Faculty Feature: Climate Change?

When we approach the end of the year weather becomes one of our main concerns. Will we have a white Christmas? Will storms hamper our travel plans? How much winter will we have to endure (or get to enjoy, if we’re into outdoor sports)?

One of the biggest public debates going on right now is about whether, or how much, the earth’s climate is changing. Our government has issued a report, based on data from a number of agencies, which endorses the idea that the earth is getting warmer and that this change will have drastic, even cataclysmic, consequences by the middle of this century. But our president dismisses the report.

Mr. Trump might look at the weather where I live, in west Michigan, and note that the month of November, 2018, was one of the coldest on record, with the temperature averaging almost four degrees below average. Or he might ask the folks in New England about the huge snowstorm that has already hit there. What global warming? he might say.

Well, historians learn to look at things over a long span. When we study what has happened to the earth’s climate over the centuries and millennia, we find that it has in fact changed a lot and changed a lot of times. Between 1100 and 800 BC drought was a major cause in the collapse of the Mycenean and Hittite cultures. When rainfall amounts returned to normal, the Greeks began the development that led to the Golden Age of Athens.

Around 50 BC Julius Caesar described how the winters in Gaul were so cold that rivers froze. The weather in France today is nothing like that. From ca. 1000-1250 AD the earth experienced what is known as the Medieval Warm Period. Data collected from tree rings, core samples, and other sources indicate that average temperatures were several degrees higher than before or after that period, and the effects were noted around the globe. Then, from 1500-1700, the earth went through the Little Ice Age, when temperatures hit all-time lows.

In addition to such long-term trends, we have encountered short-term anomalies. For a couple of years (535-536) during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian clouds, possibly from a volcanic eruption or the impact of a meteor, created a pall over the earth. The historian Procopius, an eyewitness, said “the sun gave forth its light without brightness.” In the early 1300s northern Europe was beset by several years of persistent rain, so heavy that crops failed for several consecutive summers, causing widespread famine. The year 1816 is known as “the year without a summer,” when crops failed because of a fog-like mist that hung over the northern hemisphere. Freezing temperatures were recorded throughout the summer, leading to crop failures and famine.

So, taking the long view, one might wonder what we can say about climate change. It is undeniable that animals and plants are being found farther north than ever before because the climate is more hospitable to them. In my own neck of the woods, it has definitely gotten warmer. Forty years ago I used to put away my lawn mower by the middle of October. Now my grandson mows for me until early November. Holland’s Tulip Festival used to start in mid-May.

Since the flowers kept getting ready earlier and earlier, they moved the start back almost two weeks.

Have humans caused these changes? They do seem to occur on their own, but I believe humans have had a major impact, primarily because of the damage we’ve done to the earth’s forests. A lot is written about how much of the Amazon rain forest has been destroyed, but when Europeans arrived in the New World, it was said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River without touching the ground. Europeans wanted farm land, so they started chopping down trees. The state seal of Indiana shows a man taking an axe to a tree.

Well before that, Native Americans had burned the forests to provide grazing land for buffalo.

Early settlers in my area recorded that the forests were so thick it was difficult to swing an axe, but that didn’t stop them. Then the lumber industry took over. By 1900 there was hardly an old-growth tree left standing.

An arborist friend of mine says it’s rare to find a tree in Michigan that is 125 years old. I’ve planted half a dozen trees on my property. I know that’s not going to make a dent, but it’s something I can do, in addition to whatever steps I can take to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

I don’t know if we can reverse the effects of climate change, but if we don’t try, we’re running the risk of leaving a bleak landscape for our children and grandchildren.

Student Feature: Halla Maas

Halla Maas doing research at the Van Raalte Institute

While doing research this summer as part of Mellon Grand Challenges Grant on “Imagining Peace,” I have come to appreciate protesting in a historical context. My partner, Olivia Brickley, and I researched in the Joint Archives of Holland, and we found amazing articles in The Anchor about the Vietnam war and Hope students’ reactions to it. Students wrote articles about the draft, the Kent State massacre, Hope student participation in a protest in Washington D.C., and peace protests on campus. According to one article in The Anchor by Paul Goodman, some Hope students were radicalized to the point where they fought for justice by burning their draft cards. Another Anchor article described how, in 1971, students from Hope College took part in a massive protest for peace in Washington D.C. These students were protesting not only the draft, but also the killing of students at Kent State and America’s involvement in the war in Cambodia.

When the Kent State massacre occurred on May 4, 1970, Tom Donia wrote an article in The Anchor about the events that unfolded. In this incident, four students were killed and nine wounded by national guardsmen because they were protesting to end the war in Vietnam. This massacre led Hope students to protest for peace in Cambodia, Vietnam, and America. Donia interviewed James Stills, a Hope College student, who spoke in the Pine Grove against the war and the deaths of the four Kent State students: “For too long students have hidden in a shell in order to ‘do their own thing,’” Stills said.  He continued, “If we are ever to do anything for our country, the time is now. What others have died to start we must live to see finished, and that is a change.” Stills believed that the younger generation must end what has been started by protesting for peace and justice for the lives lost in Cambodia and at home in America.

