When I decided to pursue a history degree, I never expected to be able to experience history firsthand; however, I proved myself wrong by traveling abroad to Seville, Spain in the fall of 2017. There, and throughout my European travels, I visited museums and historic sites and greatly deepened my understanding of history and how it has impacted the world in ways that are not immediately obvious.
Seville is a city of around 750,000 people and is located in the south-eastern part of Spain, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, of which it is the capital. The city has experienced a tremendous amount of history, and all of it is evident in the structure of the streets and the buildings that remain. The city traded hands between the Romans, the Frankish Christian kings, the Omeya dynasty, and the Arabic kingdom of Al-Andalus and then the reconquering of the Catholic Kings in 1492. All of this rich history is on full display in the varied and fascinating architecture of the buildings and art museums. My experience as a history major allowed me to ask important questions when visiting such sites and to analyze the historical material offered, which was often biased in one way or another.
I was lucky enough to visit Rome while I was abroad, which was the crown jewel of my travels, as it contained many of the historical sites that I had been reading about since my childhood. The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the many museums and buildings all captured my attention in a way that I could never have anticipated. My historical knowledge greatly improved my visits to these sights, as I could allow myself to fully comprehend the significance of each location and to really enjoy the work of our ancestors.
History, both modern and ancient, has captivated me from a young age, and experiencing the sights of history textbooks was truly a marvel for me. The buildings I visited and streets I walked all served to deepen my appreciation for history. Furthermore, I took a history class at the University of Sevilla while I was abroad and therefore observed how history was taught in a foreign university. It was enlightening to see the differences between the American classroom and the Spanish classroom, as the treatment of subjects such as World War II and the social revolution of the 1960’s were handled in a vastly different manner. Even the small anecdotal information was different, as the common history assumed to be known was that of Spain, whose history stretches back much farther than American history – at least according to written textbooks.
I would recommend that all history majors travel abroad – the experience of living history by visiting famous and important sights of human heritage is invaluable, as is the experience of exploring a culture apart from that of the United States. Even if it is not possible to make the voyage as I did, visiting the historical locations in places that you travel to is a crucial and often underappreciated step in for historical understanding. History is everywhere, written or not, and to truly understand it, one must get out and explore it!
If you are a student of history or simply the humanities in general, you get asked the following question A LOT: “So, what are you going to do with that? Teach?”
I’m pretty sure if I had a dollar for every time I was asked that about my studies in English and history, I would be wealthy by the grace of compound interest. I’m sure you would too.
I’m here to tell you that I’m a living, breathing case study of a humanities major who succeeded in heading straight into the corporate world and did not make a stop to graduate school (yet). I have a house and a dog and a retirement account. I’m doing just fine, without a “practical” college degree.
The condescension of that terrible “what-are-you-going-to-do-with-that” question plagued me all through college, and now when I think back, I could have spared myself anxiety over thoughts of myself as a starving artist, or worse — gasp — back working in retail forever if I had met people who had indeed skipped the graduate school route, made a way for themselves in the working world, and also fit my standard of a functioning adult.
So, what will you do with that history major or minor? Or any humanities major or minor for that matter?
You will write well.
Do not underestimate the power of good writing. Seriously. Most of what happens in the work world is now done through the written word. No, it’s not 50-page research papers. It’s email or instant message or blog posts. Being able to clearly communicate is an invaluable skill and you’ll have it.
You will be able to persuade.
Back to writing. I work in marketing so persuading is an important part of my job function. However, it doesn’t matter where you are in the work world, if you can persuade and influence others to take an action, to help you, to not make a terrible business decision, you are winning. Persuasion is part of constructing a thesis, and guess what? Those pesky emails or presentations are thesis statements!
You will be able to speak in front of others.
Maybe I’m biased, but I truly believe that communication is key to success in most jobs. No matter where you work or what job you do, you’ll probably have to speak in a meeting or present a case to your boss. Your training as a historian has included presentations and discussions. Now–thanks to your professors–you can walk in a little more confidently and contribute in a meaningful way.
