“History is Always Alive”

With this year’s 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into “the war to end all wars,” Hope College faculty and student researchers have delved into the multi-faceted ways Hope and Holland, Michigan, played a part in World War I. What they discovered are timeless tales of patriotism, immigration ideologies and wartime controversy.

Dr. Jeanne Petit, standing left, and Geoffrey Reynolds, standing right, led three Hope students — Avery Lowe, Aine O’Connor, and Natalie Fulk, seated left to right — in a research project on Hope and Holland’s involvement during World War I.

Led by History Professor and Department ChairDr. Jeanne Petit, and Geoffrey Reynolds, director of The Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College, three history majors — sophomore Aine O’Connor of South Bend, Indiana; junior Avery Lowe of North Muskegon, Michigan; and, senior Natalie Fulk of Mahomet, Illinois — have poured over both published and personal WWI materials left in the custody of the archives at the Theil Research Center.

The intensive eight-week project looked at a college and city predominantly populated by Dutch Americans and immigrants, asking ideological questions such as:

  • How do we understand diversity and patriotism during wartime?
  • What does a global economy mean and how does it work during war?
  • When should patriotism reside next to religion?
  • How are disabled vets rehabilitated and respected at home?

Each query became a not-so-subtle reminder that the more things change, the more they inevitably stay the same — especially when it comes to war.

“Many were asking the question, ‘Am I Dutch or am I American?’”

“You don’t learn about World War I history as much as World War II history, so this research was very interesting to me,” said Fulk. “We found so many stories that were unique to this war in Holland and at Hope due to Dutch immigrants or descendants of immigrants in the area and at this school. Many were asking the question, ‘Am I Dutch or am I American?’ I would say by the end of the war, many Hollanders started thinking of themselves as more American or Dutch-American instead of just Dutch due to a nationwide, patriotic push for national unity on the home front.”

World War I map of Archangel, Russia

Though the U.S. involvement in WWI lasted just over a year-and-a-half (April, 1917 to November, 1918), the Great War deeply affected the United States’ economy and psyche, and thus Holland and Hope’s. The atrocities of trench warfare, the growth of global trade and the renunciation of the advance of communism all had newly realized human and cultural costs. While Fulk researched the naturalization of Dutch and German immigrants in Holland, O’Connor investigated multiple stories of Hope students leaving the college to enlist, serving however and wherever they were sent.

“About 150 men left Hope [during the war] and they went everywhere from Eagle Pass, Texas, to Archangel, Siberia in Russia,” says O’Connor. “When I looked closer at their stories, I found that Hope seemed to write about them the same way they had written about graduates who had become missionaries. They were held up as these bastions of Christianity who were defying the corruption of the military. And, they were doing these incredibly heroic things like saving lives of other soldiers and working in hospitals. The range of what Hope soldiers did was amazing to me — they were chaplains, in the infantry, in the Navy, in the new air service. Men were doing border patrol with Mexico, and one man was in Panama doing scientific work.”

“I find myself thinking that 100 years from now, people could potentially be doing research on me, on all of us. I’m fascinated by that thought and perspective because it means history is always alive.”

And what was happening back at Hope while these men were away at war? “Women were enrolling in record numbers,” observed O’Connor, “because the war had decimated Hope’s enrollment. Women were invited to enroll at the college to boast numbers in the student body as men left campus, or never enrolled, so they could serve in the war.”

World War I Polar Bear Expedition artifacts

Two other stories uncovered by the team illuminated views on veteran disabilities, long before the Wounded Warrior Project, and the political and religious correctness of displaying the American flag on church pulpits given the Constitutional tenet of separation of church and state. These and more stories about a small town and college’s impact on and from the Great War will be published in this web exhibit to help visitors understand the larger and more specific issues that changed the U.S. and these researchers on multiple levels.

“This is the first time I conducted research,” Lowe explains.” As a history major, I find myself being obsessed with things that were going on before I was born and I find myself thinking that 100 years from now, people could potentially doing research on me, on all of us. I’m fascinated by that thought and perspective because it means history is always alive.”

Student’s Research Adds Fuel to Fast-Food Debate

If the fast-food industry ever does away with those crinkly but potentially harmful papers that your favorite burger comes wrapped in, one of the people you can thank is a physics-turned-history-major from Hope College.

Senior Margaret Dickinson concluded research on PFAS content in fast food wrappers, such as the ones she is holding, using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus.

Margaret Dickinson, a senior from Grand Rapids, MI, spent two years at Hope testing hundreds of fast-food wrappers from several states in order to detect per- and polyfluoro alkyl substances (PFAS) in the packaging. Human-made with long environmental lifetimes, PFASs are toxic to humans and animals, and its bioaccumulation is troubling to scientists.