Hope graduate Glen Pontier (‘68) resisted the draft, and protested the war during his resulting imprisonment. The Anchor reporter, Mary Houting, wrote an article explaining that Pontier was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, for avoiding the draft. During his imprisonment, he fasted for peace with 11 other inmates, and they became known as the Danbury 11. They began water fasting on August 6, 1972, to protest the American atrocities in Indochina. Pontier stated that they would stop fasting once America stopped committing mass genocide in Vietnam. He shared his thoughts with with Houting about the draft system, saying that “there is little fair about a system which chooses some men to die and others to live, while causing all to exist in a state of uncertainty until their fate is decided.”

On April 24, 1972, the army-navy recruiting center on West Eighth Street in Holland was closed down on Friday as a result of a small anti-war protest staged by Hope students. Image courtesy of the Anchor (April 24, 1972)

Many Hope students who protested focused on stopping the draft. In The Anchor, George Arwady wrote an article in 1966 about John Cox, a Hope student (and later professor of English), who, with a group of nine other students,  protested for peace during the Tulip Time parade. Cox and his colleagues interrupted the parade and marched for peace because they believed that both the draft and the war were unjust.  In 1969, Tom Donia wrote an article in The Anchor about the Academic Affairs Board’s request to the President to cancel classes for a Vietnam Peace Moratorium, where students and faculty would discuss ways to end the war. These students spoke out against the war because they believed that the only way to end the war was through a peaceful negotiation. In 1973, some Hope students stampeded the draft center in Holland. The Anchor article titled, “Decry Killing: Hopeites Stage Protest,” explained that students set up their protest in front of the Army-Navy recruiting center on West Eighth Street. These students shut down the recruitment base and collected 250 signatures for their petition. Their petition read, “We the undersigned believe that God our Father has given man life. He has asked man to prosper and grow, and above all to have faith in Him. What God has given life, let no man destroy. Let neither the leaders of North Vietnam, the U.S., Thailand, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, the People’s Republic of China, the U.S.S.R., New Zealand, or any other nation or person usurp the power of God.” These students believed that the war in Cambodia was killing God’s creation. Because of this, these students protested to end the war in order to save human life.

These protests all had one end goal: peace for a world in disarray. This research helped me to see that protesting can make a difference. Without protesting, we would not be able to advance or even be heard when things are going wrong. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement was important for African Americans because they were getting their voices heard over the oppression that they have lived in for centuries. Feminists would not have been able to change the patriarchal world that we live in without protests. Thus, protesting helps the world because it is a way for other people to hear the voices of the oppressed, concerned, and angered souls.  

Faculty Feature: Dr. Gloria Tseng

The Historian’s Craft

Renowned French historian Marc Bloch (1886-1944) is one of the great heroes of our discipline. He revolutionized the field of history as one of the chief proponents of the Annales movement, which championed innovations in the study of history—incorporating economics, geography, and sociology; elevating ordinary lives and the mentalities and beliefs of rural society as worthy subjects of scholarship; and working from the vantage point of the long term, that is, across the centuries. More importantly for me on a personal level, he embodied the best ideals of the French republic, patriotism held in balance with universal humanistic ideals, and not a strident nationalism or narrowly exclusive nativism. A French Jew who fought valiantly in the First World War, he volunteered to fight in the Second World War at age 53. He wrote a soul-searching account of the French defeat, Strange Defeat, as the French army was retreating pell-mell in 1940. Due to his service during the First World War, the Vichy government allowed him to continue teaching despite its racial laws. When Germany moved to occupy all of France after the 1943 Allied landing in North Africa, Bloch joined the French resistance network in Lyons, was captured and tortured after about a year, and was executed along with some twenty other resistance fighters shortly after the Allied landing in Normandy and before the liberation of Paris. It was during the two years of teaching in Vichy France that he drafted The Historian’s Craft, a guide to historical methodology and a personal reflection on the value of history as an intellectual endeavor, which would remain unfinished. Both Strange Defeat and The Historian’s Craft were published posthumously. It is evident that history was integral to Bloch, to the entire person. I find it deeply moving that during the darkest hour of his country, active engagement in the exigencies of the moment did not preclude scholarship, and vice versa. If integrity means the whole person without contradictions, then Bloch is an exemplar.