You will have an understanding of the ramifications of an action.
History majors have amazing critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is scarcer than you realize in the workplace. And you’ll not only use it there, but also, more importantly, in your personal life. You’ll see the big picture while still understanding how everything all fits together. Being able to look to the past for clues and insight regarding the present and future is what historians are trained to do. This skill will help you reflect on your own journey and help you make decisions about where to go next. In that way, I think historians are some of the most resilient people in the world, granted they translate their academic skills to their personal and professional life.
So you may not know all the business jargon or how to write a marketing plan or how to schedule an Outlook meeting. But you’re a liberal art student, so you can learn.
In a world where everything is becoming more interdisciplinary, where everything continues to becoming more connected, we need people who can see beyond the code or beyond the robot. And that’s where you come in. Don’t think that because you aren’t training for a job right now that you can’t or shouldn’t end up working at one. We need the historians in the archive and in the classroom, of course. But we also need them to bring a set of unique perspectives and skills to other professional fields.
If anything, remember that the greatest gift of your liberal arts education is that of being a lifelong learner. Necessary professional nonsense aside, your ability to ask good questions, to seek truth, to solve problems, and to come to your own conclusions will continue to serve you well. I’m grateful for my education being just that, an education, not training for a job. For that, my life is all the richer, and yours will be too.
Happy New Year, and welcome back to Hope students, faculty, and staff!
The history department is gearing up for our semester, including offering new courses on Russian history and the history of peacemakers in the 20th-century United States. All of our faculty are looking forward to meeting new students and working with them on a great variety of research projects.
But this semester we are also saying goodbye. The hodge-podge bulletin board in the history department area on third-floor Lubbers is going away in a few weeks.
All the faculty in our department have a soft spot for this bulletin board. Over the years, we’ve put up random pictures, articles, and notices, and we’ve rarely taken things down. It has become a kind of primary source–a visual and documentary history of chance events from the last eight years or so. In the interest of archival preservation, here are a few of my favorite things on it:
A News from Hope article about how a playwright based his Scottish Fringe Festival play on a chapter in Dr. Marc Baer’s book dealing with a London theater riot.
A picture of alumna Alex Piper installing an exhibit at the Ford Museum, with a hand-written description in Dr. Baer’s almost-impossible-to-read handwriting.
A press release about Dr. Albert Bell’s 2013 book about Pliny the Younger solving a murder mystery in the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius.
The 2014 wedding program of alums Cory Lakatos and MacKenzie Anderson(complete with footnotes! Turabian rules!)
An advertisement for the Utah State history department. Why?
A Holland Sentinel picture of Dr. Fred Johnson when he was being interviewed about his 2010 book on Tupac Shakur.
A map of Lubbers Hall severe weather shelter areas. Fortunately, we’ve never had to use this.
And finally, the printout of the cover of my book, The Men and Women We Want. I still remember my excitement when my publisher sent it to me, and I immediately printed it out and slapped it up there.
We will definitely miss our bulletin board full of random moments from our past. But we are excited that our awesome office manager, Raquel Niles, will be creating a new display that shares stories from our blog on the theme “What Can You Do with a History Major?” In the meantime, you have a few more weeks to come take a final look before it all goes away.
It’s the end of the semester. This is one of those good news, bad news stories. The holidays are coming. We are about to get a break. For some people, the holidays mean a chance to see friends and family. For others, the holidays can be a challenging time, with loneliness and depression always a danger. As a teacher, I am (like my students, I think) a little tired after the rigors of the semester. August seems a long time ago. Final deadlines for classwork loom on the horizon, and my students have begun to look a little bit tense and weary. And it gets dark so early!
For me, the bad news is that the work my students and I did to become a community in each class will be over. We won’t see each other weekly, or talk about ideas together. The shared interest, the trust, and (for my students) solidarity in the face of adversity (that’s me, sometimes) won’t be the same next semester. New semesters are new beginnings, and for that I’m grateful, but I will miss the old semester and the relationships we built during the past months.
