Alumni Feature: Claire Barrett, ’15: “Do What You Love”

High Tatras, Slovakia

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.

Isle of Wight, UK

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.

Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

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.

Student Feature: Jennifer Cimmarusti

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.

Jennifer in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. This room was the sight of many royal gatherings under Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. It was also the sight of the signing of the The Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, formally ending World War I. Photo by Jennifer Cimmarusti.

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?

The quiet, windy streets of Montmartre, a neighborhood untouched by Haussmann’s redesign of Paris. Photo by Jennifer Cimmarusti.

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.

The Place Charles de Gaulle featuring the The Arc de Triomphe is the very epitome of Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards style of modern Paris. It sits on the the historic axis connecting the Louvre Museum all the way to the La Defense business district. From this view, Jen is looking out to La Defense with Paris behind her as the sun sets on the City of Lights. Photo by Jennifer Cimmarusti.

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.

Alumni Feature: Samantha L. Miller, Ph.D.

Samantha L. Miller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity Anderson University, Anderson, IN

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.

Dr. Milller’s first graduation at Anderson University

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.

Alumni Feature: A Hedge-Fund Lawyer Explains Why You Should Major in History

David Charnin, Class of 1996

“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.

Student Feature: Kiley Corcoran

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.

Kiley Corcoran at the Pull

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.