This spring a personal experience, on a much smaller scale than the world-shaking events that dictated the last five years of Bloch’s life, got me thinking about history and its place in the life of a person or family. It started with a phone call from my youngest cousin. “Hey, I’ll trade you the grading of papers for the translation of my mom’s journals,” the voice coming from the phone said. “You don’t know what you’re offering, but sure, I’d be happy to do it,” I retorted bemusedly. This cousin’s mother had passed away a few years ago, and he discovered her journals as the family was going through her affairs. “My dad said that I could keep them if I wanted; otherwise, he’s going to throw them away,” my cousin continued. “Do keep them! They’re precious!” my historian’s instinct prompted me to reply. Three months passed, and I went to Colorado Springs during spring break to keep my promise. I had a plan. We would make a catalog of the journals, twenty-four notebooks in all, during the week I was there. Afterwards, he would scan the entries that interest him most and send them to me for translation. I’d dictate; he’d type. Fancying myself in Geoffrey Reynolds’s place, I had in mind something along the lines of our Joint Archives.

As students of history invariably find out by experience, research proposals often need to be modified in the course of a project. I had several surprises once we started going through the first notebook. First, I had envisioned neat, print-like handwriting that I could skim quickly to get the gist of each journal entry. The reality was far different, and especially challenging for a non-alphabetical language such as Chinese. Second, I had approached it as a project, but it was much more personal for my cousin. I wanted to be systematic; my cousin wanted to have an entire entry translated when we came upon an entry that mentioned him or his two sisters. My “research proposal” had to be modified: we made bullet points of most entries and translated the entries for which my cousin wanted translations. In the end, we got through only one notebook. Third, I had to give up my perfectionism; finding the best expression in English for a certain Chinese term really didn’t matter as long as I got the meaning across. Fourth, and the greatest surprise, was the various effects the translation of the first notebook had on the family. A flurry of emails ensued after my cousin sent off the translation to his sisters and father. My uncle, who had wanted to throw away the journals, thanked me for my labors. Each person in the family remembered different details in the journal entries, and the same material evoked varied reactions. Should I have been surprised? Haven’t I always known that history is about people, who always have different perspectives, emotions, and responses to circumstances and events? I was humbled by the reminder that when we write history, we’re dealing with people and telling their stories. We owe it to our subjects to be truthful, not only to events and sources, but also to their perspectives. It was an “Annales” moment for me.

Alumni Feature: Rebecca Fry Debowski ’12

Across the desk my adviser told me, “You will never get a history job if you don’t pursue the social studies composite major.  You won’t be marketable.” I distinctly remember this conversation from my sophomore year and the frustration I felt trying to explain to the adviser that my passion is history.   I saw the social studies major as a mile wide and an inch deep.  If there was one thing I had learned already in my history classes at Hope College, it was that history is about depth.  So instead of listening to this advice, I decided to pursue a Secondary Teaching Degree with a history major and English minor.  After seven years of teaching history, I am glad I went with my instincts and pursued the history major.  The skills I developed obtaining that degree have made me the teacher I am today.

These days, history is treated as an expendable subject in many schools. Lots of elementary schools are cutting out history lessons entirely while secondary history education classes focus on preparing students for state tests, simply filling them with facts drawn primarily from textbooks. When teachers rely on the state standards and focus on test scores, the importance of historical skills and critical thinking is lost.   Studying history naturally leads students to explore different perspectives, converse with people who hold different opinions, and express their own arguments backed with relevant evidence.  These were the skills I learned as a history major at Hope College, and these are the skills I try to emphasize every day as an eighth-grade history teacher.

The history department at Hope was never afraid of difficult topics, but rather they embraced them, teaching us how to carefully peel back the layers and perspectives of a given event.  In his British imperialism class, for example, Professor Baer would lecture about one imperialist event from multiple perspectives.  This approach encouraged me to think critically about how I was previously taught about historical fact.  It made me think about my own life and how I perceived events versus how others in my life may have interpreted those same events.  This has carried into my classroom where I continually challenge the notion of single narratives.  History is often taught in schools from one textbook—too often leaving out necessary voices to understand the complexities of events.  To avoid this, I give my students contradictory primary sources on an event and ask them to determine what happened.  When studying the Constitutional Convention, I have students roleplay different groups of people in America at that time.  Instead of just sending upper-class men to the convention, we include African Americans, Native Americans, working-class people, and women.  When we include more people from that time era, the students’ Constitution looks vastly different than the one created in 1787.   This leads to great conversations about what it means when we say “we the people” or “all men are created equal.”  Hope’s history department pushed me to explore what these statements meant within the context of the past, but also what they mean in the world right now.  These are the same conversations I encourage with my students.

Of course, when exploring tough topics, debates often turn contentious.  At Hope, my professors would encourage discussion and debate.  I remember Professor Fred Johnson encouraging me to challenge his ideas and engage with him in dialogue.  In our current political climate, this kind of civilized discourse is increasingly rare.  Our world feels polarized and discussions often feel contentious.  However, my time in the history department taught me when conflict happens, respectful conversations are important.  Just as my professors taught me to present my own views, even when I didn’t agree with theirs, I encourage my students to do the same.  By practicing respectful discourse and listening skills, students become capable of amazing things. I have found that through role-play discussions and debates, students are challenged to think from another’s view point—building historical empathy as well as empathy towards their peers.

