“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.”