Photographic Memory: My History Journey to Holland in World War I

Me in front of a wagon at a local museum, ca. 2006. I’ve always loved history and poor hair decisions.

Student Feature: by Aine O’Connor

My history begins with a photo album. The album follows the childhood and adolescence of my mother and her four siblings, tracing their stories. It is a green book overflowing with papers and letters. Everything that you could possibly imagine is stuffed in there. Birth records, First Communion Polaroids, school photos, and high school diplomas line the pages. Creases run through the binding now, and although it is almost five decades older than me, I am convinced the cracks come from the unbelievable number of times I opened it. Long before I knew what a major was, or that Hope College existed—even before I could read—I have clear memories of spending hours poring over that album.

When I finally arrived at Hope College almost exactly a year ago as an undeclared History and English major, my mind floated back to that old photo album. Since I had learned to read, books and literature had taken over my life. All I did was read, taking in unbelievable amounts of information useful to almost no one. I could have told you all of the presidents in order, and I probably would have thrown in a random fact for each one (Millard Fillmore married his schoolteacher!). But as I threw myself into my history methods class and other upper-level courses, I found myself drawn more and more to the photographic evidence. What were they trying to say, I wondered. What were photographs trying to tell me?

Ernest Vanden Bosch in his uniform.

As it turns out, both the photographs you take and the photographs you find say a lot. I learned that most poignantly this summer. Along with my two research colleagues, Avery Lowe and Natalie Fulk, I researched the Holland, Michigan and Hope College experience of World War One. I was shocked at how moving the photographs taken during this time could be, even one hundred years later. For much of the project, I followed the exploits of Hope College soldiers at the front, told mostly through Hope College’s newspaper The Anchor. This was a fascinating experience, but it was not until I started to carefully comb through yearbook photos in the Milestone that their stories became real. These were men my age,who fought and died for my country. One of them, Ernest Vanden Bosch, lost his left leg in battle, returned to Hope, and graduated four years later as president of his class. Remarkable people, leading remarkable lives, reserved for posterity in a yearbook photo.

All of these photos, and more, can be viewed at our website, “We All Must Do Our Utmost: Holland, Michigan in World War I.” While you’re there, I would advise you to take a look at the “Hollander Heroes” page, as well. Many of these men had no yearbook full of easily accessible photos to look back on. Instead, I was lucky enough to go and photograph their graves at Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland. Even though their journey here on Earth ended in Holland, their history journey had only just begun. Someday, when my college memories are just pictures in a photo album, I will include these soldiers, part of a history journey that is only just beginning.

 

Faculty Feature: Albert Bell

By Al Bell

I guess it’s appropriate that I should be the first faculty member to introduce myself since I’m the senior member of the department, both in age and in terms of service. I came to Hope in 1978. I’ve had the children of some of my first students in my classes.

If someone had asked me in 1978 to list five states where I would like to live, Michigan would not have appeared on that list. But I have enjoyed living in Holland and being part of the Hope community. Three of my children and both of my grandchildren live in Michigan. I have lost one daughter to California (she hates cold weather).

History has always been interesting to me for two reasons: 1) People’s lives in other times and other cultures have an intrinsic fascination. I want to understand why they do/did things the way they do/did. 2) Everything that happens in our world today is the result of what has happened in the past. Understanding the past gives us a fuller understanding of what we’re seeing and hearing in the news today.

Everything that happens in our world today is the result of what has happened in the past.

The first page of our website says that “historians are society’s storytellers.” I’ve taken that more literally than most people and have written several mystery novels set in ancient Rome. I use a real person, Pliny the Younger, as the detective in the novels. Pliny wrote a number of letters which show him as an inquisitive, skeptical person—just the sort to investigate crimes. His two letters on the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD are the basis of the modern study of volcanoes. The books are based on research I’ve done throughout my entire academic career. Reviewers have said they learned a lot about life in ancient Rome while enjoying a good read.

Check out my web site.

Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire

By Lauren Janes

This past January, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was touring European capitals after the completion of the nuclear deal opened Iran to European investment.

On his visit to Paris he met with French President Francois Hollande, but not over a meal. The two leaders were originally supposed to share an upscale lunch, but the Iranian delegation demanded a meal prepared to Halal standards (something easily acquired in France) and with no wine served. The French president refused.

Rouhani and Holland were both constrained by popular concerns in their home countries that “outsiders” (be they Westerners in Iran or Muslims in France) were a threat to national identity, symbolized so viscerally by Halal dietary restrictions and French wine. The cultural meaning of these foods kept these two powerful world leaders from sharing a meal.

janes-colonial-foodMy new book, just published by Bloomsbury Academic Press, starts with this notion that foodways — what we eat, how we eat it, and how we talk about it — are powerful markers of identity. In Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire, I use this lens of food and identity to better understand France’s relationship with its empire during and after the First World War.

Colonial Food tells the story of how the French first tried to start shipping foods from the French colonies in Africa and Indochina to France during the First World War. This effort was an utter failure, but it inspired the French colonial lobby to start promoting the idea that the colonies could and should feed France. The rest of the book analyzes the promotion, reception, and rejection of colonial foods in France. I argue that the distrust of colonial food, from Indochinese rice to tropical fruit to curry powder, reflected French society’s disinterest in the empire.

You can learn more about the book and read a preview on Google Books.