My history major has pushed me to teach by emphasizing depth of learning.  Instead of teaching random facts to students in the hopes that they pass a state test, I see the value in teaching historical skills and critical thinking.  By treating the subject of history as an avenue to critical thinking, not only are students engaged on a personal level, but they are better prepared to participate in our world today.  As citizens, we can choose to be poor historians, choosing to only listen to one side of the story and ignoring context, or we can be conscientious historians.  I hope that my students chose to intentionally seek out additional points of view and engage people in difficult conversations.  My students have the power to shape our country and change the world—I cannot wait to see their impact.

Student Feature: Sarah Lundy

A visit to the Place de la Concorde, one of my favorite spots in Paris

When many people imagine the French capital, trips to the Eiffel Tower, coffee in outdoor cafés, and strolls along the Seine are what typically come to mind. My Paris story is somewhat different. Though I definitely enjoy these aspects of Parisian life, I was not really a tourist during my two-week return to the city this May. Instead, I had the chance to be a researcher, doing archival work at the American Library in Paris (ALP).

The opportunity to conduct student research at such a prominent institution was both exciting and full of unknowns. Although I was in Paris as part of an amazing team (fellow student Michaela Stock and English professor Dr. Natalie Dykstra), I had limited archival experience prior to the project. It was a bit daunting as well to think that I, as a history and French undergraduate student, could contribute in any way to the largest English-language library in continental Europe. Once there, however, my apprehensions fell away. The Library welcomed us with open arms and we were soon up to our elbows in archive boxes and old books. I have always loved books, and I think my love of stories is one of the many factors that first drew me to history.

An inscription written to Boulanger (in French!) from her friend and student, Thea Musgrave
Searching through books from Nadia Boulanger’s personal collection

Archives have a beautiful way of telling stories. Comprising much more than simply books, their collections span decades, movements, and genres to paint a picture of the past that one letter, article, or picture cannot illustrate on its own. At a location like the ALP, which has been accumulating literature since its establishment in 1920, there are quite a lot of stories to be told. My research team and I explored just one of those through the personal collection and records of French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger. The project gave me invaluable practice in handling archival materials and taught me that seemingly ordinary things can have historical value, too. It let me personally hold history in my hands. As a bonus, I even got to use my French!

It is sometimes easy to reduce the facts and timelines that historians study to impersonal accounts, rather than attribute them to the real people who actually lived them centuries, years, or minutes ago. Yet while photographing letters and transcribing inscriptions written to Boulanger, I also learned just how important it is to look at the lives behind the history. The remarkable things about her were not the number of years that she lived, or the number of books that she owned, but rather the number of people that she influenced in her lifetime. Boulanger was a loving friend and mentor to American and European musicians alike. It was impossible to tell her entire story in two weeks, but I am hopeful that the research and materials we assembled will help to preserve her legacy for generations to come.

To me, Paris itself is a living legacy as well. Nadia Boulanger and the archives of the ALP are just tiny pieces of that great story. I am so thankful to have had the time to dive into the city’s history, if only for two weeks. Everything has a story to tell, and we can all be storytellers.

Alumni Feature: Mike Douma ’04

Assistant Research Professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and Director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics.

When you have a free afternoon sometime, go visit the archives of the Holland Museum, and ask for an old account book of the Boone Lumber Company (collection T00-1600.5). Set the account book in front of you on a table, open it somewhere in the middle, lean forward and breathe. Suddenly, the smells of a 19th-century lumber yard will fill your nostrils. Trapped in those pages, for well over a hundred years, is the dust of oak, cedar, pine, and hemlock, a testimony to a past age.

Typically, when historians want to learn something about the past, they seek words, not smells. They also tend to put texts before photographs, and letters before old buildings.  All too often, historical research is limited to the papers of politicians at the national archives. And, at many universities, history is taught as mostly a set of fixed content, separate from one’s one interests and personal history. Sometimes, history can feel distant and impersonal.

But as a student at Hope College, I was inspired to look at history from different angles and find connections to my own concerns.  I read my fair share of classic texts by Alexis DeTocqueville, Frederick Douglass, and the like, but I also participated in oral history projects, surveyed local historic architecture, wrote for campus publications, worked in and traveled to archives and museums. Classroom lessons in historical thinking inspired me to think about the myriad ways one might approach historical questions. History department events and invited speakers initiated me into the cult of the footnote. By the time I went off to graduate school in history, I had a set of diverse and profound experiences that taught me to approach the past from different angles.