Linked to some cancers and health disorders, PFAS is used in products to repel water and retard flames, and has been found in carpet, furniture fabrics, textiles and outdoor clothing, cosmetics, fire-fighting foam, microwave popcorn bags, and, yes, fast-food wrappers.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers. Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly.”

“Around fifty years ago, PFAS was not found in anyone’s blood at all. It did not even exist,” explains Dickinson. “Now it is in measurable quantities in every human being, and that includes newborn babies because it passes through the bloodstream from the mother to the fetus.” PFAS has even reached the blood streams of polar bears in the North Pole.

Stockpiles of tested fast-food wrappers

Using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus, under the guidance of Professor Dr. Paul DeYoung and former Hope Professor Dr. Graham Peaslee, Dickinson and fellow senior David Lunderberg, along with alumnus Nick Hubley ’14, used a testing technique called PIGE, particle-induced gamma-ray emission, to detect fluorine in the wrapper samples. But because the paper is fragile and the proton beam from the accelerator is powerful, Dickinson and team had to refine their normal testing methods so as not to destroy their paper samples.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers,” Dickinson declares. “Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly. You learn how not to panic, when to get help, when to work independently. These are all good skills to have in life, too.”

It’s good to remember that not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, she notes, but since you don’t know which do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of their wrappers and containers as soon as possible.

The Hope crew’s efforts over two years, in collaboration with other well-known research powerhouses, found that 38% of the sandwich and burger wrappers tested, along with 20% of the paperboard and 56% of the dessert and bread wrappers had PFAS in them. However, 0% of the tested paper cups had PFAS. While skeptics note that consumers aren’t actually ingesting the wrappers themselves (so what’s the harm?), scientists argue that it is the high temperatures of the food that allows wrapper-holding PFAS to seep into your burger and fries.

Other teams contributing to the research were from Silent Spring Institute, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Green Science Policy Institute, the Environmental Working Group, and Oregon State University. News of their joint research broke in February 2017, and Dickinson reports that over 200 news outlets have since carried the story.

So what’s a consumer to do? Give up fast-food?

Not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, Dickinson says, but since you don’t know which ones do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of its wrappers and containers as soon as possible because the greater the exposure to PFAS, the higher the levels in one’s system. Still, “Everything in moderation,” Dickinson reminds.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people.”

No longer focused on physics, Dickinson changed her major area of study to history after a personal epiphany while studying abroad in London in 2015 (she also has minors in math, classical studies, and, of course, physics.)

She hopes to eventually teach modern British history at the college level, or even go into scientific governance — the realm of looking at how scientists are affected by policies made by non-scientists. It is here where this fully formed liberal arts student knows she could best apply her experiences in sciences, skills in research, and passion for history and politics to affect others for the better.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people,” concludes Dickinson. “I hope eventually that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) bans these chemicals. I hope that fast-food companies realize that wax paper is just as cheap. Half the time they use it anyways, so why not all the time? Why not put pressure on the companies that are supplying the paper to switch over. It’s not difficult to switch and it’s not expensive. That would be the goal.”

The First Great Inoculation Debate

A heated debate rooted in a distrust of science about the safety and effects of childhood vaccinations has, in recent years, been under a microscope in this country. But another inoculation debate raged in the U.S. almost 300 years ago, and it was this tense, centuries-old discourse, rooted this time in both scientific and religious misgivings, that became junior Elizabeth Ensink’s research focus during the summer of 2015. Her original work on the topic earned her a prestigious place at last week’s 20th annual national Posters on the Hill event in Washington, DC, a selective poster session sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

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Junior Elizabeth Ensink, right, presents her research at Posters on the Hill in Washington, DC

One of only 60 projects selected for this year’s showcase from among several hundred highly competitive applications nationwide, “The First Inoculation Debate: A Quantitative Text Analysis of the Boston Smallpox Epidemic of 1721” by Ensink, looks at communication practices between doctors and religious leaders when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Boston. Puritan ministers saw inoculation as distrust in and interference with God’s will; doctors fumed at the meddling of ministers and “unlearned men” in scientific affairs; and all the while colonists, fearing for their lives, just wanted people in positions of authority to give them clear words of encouragement and actions of help.

It all sounds so familiar even today. History tends to eerily, annoyingly repeat itself.

