The End of the Summer

Professor Emeritus Kevin Cragg always used to tell me that the summer was basically over when we reached the 4th of July. That always seemed about right, but there’s also the tradition of summer ending at the closing of the Minnesota State Fair. This year, however, Bethel begins its semester before Labor Day. So, while it doesn’t seem quite right that students can attend class one day and the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” the next, that is the reality.

Graduation F2016 Crop 2
Spring 2016 Graduates

The end of the summer. When I think about endings, the graduating class of 2015-2016 comes to mind. Every year, it seems, we lose our best students. Many of you are out there now, about to start teaching in your very own classroom for the first time. Some of you have gotten married. Others are off to graduate school. Wherever you are, I hope you are thinking critically about the world around you and your place in it. I hope you are reading books. I hope that you see the beauty of the world around you even as you are sensitive to its pain.

The end of the summer also means a sabbatical for Dr. Chris Gehrz. If you stop by his office, you’ll notice that hanging on his door is a photo of his temporary digs for the fall semester out there in the wilds of Virginia. Even as he rests, however, I am certain he will keep busy. If you miss him, you can always “follow” him at his blog. And, don’t worry: he’ll be back in time to join Professor Mulberry to take students to Europe for the WWI course in January. Then, there’s always Christianity and Western Culture, Introduction to History, and World War II with Dr. Gehrz in Spring 2017.

Typically, endings also mean beginnings. This academic year brings Dr. Charlie Goldberg to our department. It brings the beginning of a new major: Digital Humanities. It brings us our returning and new students, our best students of the future.

Beginnings also represent opportunities for fresh starts. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer [BCP] that guides my religious life contains a litany for “Morning Prayer,” which offers me a chance to dedicate my soul and body to God’s service anew at the beginning of the day:

AND since it is of thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to thee and thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The litany helps me see each day as a fresh start. The beginning of the academic year represents a fresh start on a grander scale. Maybe this is the year I am kinder. Maybe this is the year I am more patient. Maybe this is the year I get all my work done in a timely and efficient manner. Maybe . . . .

Of late, I’ve been listening to an artist named Mason Jennings.  I find it helpful to adopt theme music from time to time. This year, I think Jennings’ “Instrument” will be in heavy rotation. This is no B minor mass by Bach, but I sort of find its sincere simplicity fetching. Maybe you will too.

Prof. Gehrz Joins Patheos Evangelical History Blog

Chris GehrzThis blog generally stays pretty quiet during the summer, as our students and faculty scatter and busy themselves with summer research, work, and travel. But our own Prof. Chris Gehrz maintains his usual blogging schedule at The Pietist Schoolman, posting three or four times a week on “Christianity, history, education, and how they intersect.” (Yesterday marked the fifth birthday of that blog.) Now, you can also read Chris once a week at a much more prominent site.

Starting last week, he joined The Anxious Bench, a group blog on the Patheos Evangelical channel where “historians of broadly evangelical faith share their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” The Bench also includes Philip Jenkins (author of The Great and Holy War, among many other books), John Turner (The Mormon Jesus), David Swartz (Moral Minority), and Beth Allison Barr (The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England).

Anxious Bench logo

Taking the spot of Baylor historian Thomas Kidd, Chris will both administer The Anxious Bench and write posts every Tuesday morning. Today he shared the story of a former Bethel dean whose Baptist principles led him to oppose school prayer in the 1960s. Last week he debuted with a post on British Christian responses to the “Brexit” debate and a call for Christians to love their LGBT neighbors by learning their history.

The WWII Film Festival

This afternoon in HIS231L World War II: the first of a two-part film festival, as student groups presented ten-minute documentaries about topics from the war. Today we learned about everything from the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland to the German atomic weapons program, Hitler Youth, and attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in July 1944. On Thursday we’ll watch films about Holocaust rescuers, Navajo code-talkers, African American pilots and soldiers, and the postwar refugee crisis.

Mitch De Haan introducing his group's documentary film
Mitch De Haan ’17 introduces a film on the legendary Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä, made in a group with fellow History/Social Studies Ed major Brandon Sebey ’17 and Biokinetics major Andrew Zwart ’18

It’s the third time I’ve assigned this kind of project — once before with HIS231L, and then the last time HIS230L World War I was taught on campus — but the first time it’s happened over a full semester, rather than during J-term. It was inspiring to see the quality of student work in a 200-level gen ed course: both the depth of research and the quality of digital storytelling, as students integrated narration, primary source readings, “talking head” interviews, still photos, newsreel clips, and background music.