Now, having written a book titled Creative Historical  Thinking, I can reflect on what makes a creative environment.  Creativity, it seems clear, can only develop when people feel comfortable in asking questions and “playing” with ideas.  In his famous 1938 study Homo Ludens (playing man), Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explained that play was the cessation of formal rules, which could be set aside for a short period of time, so that we can experiment with new ideas. Play is not disorder and lack of seriousness; it is precisely what we must do if we are to discover new kinds of order, as well as new and serious bits of information. Play, Huizinga wrote, was at the core of culture.

Hope College certainly offers a comfortable environment for those who wish to ask questions. Indeed, there is a campus culture of inquisitiveness and respect.  In a small, friendly history department, students enjoy the advantage of being able to forge relationships and get personal feedback from their professors. Small group exercises in class give students the opportunities to think creatively about how history is written, and who controls the narrative. Connections to local historical agencies give students the opportunity to practice in the field.

The old proverb rings true, that people might forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Hope makes you feel like a person, not a number. Studying history within a liberal arts tradition highlights the importance of individuals and individual rights, of culture and tradition, religion and being.  In the process of studying history, we not only satisfy our own curiosity, but we build connective social tissues. History must always begin with the individual, develop through curiosity and play, and come together for social ends as we relate what we have discovered. Whether it is studying their Reformed heritage, their own ethnic background, or the great moments in world history, Hope history students have real opportunities to think creatively about history, and to approach it from their own perspective.

To be creative, you must put your fears aside and be open to new experiences. So, I implore you to start looking for new ways to think about and write history. Get my book. Or, for other inspiration, go to the museum; get a whiff of that lumber yard account book. It just might bring you back in time, and change how you think about the past.

Welcome Back Everyone!

Welcome back everyone! We in the History Department are happy to be starting our teaching again and look forward to a great semester. But we also enjoyed a summer full of research and travel with students as well as accomplishments in our own scholarly and creative writing.

Dr. Fred Johnson got involved in the national conversation about race in our nation this summer. In July, he had an editorial published in the Washington Post which provides a historical perspective the relationship between African-American art thriving alongside racism. 

Darwin

He also worked on his book project that builds on his Civil War Research. The book will be titled: Worth to Us An Army: Lee’s War against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. When he’s not busy traveling to archives or publishing in major newspapers, Dr. Johnson takes his dog Darwin for long walks on the dunes.

The cover of Dr. Bell’s new middle-school novel.

Dr. Albert Bell completed a middle-grade novel, What You Wish For, which is a story about two 11-year-olds, Sandy Walker and T. J. McKenzie, who become pen pals through a school assignment. When they meet in person, they find that neither is quite what the other expected. As their friendship develops, they have to fend off a local bully and get to try their hand at solving a century-old mystery surrounding the Walker farm. He also worked on his eighth novel in his series of mysteries featuring Pliny the Younger. It has the working title Hiding from the Past, and it puts Pliny and his companion Aurora back in a small Alpine town where they investigated a murder ten years earlier but did not solve it. Their efforts to do so this time are complicated by an early spring blizzard and by a Gallic chieftain who wants revenge for the death of his son, whom Aurora killed defending herself. Hopefully, it will be out next year! This fall, he will be preparing for his sabbatical, where he will turn to his scholarly research on Pliny by examining his image of himself as a writer and his concept of friendship.

Dr. Tseng, Audrey Grant and Andrew Walls. Walls is the namesake of the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool-Hope University.

Since our faculty study all regions of the world, summertime also means time to travel to teach and do research abroad. Dr. Gloria Tseng began her year-long sabbatical, where she will be completing her book on Protestantism in 20th-century China. This summer, she presented papers with impressive titles at two conferences in Great Britain. The first was in Edinburgh at the meeting of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity, where she gave a paper titled “Liturgical and Spontaneous Prayers in Republican China: Indigenization as Seen through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Wang Mingdao’s Teachings on Prayer.” She presented the second paperan in Liverpool at the Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity, “From Separation to Civic Engagement: Chinese Christians and the Chinese State and Society in Contemporary China.”

Dr. Wayne Tan had the honor of being an invited faculty presenter on the topic of disability in Japan at the NEH Summer Institute on “The Global Histories of Disability” held at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. He also completed his book manuscript on the social and cultural history of blindness in Japan and submitted it to the University of Michigan Press. We look forward to the book party when it is released! Dr. Tan also served as a mentor to Aine O’Connor, a student in the Mellon Scholars Program, for her digital humanities project on a database of disability and disabled characters in young adult literature. He provided some advice about the framework while Aine did a thorough research and analysis of hundreds of books and mastered the digital tools to build this site. He got to learn about disability from a different point of view and Aine combined her passion for English literature and history for this project.

Dr. Janes showing Hope student Anna Benitez the view from Montmartre in Paris.