The good news is that I can see what my students have accomplished. This fall, I am teaching the history capstone seminar, an advanced history course requiring a research paper, and a first year seminar. I also advised nine candidates (students and alumni) who submitted Fulbright applications in October. In both the Fulbright process and all of my classes, the joy of the end of the semester is seeing my students accomplish what they set out to do. Some of them will write brilliant papers. Some of them will write longer, more complex papers than they have ever attempted before. Some of them are writing in new genres—personal statements; grant proposals; analytical papers instead of reaction papers; history papers, when their majors are not history; arguments supported by evidence instead of simple opinions. They are challenging themselves, and it is a privilege to be a part of their efforts.
I will read all the papers with care and with excitement. I celebrate when a student finds a primary source that makes her argument come to life. I admire the breakthrough when a student who has been summarizing other historians’ arguments makes a clear argument of his own. When a student writes a clear argument supported by evidence for the first time, I cheer. I am in awe of the work my students have done in my classes, when I know they have other classes, co-curricular activities, jobs, and lives beyond the classroom. I look with admiration at my first-year students, who have made the transition to college, and who are moving on to learn more about themselves, their talents, and their goals. I have my fingers crossed for my Fulbright students, who will find out in January if they are semi-finalists. There is a lot to celebrate at the end of the semester. I want to thank all my students, without whom my days would lack purpose. Thank you for your work, your trust, your good will, your persistence, and your cheerful attendance and participation. I think I had record good attendance this semester, and I take it as a sign that you were with me, and we were accomplishing something worthwhile. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you celebrate something else. I hope the end of the semester is a good one for all of you, and I hope the New Year brings you all manner of new joys and new adventures.
I grew up in a family that loved history. As a child I would attempt, in vain, to keep up with my father and older sister at dinner as they jumped from topic to topic, war to war. Tired of not contributing, I began to read. What began as an earnest desire to be part of my family’s dinner conversations became a lifelong passion. History has been and is a central point within my family. My first real conversation with my grandfather was on the topic of William Manchester’s semi-autobiographical book, Goodbye, Darkness. History not only influences the way I view the world, it is also a very real link to my family. Because of this, I grew up loving and respecting history, and in particular, military history. It enthralled me like no other subject could, and so, despite many well-meaning “what are you going to do with a history degree?” questions, I pursued a history major.
Thus, I graduated from Hope with a degree in history and then a MA in the History of War from King’s College, London. In college, I had no real clue what I wanted to do with my degree, and to be honest, I had no real idea in graduate school either. I just knew that I wanted to work in some capacity in or around the subject of history. My introverted self-delighted in the hours spent in the stacks, and in the British National Archives. Yet despite the welcome solitude, my degree path also gave me countless opportunities, from interning with the U.S. State Department in London during my time at Hope, to working with a NY Times bestselling author while at graduate school in London. A history degree can seem niche if you let it. However, as I found out, there are always places in the work force for curious, critical thinkers who know how to do serious research. My current job is a product of that.
I landed my job as the associate editor for MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History and Military History magazine because of my work while in London. I am lucky that I get to engage in the material that excites me the most every single day.
My sister Esther Barrett Wloch (’12), another Hope College history major alum, went in the opposite path of me. She worked for several years at the University of Michigan Musical Society and now currently works for Duo, a cybersecurity firm. She is thriving, despite having no background, I mean literally zero background, in the tech world due to her strong analytical and communication skills that she sharpened from her studies of history.
To be a historian, one engages with current events with a critical eye and a deeper understanding of that history, whether it be political, social, or military. The somewhat tired and oft-repeated line by George Santayana “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” still rings true today. For, as Churchill’s biographer Manchester wrote, “history is more than a time line, more than the sequencing and parsing of collective memory.”