Ensink, who is from Hudsonville, MI, became interested in the inoculation topic when looking through the digital Contagion Collection – historical documents about various epidemics and diseases – from Harvard. As a Mellon Scholar, she was set to conduct summer research after her sophomore year, and as a biology and creative writing double major, Ensink felt she found the right subject for her interdisciplinary interests.

So, using digitized documents and an online text analysis tool called Voyant, Ensink analyzed words that pro- and anti-inoculators would frequently used in their letters and other documents – words such as God, belief, providence, and symptoms, infection and incision. Not surprisingly, she found that doctors used mostly secular language and ministers spoke more in religious terms.  All except for Cotton Mather.

“This subject showed me how important it is to have people know how to communicate science to the general public. One of the most important parts of my research was questioning how we get meaning from words that are being used to convey vital messages.”

Mather, the fiery Puritan minister best known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials, was supportive of inoculation when he learned of it from his African slave and a report from the Royal Society of London, Ensink learned. Mather then encouraged Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to start inoculations. Though the practice was successful – 6,000 infected, 844 deaths overall, 280 saved due to inoculation –Mather and Boylston came under attack for the practice. And often it was because of the words they did or did not use.

“This subject showed me how important it is to have people know how to communicate science to the general public,” says Ensink. “One of the most important parts of my research was questioning how we get meaning from words that are being used to convey vital messages. In this case, religious and secular language was often blurred.”

Ensink presented those findings with her poster for two hours in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill, where she also had the opportunity to engage with other students from Georgia to Utah, about biochemistry and anthropology and other various subjects. “This event exposed me to diverse projects and people from diverse institutions. It was an honor.”

Enzink.3
Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga with Ensink (center) and Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean for research and scholarship (right)

After the prevention of her poster on the Hill, Ensink and Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean for research and scholarship, had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Bill Huizenga at his office in the  Capitol. “It’s really cool that in America we can go and talk to our representatives in government about what we think is important. “

And what did they talk about?

“I told him that undergraduate research should continue to receive federal funding. Events like Posters on the Hill show what students can do when funds are available.

Enzink.Cap1
Elizabeth Ensink on Capitol Hill

“I also let him know how important programs like Mellon Scholars are to undergraduates. Being in Mellon allowed me to develop my own project, gave me greater critical thinking skills and a great mentor who I met with twice a week.” Ensink’s mentor, Dr. Jonathan Hagood, is an associate professor of history at Hope College. “I learned self-motivation and the ability to overcome obstacles. This work stretched me and confirmed that in the future I want to focus on science and writing.”

In every way, Ensink’s research, and her experiences because of it, have given a potent shot to her strong academic arm. “I’m so thankful for the Mellon Scholars Program for all of this,” she concludes.

Flint Water Crisis in the Round

This past Monday night in Maas Auditorium, 13 bottles of water sat on a long table, each provided for one of the 13 people preparing to speak on an interdisciplinary panel about the Flint water crisis. One container of water, though, was not being consumed, nor would it be. Displayed at the center of the dais, a mason jar filled with water from Flint, Michigan, looking as benign and similar as the water in the other 13 bottles, was about to be examined from political, sociological, psychological, historical, scientific, artistic, ethical, and personal perspectives. Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

IMG_2537Organized and implemented by Dr. Julie Kipp’s women’s and gender studies keystone class, the event gave an opportunity for a large audience to consider what has happened in Flint as well as providing a challenge for all to get involved and do something appropriate within their discipline or interest. The panel, made up of one student, 11 professors, and one president, discussed the very tragic, sometimes complex, and always upsetting issues revolving around the high levels of lead in Flint water and those who drank that water for over a year. Delivering their expertise from their various points of view within a five-minute time limit each, the panel continued to cast light upon light upon light onto a problem that has fallen out of the nation’s glare… for the time being anyway. This communal time of reflection also gave hope for understanding next steps in Flint.

“When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”

IMG_2532
Katlyn Koegel, far left, speaks as part of the 13-member Flint Water Crisis panel.

Speaking from personal experience, sophomore Katlyn Koegel, a Flint native, shared several stories about people she knows from home who are struggling and afraid—a small, thirsty boy who asked for bottled water from her last summer, a woman who may lose her business due negative media attention that has driven customers away, and a pastor who paid a $900 bill for water he was not even using. “What has been most heartbreaking for me is this dichotomy between breaking news and broken structures,” said Koegel. “A lot of facts and individual stories have gone down a chasm between the two.”

Historically speaking, Dr. Fred Johnson, declared that Flint has its proud roots in Native American origins and the founding of a General Motors plant there in 1908. “And many of you may know, it was the site of the 1936-37 GM sit-down strike which basically brought the UAW (United Auto Workers) to prominence, making it a major instrument in the labor movement.” Now, the city’s heritage is  being viewed only through a microscope created by this recent history.