Dr. Janis Gibbs and Dr. Lauren Janes continued to lead two of the most popular May Terms at Hope College. Dr. Gibbs completed her ninteenth summer as a professor at the Hope Vienna Summer School. Her students, along with those of the Vienna Summer School’s Director, Professor Stephen Hemenway and Professor Brian Gibbs, had a great day visiting the Austrian Gymnasium (high school) in the Kundmanngasse, where the students met Viennese students, and talked about life, culture, politics, and education in Austria and the United States.  She also worked on her research project, developing the story of Hermann von Wied, the Archbishop with two funerals, one Catholic and one Protestant. She also had some time for fun and saw “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on a trip to London in July. Dr. Janes co-led the third year of the Paris May Term, where she and Dr. Heidi Kraus (Art and Art History Department) lead students on an experiential exploration of the art and history of Paris. When she returned, she continued working on her book, Nourishing the World: A Global History in Three Foods and One Dish. Dr. Janes and her family have also used the summer to work on building an outdoor wood fire pizza oven in her backyard–we can’t wait to try it out!

The research team examining Hope College during the Vietnam Era. From Left to Right: Halla Maas, Dr. Pam Koch, Olivia Brickley and Dr. Petit

I stayed closer to home this summer. In May, Dr. Pam Koch (Sociology and Social Work) and I worked with two Peace and Justice minors to create a web exhibit titled “Hope College and the Vietnam War. The students, Halla Maas and Olivia Brickley, spent four weeks exploring the Holland Joint Archives, examining newspaper, yearbook, letters, and other manuscript records. They also did an oral history interview with Dr. Donald Luidens, who was a Hope student from 1965-1969 and a leader in student protest. Through these sources, the students examined both anti-Vietnam War protests as well as other social movements and protests that emerged during that time, such as the Civil Rights movement and the emergence of feminism. This project was funded by the Mellon Grand Challenges Grant and the website should be up soon as part of the larger “Imagining Peace” website. I also wrote an article with another long, impressive title: “We Must Not Fail Either the Church or the Nation”: Mobilizing Laywomen in the World War I United States.” This will be appearing in early 2019 in a special issue of The U.S. Catholic Historian on the theme “War and Peace.”

First 5k, Grand Rapids Color Run

Throughout this whole summer, our wonderful office manager Raquel Niles has been there to help me get out our end-of-the-year report and help all of us learn the new accounting system being put into place. And she had another great achievement–running her first 5K at the Grand Rapids Color Run!

And now we turn to our teaching (or in the case of Dr. Tseng, sabbatical research) and look forward to the challenges of the new academic year. Good luck to us all as we start again!

Carry On: Memories of Holland in World War I

This is the text of the oration Aine O’Connor delivered on May 28, 2018, at the Holland Memorial Day Ceremony.

Hello, and let me first say thank you, to all of you for coming out on this very hot day. It is an honor to be here, and I promise to be brief, if only so our lovely band members can get a cool drink of water. To start us off, allow me to ask you a question. It is a simple one, but I hope that you will take a moment to think about it. What do you know about World War I? It’s okay if your answer is, “You know, I haven’t thought about World War I in a while;” I’m sure you’re not alone. If it makes you feel better, it isn’t your fault; World War I is criminally undertaught in schools and remains a largely forgotten section of American history. Allow me to refresh your memory today, and explain why even a hundred years later, this war matters.

My own answer to this question begins here, in this cemetery. Last year as part of my research on the Holland and Hope College experience of World War I, I spent hours photographing graves of World War I veterans from Holland and the surrounding area. As a friend and I combed through the cemetery to find more graves, the weight of what we were doing began to sink in. For many of these men, a photo of their grave would be the only visual of them provided in our research. In my world, where selfies, photo opportunities, and social media run rampant, it seemed unfathomable that an iPhone photo of a gravesite could be the only proof that someone existed. I became obsessed with trying to find more pictures, and many summer afternoons were spent digging through the Joint Archives, hoping to get lucky. As I grew closer and closer to the city of Holland and my chosen college, I looked for photos of men who were being torn away from everything that was becoming my home.

How I wish I could show you every photo that my two research partners and I did find, under the expert wisdom of Geoff Reynolds at the Archives. But, since I don’t have the benefits of a massive projector screen—and since that would probably everyone to sleep anyway—allow me to just describe some snapshots of the Holland and Hope College experience of World War I to you. If you would like to see the real version of these photos, please check out our research website, the link to which I would be MORE than happy to give you once I am done speaking today.

“Counting Off”: S.A.T.C. men practicing formations, 1918, Courtesy Joint Archives of Holland.

Snapshot number 1: Over fifty men between the ages of 18-21 line up in the grassy area of Hope College affectionately known to all as the Pine Grove. They look young, even to me, and I’m their age. Several of these young men seem unable to not smile in front of a camera, their teeth giving them away even as they try to remain in military formation. All of them are wearing caps, and stand ramrod straight while learning a new drill that is supposed to keep them alive. These fifty-odd truly American men were the beginnings of the Student Army Training Corps at Hope College, which would grow to be nearly two-hundred strong by the end of the war. Khaki took over the little campus, as generals swarmed in to shape our young men into a war mindset. SATC members had their own classes, ate in their own mess hall, and used Van Vleck—a building that still stands today—as their personal infirmary. Even chapel services revolved around the war, as wizened soldiers were invited back to give speeches on the “German barbarians” or the significance of prayer during wartime. Although some SATC members would leave Hope to enlist, most stayed on campus for the duration of the war, keeping the college in a constant state of militarism. The men were in formation, ready to do their part to defend their country whether at home or abroad.