My father, a musician (someone who has followed his own somewhat unique path), always said to me, “Honestly Claire, do what you love, work hard at it, and it will come together.” So that is my advice, and it is simple: Do what you love, for a degree in history means to have a thorough knowledge of the past, which cultivates one’s intellect, teaching one to know how to think, not what to think. The nurturing of one’s mind is invaluable, and trust me, imminently transferable to the world of work.
The application deadline for the Paris May Term is Nov. 29. As that date approaches, Professor Janes asked senior history major Jennifer Cimmarusti to share some of her experiences and insights about the trip.
Professor Janes: What was your favorite place that you visited or activity you did?
Jennifer: The first was the beautiful town of Versailles, which we visited together as a class. While most people are interested in the main palace where the kings lived, I was personally more fascinated by the smaller mansions and the lush gardens that surrounded each building. To see the incredibly detailed designs of the buildings and extravagant furniture was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Along with that the places were full of fascinating history. As someone who absolutely loves the French Revolution, it was a dream come true to see the Jeu de Paume, or tennis courts, where the National Assembly met and planned their revolt. Overall, Versailles was my favorite place that we visited as a group.
Professor Janes: What surprised you about Paris?
Jennifer: I was surprised at how well I was able to communicate with Parisians. As someone who does not speak a lick of French, I was quite nervous about how I was going to get by. However, I found out that most French people do speak English, and I was able to pick up some French phrases. When all else failed, hand gestures worked as well. So what I thought was going to be a major issue was actually one of the easier parts of the trip. It also taught me that it is okay to travel somewhere and not completely understand the language, though a few words or phrases can’t hurt.
Professor Janes: Can you describe an example of how history shapes the city?
Jennifer: One of the aspects of Paris I found most intriguing were the subtle hints of history located just about everywhere. It was hard to go anywhere in the city and not be surrounded by centuries of history. Even the streets themselves had a story to tell. In the mid-19th Century under the rule of Napoleon III, Baron Georges-Eugéne Haussmann was instructed to carry out a massive urban renewal plan. Not only did this modernize the city, but it also helped with sanitation and overall cleanliness. One of his most important projects was widening the streets of Paris and to create new apartment buildings. A prime example of his work can be found on the famous Avenue de l’Opéra, the street leading up to the Garnier Opera House. Here one can see the simple architectural style that was used by Haussmann and the wide streets to allow both pedestrians and cars through. So when I say that every aspect of the city is covered in History, I literally mean every part of it.
Professor Janes: Any advice for students considering traveling on May or June terms abroad?
Jennifer: My best advice for those considering studying abroad is do not put it off. While you may be hesitant for one reason or another about traveling abroad, it is also good to consider the reasons you should go. For instance, while I love to travel I was incredibly nervous about going to a foreign country by myself with no friends or family to accompany me. It was not until I talked to you, Dr. Janes, that I began to realize the importance of studying abroad. I remember you told me that not only is it vital to my own education, but also when else in my lifetime will I be able to do something like this? So I want to encourage those students out there who were scared like me to have a little faith and take that step forward. Traveling abroad has been one of my best experiences and I would do it again tomorrow if I could.
After Jeff Tyler’s History of Christianity class, the two courses I am most grateful for in all of my education are Janis Gibbs’s HIST 140 and Marc Baer’s HIST 400, the history major’s introductory and capstone classes, respectively. It was in these classes that I learned the art of research, which served as a foundation for all of the work to come. The classes in between the those two and all the varied experiences and opportunities I had as a history major together formed me as a historian.
I went on from Hope to get my M.Div. at Duke Divinity School and then my Ph.D. in historical theology from Marquette University. Now I teach church history and spiritual formation at Anderson University in Indiana. At every stage, I have been grateful for the formation I received as a Hope College history major.
The classes I took taught me how to research, to write, and to think. All of these skills were essential in graduate school, but the one that graduate school spent little time teaching was research. I was expected to know how to find sources and decide which were worth using. Professors assumed that I knew primary sources from secondary and the purpose of each. Assignments often had few instructions beyond, “15-20 pages, due on December 1.” I was expected to know how to take a paper from idea to final draft. Thanks to the work of Hope’s history faculty, I did.