“All politics are local.”

Politically speaking, Dr. Annie Dandavati, reminded the audience that “it’s important for all of us to be educated voters. Even though we sometimes feel that our voices are falling on deaf ears, it’s important to know about issues no matter where they originate—in the state capitol, nationally or globally. All politics are local.”

Sociologically speaking, Dr. Aaron Franken and Dr. Debra Swanson showed that race and socio-economic status are key to making sense of what is happening in Flint. “When looking at kids in Flint, here’s some points that are important and highlight social processes for health: One, if socio-economic status is linked to health, and two, decreased educational attainment is a key link to lower socio-economic status, and three, lead poisoning manifests itself in behavioral changes and in cognitive ability changes and thus a link to decreased educational attainment, and, four, sizable portions of residents (in Flint) don’t leave the area – so residential non-migration – then we’re going to have a potential geographic health issue with a very long memory in Flint,” said Franzen.

“This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention.”

In 2013, the median household income in Flint was about half of that than in the rest of the state. The state median income is $43,000; in Flint it is about $23,000. Approximately 22% have a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Forty-one percent of those living in Flint are below the poverty line, 56% of the population is black, and 75% of the households are single-parent homes. “This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention,” says Swanson. And yet those women have organized protests at the state capitol in Lansing as well as a movement with Lead Safe America Foundation, bringing attention to the crisis on Twitter with over three million tweets in two hours on February 4, using the hashtag, #StandWithFlint.

Psychologically speaking, Dr. Carrie Bredow offered one good news/bad news scenario: “We know that certain things can ameliorate some of the effects of lead poisoning (such as behavioral and cognitive disorders) though it’s not reversible. But based on the research, through things like good nutrition, having high-quality early childhood education and intervention, and consistent medical care, the level of its effects can be influenced. But these are the same things that children in Flint don’t have access to. So this is something that needs to be poured into in terms of how we stop this from affecting people in Flint inter-generationally.”

Scientifically speaking, Dr. Joanne Stewart and Dr. Graham Peaslee explained how lead got into the Flint water supply in the first place. “When they switched from (using) Lake Huron water to Flint River water (to save the city money), they had no corrosion plan in place (to keep the pipes from leeching lead into the water). That was one of the real shocking things that happened,” said Stewart. “It depends on which house you’re in (when looking at lead levels),” added Peaslee. “Some people have PVC pipes and no lead, others have lead and more lead in their pipes. It depends house to house what the effect was.”

“It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Morally speaking, Dr. Heidi Giannini enlightened with this: “One thing I think the Flint water crisis illustrates and what our response to it should bear in mind is that it is very hard to be good. However, that is no excuse for failing. The crisis in Flint illustrates at least one way it is hard to be good: we form bad habits (like laziness or self-interest) because most of the time they seem like they are not that big of a deal. When we foster these ordinary, run-of-the-mill bad habits, we foster the opportunity for great evil. We like to think that there is extraordinary vice underlying the horrible moral wrongs of what happened in Flint. It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Dr. Charles Green addressed environmental racism, citing evidence that shows more middle-class black families live in polluted areas than poor white families do. “Let me be clear: race is a real factor here… Black kids are three times more likely than white kids to have asthma (due to living in areas with poor air quality) and four times more likely to die from it. The environmental problems that we have addressed in this country over the last 30-40 years have largely benefitting the white population, and the environmental problems we have not addressed have largely impacted people of color.”

“We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.”

From an artistic standpoint, Rob Kenagy and Dr. Katherine Sullivan revealed how art and activism is giving people a news lens through which to view Flint. “The slam poetry coming out of Flint is hot…It’s important to remember that that art is made by real people,” said Kenagy, “and it’s just not something you can click past. There is a real voice behind it. We as readers have a responsibility (to hear it and see it), especially those of us from privileged spaces. We have to actually accept the trauma and invite it into our lives. We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.” Poetry and art is yet another way to do just that.

Finally, President John Knapp summed up the event this way: “Big problems don’t lend themselves to simple, small solutions. What I’ve really appreciated about this evening as I’ve listened to my colleagues here is that we’ve not only examined this problem from the perspective of art, philosophy, poetry, but also sociology, history, and political science. We’ve talked about biological and medical concerns; we’ve talked about psychological matters and even got into chemistry. Every one of those is important, and more, to really understand the nature of the problem. And what I’ve described is what we are about in the liberal arts at Hope. When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”