The Holland Polar Bear Club in 1942. Courtesy of the Joint Archives of Holland.

For those soldiers from Hope or Holland who did fight abroad, life back home must have seemed like an idyllic dream. In another snapshot, two young, unnamed men stand grinning in front of a log house. That house is barely visible, covered in mounds of snow and ice. Those men look frozen, wrapped in blankets and coats. They are both from Michigan—as explained by their infantry number—and both are very, very far from home. These two men were part of the Polar Bear Expedition, a group of almost 5,000 US soldiers from Michigan who were sent to Siberia as part of an anti-communist campaign. Reportedly the US government chose to send Michigan men to Russia because they were used to extreme, unrelenting winter—which seems, even a hundred years later, like a cruel joke. Without any prior knowledge of communism, Russia, or, in some cases, how to fight, thousands of Michiganders arrived in Siberia by surprise. Hollander Dutch Strowenjans wrote to his family bitterly, “I do not understand this Russian proposition or why we are here or how long we shall stay.” He was joined in Siberia by most other soldiers from the Holland area. Whether or not they knew where they were going or what they were doing, these men were celebrated at home as heroes. Holland and Hope had done their part to “make the world safe for democracy,” as President Woodrow Wilson had told them to do. And so for years Holland held its breath, hoping and praying for its men to return home safely.

The too-early parade, Nov. 7 1918. Courtesy Joint Archives of Holland.

Holland actually let out that breath a little too early. Another snapshot reveals an Eighth Street in the midst of a parade, much as it was just a few hours ago. Large Red Cross floats adorn the street, as a hundred or so uniformed men march behind in neat formation. A large American flag is carried in honor, but if you look closely you’ll see there are too many stars for states—this was a service flag, with one star stitched for every Holland or Hope man in service. Only the tiny, handwritten date of November 7, 1918, in the bottom left-hand corner reveals the flaw in this parade—it was celebrated four days before the actual end of World War I. Rumors of a German surrender had caused a premature parade to break out! We just love our Holland parades, with or without tulips or dancers. Undeterred, Holland celebrated with another parade after the war actually ended. Unfortunately, that ending wasn’t quite true for everyone. For many Holland soldiers, coming home was a feat in itself. A late river freeze would trap the Polar Bears in Russia until almost a year after the armistice in Germany, and the original Holland parade. And sadly, twenty-four Holland soldiers would never make it home, either killed in action or from disease abroad.

My last snapshot returns to where we started, in this cemetery. It is a photo that I took, of a memorial to one of those twenty-four soldiers. His name was Willard Leenhouts, the first Holland man to be killed in action in World War I. His memorial stone is a beautiful marble, well-kept after over a hundred years. Behind his stone the cemetery stretches outward to the football field, where young Hope men stand together in a very different kind of formation. When I took that picture last year I was struck at the contrast. This boy, who was my age when he died, and boys, my age, playing football. Leenhouts’s death was seen as a challenge in the Holland community; one newspaper reported, “As a captain, dying, calls to his sergeant to carry on… so this Holland boy, falling out of the ranks is today calling to the people at home to carry on.” And so, the next time someone asks you, “what do you know about World War I,”—I’m sure that’s a question you get asked all the time—I hope that you will think of Willard Leenhouts. I hope that you will think of parades, and Polar Bears. I hope that you will think of snapshots. And your answer? Even though Holland is not my birthplace, I can still hope that you will answer it the way I do, this way: yes, I do know something. I know that my city, my college, and my people did the most extraordinary thing they could do: they carried on.

Memorial for Leenhouts at Pilgrim Home Cemetery, Holland, MI.

Thank you.

Faculty Feature: The Emotional Responsibility of a Historian

Dr. Wayne Tan

At a time when the humanities appear to be in a crisis mode, with declining enrollment numbers across campuses, I want to share my thoughts about how, from a faculty’s perspective, the work I do in history relates back to the core issue of what it means to be in touch with my humanistic outlook. As a historian, it is my job to think critically, articulate my thoughts clearly, and write cogently. This was what I was taught in school and also a lesson that is dear to my heart. Herein lies a question that I had only recently started to reflect on: Can the process of doing history be one that is also rooted in emotions? That is to say, a process that doesn’t pit mind against heart, but instead, one that marries mind with heart? For the longest time, haunting every analytical turn of mind is the fear (stoked gently by conventional wisdom) that emotions cloud judgment. Analysis at its best, we are told, should be clinical, exacting, and stripped of emotional biases in order to present an objective truth. But does it have to be this way—for a historian, fully absorbed as is to be expected in his/her task, to maintain an emotional distance from the object of analysis? After all, is not analysis itself also a subjective experience that is intended to produce a personal interpretive result?