Beyond research as the fundamental skill for papers—then a dissertation, and now conference presentations, articles, and books—the way Hope faculty taught me to research was empowering. They gave me steps to follow but trusted that I would do them and had high expectations. They taught me to do for myself and to try solving problems on my own. I was learning to think and work out the issues in my arguments; professors encouraged me to follow my curiosity. Now I use those same methods and stages of the intro and capstone classes (the annotated bibliographies, outlines, drafts, etc.) as I teach my own students to research in a History of Biblical Interpretation course.
In classes, I learned to speak up and have a voice because the history faculty knew how important discussion was for learning. I tested my ideas and learned to disagree respectfully with classmates. I learned that I was not always going to be the smartest person in the room; that formed humility as well as opened me to learn from classmates. In graduate school, I understood the value of listening to those with whom I disagreed, and now I require such discussions of my own students. (It’s also a skill and a posture much required in faculty meetings).
More than any class or any particular assignment or set of academic skills, however, I am grateful to my professors. They did the most work in preparing me to be a professor myself, and they did it by example. As they invited me into their offices and often their homes, as they worked alongside me on a research project, as they listened to my life and even prayed for me, I thought, “That’s the kind of professor I want to be.” And now as I sit across from students in my own office or as I make decisions about how to be fair in the classroom, I think about what Marc Baer or Janis Gibbs or Jeanine Petit would have done with me. I didn’t just come out of the Hope history department with a degree or with better research skills. I came out a well-rounded human being ready to serve.
“I’m interested in business and finance, so why should I major in history?” or, more bluntly, “Business is about buying and selling things, not writing term papers, so why should I study history?” I asked myself these same questions before I became a history major, and, today I am an in-house lawyer for a private equity and hedge fund firm.
Answering these questions requires looking at their two parts: first, understanding what it means to be a business person, and second, understanding what it means to study history at Hope–and then seeing the strong relationship between them. At its core, business is about human interaction: the art of buying and selling goods and services. Of course, numeracy is quite important. The art of business, however, is not merely about numbers on an Excel spreadsheet (no disrespect to Excel). Rather, it is about marshaling a team of people to achieve profit in buying from or selling to other people. Human relationships and communication about ideas, solutions (products and services) and the value proposition of those solutions are key. There are also whole ecosystems that support the sales organs of business: research and development, marketing, accounting, law, treasury, information technology, and human resources, just to name a few. History is a gateway to success in business because it focuses one’s thinking and communication and, most importantly, will teach you how to teach yourself new things so that new situations present opportunities and not obstacles. Let’s take a closer look at business and see the connections between it and the study of history.
First, a successful business career requires the ability to communicate clearly. Email is the common carrier of written business ideas, and communicating concepts like product value, pricing, quantity, delivery date, and charges, etc. demands clarity of communication. More than one million dollar deal has been fouled up because the salespeople were talking past each other and the email traffic was unclear as to what the parties really agreed to. Studying history at Hope College will demand discipline in thought and precision in communication. With your professors as your guides and classmates as co-venturers, you will learn to refine your ideas in presentations and writing and will learn to engage your colleagues’ ideas with care and candor. This is exactly the skill set you will need to employ to engage and persuade your colleagues and customers in business, each of whom will have their own ideas about strategy (in the case of colleagues) and value (in the case of customers).
