni Feature: Neill De Paoli

My Work with the National Park Service: Lexington National Historical Park

NDP 18C kit-Minutemn NPS2015-10-11
Neill De Paoli in 18th century dress/kit, at home, Kittery, ME.

I grew up in upstate New York in an area with a rich prehistory and history. The Mohawk River Valley was home to Native Americans for over 7,000 years and Dutch and English settlers by the late 1600s. I have fond memories as a boy exploring the grounds of the Saratoga National Historical Battlefield Park and the back streets of downtown Schenectady that was home to a small Dutch farming and trading town over 300 years ago.

I have followed my childhood fascination with history into a career as a professional historian and archaeologist. For the last 40 years I have studied and written about English settlement and Anglo-Indian and English-French relations in early northern New England.

This past year I fulfilled a longtime dream of working for the National Park Service when I was hired as a seasonal interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington, Massachusetts. I return to the historic park for my second season this June.

The Minute Man National Historical Park is a beautiful, sprawling 970-acre complex that includes two visitor centers, more than five miles of the historic Battle Road, nearly two dozen colonial-era houses and the ruins of countless other early homes set within a blend of fields, woodlands, and marshlands bisected by the Concord River.

The more than one million people that visit the park annually walk through a historic landscape much as it appeared on the morning and early afternoon of April 19th 1775.

What has made my experience as an interpretive park ranger so enjoyable has been working at a historic park so closely tied to the origins of the United States. There is nothing more exciting than walking down the same road and passing by some of the same houses that the British regulars did on their early morning march on the Bay Road to Concord and their afternoon retreat back to Boston.

NDP mskt firing-prime & load-Hrtwell
Performing musket firing demonstration – prime & load, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

I often lead outdoor presentations unraveling the bloody confrontation between British regulars and local Minute men and militia at the North Bridge and the running battle that followed. I focus on connecting the audience to the unfolding “story,” making them feel that they were part of this historic event as civilian bystanders or American or British military participants. I especially enjoy how the audiences view the events that unfolded on April the 19th.

NDP mskt firing demo3-Hrtwell
Performing musket firing demonstration – firing, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

The highlight of my season is my time spent as a historic reenactor depicting a Minute Man posted at the Hartwell Tavern. This dwelling and tavern was home to the family of Ephriam and Elizabeth Hartwell. Their three sons Samuel, John, and Isaac were part of a company of Minute Men that fought in Concord on April 19th. The Hartwell tavern was also one of several “witness” houses that the British troops passed by on the Bay Road on their way to and from Concord. As a Revolutionary War reenactor, I am dressed and equipped as the three Hartwell men were when they rushed out to join their comrades on the early morning of April the 19th; civilian clothing, felt hat, musket, cartridge box, powder horn, bayonet, and wooden canteen. For the next 6 hours I join my reenactor comrades as we take turns explaining to the often large crowds of children and adults what it was like being a Minute Men in the months leading up to the outbreak of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19th 1775. For both the reenactors and the audience the highlights of the “Who Were the Minute Men” program are the audience joining the Minute Man reenactors in a 10-minute military drill followed by a live musket firing demonstration.

The end of my work day is nearly as enjoyable and satisfying as the previous 8 hours. I often unwind by walking the grounds of the Minute Man National Historical Park. Oft times, I walk a couple of miles down the Battle Road where I enjoy the quiet and the slowly setting sun while I explore the ruins of some of the houses flanking the Battle Road or the sites of the “fire fights” that took place between the British regulars and the Minute Men and militia at Merrian’s Corner and Bloody Angle. How fitting for me that I now work at a prominent Revolutionary War site that I could only dream about as a boy.