Perhaps owing to my research background in disability history, I am partial to methodological approaches that scour the pages of history to seek out traces of unrepresented and underrepresented communities in our societies. The point of my work, summarized here at the risk of sounding hackneyed, is to give a voice to these communities—communities that have historically struggled for the right to exist despite as well as because of their disabilities and for the opportunities for a better quality of life. This research has also led me down a different yet parallel path of personal growth: I feel deeply for the human subjects who are at the center of the narratives I construct. To disclaim the power of emotions would be disingenuous. I could not ignore the anguished pain I felt upon first reading the case of Carrie Buck (institutionalized and sterilized against her will) in early 20th-century America and her uphill fight against a social system bent on condemning any sign of feeble-mindedness. She was forever ensconced in a legacy of martyrdom because of the inhumanity she had suffered. Nor can I suppress the upwelling current (and sometimes sinking weight) of grief and distress each time I bury myself in victims’ harrowing stories about radiation sickness in the wake of the 1945 atomic bombings of Japan and more recent local and state media reports of residents’ concerns about PFAS contamination and lead exposures from the alleged industrial pollution of drinking water. If these feelings fall under the broad lexical reach of the word “empathy”, then I am proud to identify with an empathetic audience.

There is a reason why I turn to writing. If I could reinvent the metaphor of giving a voice to the voiceless, I see a new significance in restoring emotions to my stories and perspectives—not the formulaic types that evoke sympathy as the be-all and end-all of writing, but the kinds that provide a well-considered context that would frame the writer’s emotional response. The stories I write shape the narratives I tell inside and outside the classroom, in the repertoire of courses I teach here at Hope College and also the everyday conversations I have. Words themselves are a historian’s consummate instruments to disclose thoughtfully an emotional inner self that is inseparable from the context. The singular act of writing, in all its complexity, weaves together the dense substance of words, which impart an emotional complexion to prose. To say this differently, words reveal as much about the emotional state of the writer as they do about the emotional profiles of the characters portrayed and described. That is why when I write, I own my words and take ownership of my emotions. When I speak, I do likewise. This is the emotional responsibility of a historian to himself/herself and to the subjects at hand and my personal response to why history and, more broadly, humanities matter to us. Now more than before.

Alumni Feature: Daniel Owens

Daniel R. Owens
M.Phil Candidate, International Peace Studies
Trinity College Dublin

When I sat down to write this piece about how studying history at Hope has shaped my career and worldview, I found myself unsure of where to begin. Do I write about conducting archival research on the Liberian Civil War and exploring the role of historical narratives in post-genocide Rwanda? What about the semester I spent studying post-conflict transformation in Durban, South Africa? Or perhaps I should devote this space to detail the countless conversations I had with the department’s professors—in their offices, over coffee at Lemonjellos, and even over dinner—about history, yes, but also my aspirations, sense of calling, and fears.

After a few moments staring blankly at my computer, my history training kicked in. Where should I begin? By reviewing what has already been written on this blog, of course! Two themes quickly became evident that mirrored my own experience in the department—the ability to think critically and communicate effectively. I’d like to offer my own perspective on these topics, focusing in particular on critical thinking.

For me, studying history at Hope was not about memorizing dates and events; it was about learning how to analyze messy, competing narratives and ultimately weaving them together into a coherent argument. Through this process, I came to realize that nothing occurs in a vacuum. Exploring the context surrounding a given event or action is often the first, essential step to take in order to unlock explanations (or at least better understand) something that at first glance might seem nearly impossible to comprehend. Allow me to offer three examples of why this matters and how my history training has served me well in this area.

First, as a graduate student in peace studies at Trinity College Dublin, I found that determining potential avenues for resolution to conflicts—be it in Ireland, South Sudan, or Central African Republic—always required a lengthy look back at prior events and the people that shaped (and continued to impact) the conflict.

Second, in my current role working for a leading online travel agency, I’ve learned that how partners and colleagues respond to the requests I make is closely linked to factors that go beyond the specific issue at hand. By keeping things such as their underlying interests and responsibilities as well as their perception of me at the forefront of my mind, I am better positioned to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

Finally, in keeping with recent trends, one of the overarching themes of 2018 so far has been rapid change. Headlines of dramatic shifts in politics, economic policy, and technology seem to appear on daily (or hourly) basis. It can be exhausting and more than a little stressful to keep up. That said, I’ve noticed that examining the context of each blaring headline can help make things far less startling, enabling me to more easily grasp what is driving these events or actions. In short, my history training has positioned me well to confront the all-important why question.