Successful businesses also require leaders who are critical thinkers and can develop a sound strategy and express their ideas in the spoken word. Developing sound strategy requires clarity of thought while absorbing information from many sources–from colleagues, the media, the Intranet, trade publications and macroeconomic forces–to draw your own conclusions that may make or break your business. The study of history will give you a framework to sift the wheat from the chaff in the marketplace of ideas. You will learn which ideas have staying power and which do not. You will learn to persuade with your speaking in the classroom setting, and you will engage with the ideas of the past that have persuaded others (and perhaps you). Employing these skills with customers will give you an edge in today’s sales environment where selling a product requires persuading your customer of the value of your product, not just its price. You may be selling a product, a service, or your idea about how to solve a problem. Or, you may be evaluating someone else’s pitch to a solution. By studying history, you will also learn to see the mistakes and failures of others by reading about actions and words and their consequences–without having to make them yourself. Understanding your customers and your product’s value will permit you to see possible solutions and chart the right strategic course amid the challenges that will face you daily in business.
Lastly, a history degree will reward you with the confidence to make sound decisions for yourself, and the skepticism not to fall in love with your own ideas. The critical thinking skills of analysis will also permit you to teach yourself how to engage and learn new ideas, a crucial skill in today’s fast-paced, changing workforce.
Three hours. Two teams. One rope. The Pull is one of the longest running collegiate traditions in America. This year, for the 120th time, Even Year and Odd Year will go head to head, trying to pull as much rope as they can across the river.
In the spring semester of 2017, I researched the tradition of the Pull as part of my Hist 140 class. The first Pull is believed to have been held in 1898 (The Pull), and since then there have only been four known instances of the event being cancelled: 1918, 1943, 1944 (due to both World Wars) and 1957 (flu outbreak on campus). For safety reasons, the Pull can only last three hours before the judges call the results.
All teams are referred to by the last two numbers of their graduating year. For example, this year will be the graduating class of 2020 versus the class of 2021, who are referred to as 2-0 (two-oh) and 2-1 (two-one), respectively. Students who graduate in an odd year are part of the “Odd Year” team, and those who graduate in an even year are considered “Even Year”. The juniors (Class of ‘19) coach the freshmen (Class of ‘21), and the seniors (Class of ‘18) coach the sophomores (Class of ‘20). Each team is made up of 40 freshmen and sophomores respectively: 20 pullers and 20 moralers. The pullers are the ones pulling the rope, and the moralers tell them what to do, give them water, and keep their spirits up throughout the long event.
As a member of the 2-0 Freshman Pull Team last year, I witnessed and experienced the physical and emotional toll of this event firsthand. The Pull puts the participants’ bodies through stress like nothing else. Practices lasts for three weeks in the month of September, preparing everyone’s bodies as much as possible for Pull Day. The rope itself does damage to the pullers: It tears the skin on their hands and they need to wear handmade vests in order to keep the rope from burning their sides as they pull it. An 8-0 Puller, David J. Stevens, recounts shaking an odd-year pullers hand after the event, saying “…all we could do was smile and give each other one of the firmest and most meaningful handshakes that I have ever exchanged (considering that about a quarter of the skin of my hands was still on the rope, it was also one of the most painful)” (Powe).
It’s difficult for people who haven’t participated in the Pull to understand the impact it has on its participants. Shannon Vanderspool, a 9-6 moraler, described her experience of the Pull; “But, oh, when you’re a part of it – the smell of dirt and tape, the grimy feel of the rope, the hoarse voices and blistered hands…you remember how you felt as part of the family, working and laughing and crying together. It’s inimitable” (Powe). The Pull is extremely taxing physically, but the impact it has on the campus and its participants is important. It gives students, particularly in their first year, a place to belong, and people to turn to. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and all the insanity and tradition is worth it to them.
If you want to see firsthand what the Pull is, this weekend is your chance. On September 30th, from 3:00-6:00 PM, both banks of the Black River will be alive with cheering, chanting, and screaming. Whether you’re standing on the Even or Odd side, the electricity in the air on Pull Day is something that has to be experienced firsthand. Only one team will get to take the victory swim in the river. We don’t know which team that is, but neither team is going down without a fight.
The Pull | Hope College http://www.hope.edu/offices/student-life/pull/ (accessed September 26, 2017).
Powe, Lynne. The Pull, 1898-1997: A Century of Tradition at Hope College. Holland, MI: Hope College, 1997.