– Chris Gehrz

Watch the CWC at 30 Birthday Celebration

This morning, our own Profs. Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz hosted a special presentation in the Bethel Library in honor of the 30th anniversary of GES130 Christianity and Western Culture (CWC). If you missed it, you can find video of the event on the Library’s YouTube channel:

Mostly, the event consisted of Chris interviewing CWC faculty from different eras: Mike Holmes (BTS), one of the course’s four founders; late 80s/early 90s faculty Dan Ritchie (English) and Paul Reasoner (Philosophy), who went on to teach in the Western Humanities program; and current faculty members Sara Shady (Philosophy) and Amy Poppinga (History). Live on tape, we also heard from former history prof Neil Lettinga and his wife Virginia (long the coordinators of the course), plus philosopher David Williams. There was also a brief tribute to Stacey Hunter Hecht, who taught CWC during most of her career at Bethel and passed away last December.

The presentation concluded with Chris performing a rare live, unplugged version of his updated version of the “Augustine Rap,” originated by Dan Ritchie and then-CWC instructor Greg Boyd back in the first decade of the course. (Of course, there’s also a music video version of that rap — Chris said he found it less embarrassing to rap live than to show that video, but there’s nothing stopping you from clicking here now.)

If you want to dive deeper into the history of this foundational course, Sam has worked with digital library manager Kent Gerber to create a significant, growing collection of media and digitized artifacts from CWC. In addition, earlier this year Sam conducted an oral history project among some of the course’s many former teaching assistants, including five former History majors and minors. It’s available via a digital timeline(click on the image to see the full timeline)

Screenshot of CWC TA Oral History timeline

History Major Emma Beecken Wins 2016 Library Research Prize!

Congratulations to Emma Beecken ’16, history, elementary education, and social studies education triple major, nationally recognized speaker, and, most recently, winner of the 2016 Bethel University Library Research Prize for her Senior Seminar paper, “Hannah More’s Moral Imagination: Fiction that Reformed a Nation.”

In addition to being the best-selling author of the Georgian era, Hannah More worked closely with William Wilberforce to evangelize Great Britain and was one of the most influential women of the British abolition movement. Emma has described her as both a “great lynch pin of history” and as a “brilliant woman of God who did amazing work for the Kingdom, serving as both a fascinating woman to research and a great role model.”

You can learn more about Emma’s research on Tuesday, April 26th at 10:20 AM in the Bethel Library, where she will discuss her project and the research prize trophy will return to the History Department for the fourth time since the competition began in 2010.

 

MUHS 2016: Academic Freedom

The closing session of this year’s Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium featured a faculty roundtable on academic freedom. Professors Tycho de Boer, from St. Mary’s University, and David Sellnow, from Martin Luther College, also spoke. The following were my remarks:

AnneMarie speaking at MUHS 2016In October 2015, the Atlantic Monthly carried a story about the ways in which sex-harassment policies were being used to “diminish” free speech on a variety of college campuses. The article claimed that compromised free speech was due, at least in part, to pressure from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which has helped perpetuate the idea that “illegal sexual harassment extends to campus speech with any sexual content that anyone finds offensive.” Professors, consequently, have found themselves under attack to the extent that professors at Harvard are apparently “jettisoning teaching tools that make any reference to human sexuality.”

As a person who both researches and teaches in the field of sexuality and gender within American history, I found the article interesting and yet not surprising. The refrain of sexual misconduct and/or sexual scandal on college campuses is by now rather commonplace. From my vantage point, the arguments surrounding academic freedom and sexuality are minor compared to the problems confronting students in their navigation of the treacherous concept of what passes for “consent” with regard to their sexual activities. But. Here we are.

The Atlantic Monthly article noted that the harassment policy which seems to have diminished free speech has at its heart the goal of protecting students from exposure to ideas that make one uncomfortable and that such a goal is antithetical to education. It is unfortunate that even in the larger academic context, ideas surrounding sexuality and/or gender tend to be ones that are linked to creating a particularly uncomfortable situation. But it also makes me feel a little better about the peculiar context of talking about sexuality here at Bethel.

A couple of years ago, Bethel University had a conversation about a proposed gender studies minor. The pressure against the minor came not from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or from students but from a number of faculty who expressed skepticism about the minor. One colleague, for example, asked if it was possible that those working in the field really had the “academic freedom” to “work from within a framework of biblical sexuality, as Bethel understands it,” a reference, I presume, to Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together which claims that sexuality is one of God’s good gifts but states that “monogamous, heterosexual marriage” is the proper context for “sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity” and condemns pornography, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior as well as sexual harassment.

I think it is, and while I certainly strive to be transparent about my own beliefs, preferences, and feelings about sexuality, I also believe my commitment to a truly liberal arts education means that my students and I together confront ideas that make us uncomfortable. It is sometimes uncomfortable, for example, to acknowledge that in spite of Bethel’s commitment to a particular sexual ethic, Christians do not agree among themselves what “biblical sexuality” is. Views differ among individual Christians, by denomination, by culture, by time period even. Acknowledging those differences is often more uncomfortable than, for example, studying the history of homosexuality, pornography, venereal disease—all topics which we discuss in the History of Sexuality in the United States course. Studying the history of the sexual landscape of the past, knowing it too had its own pitfalls and complexity, I think makes us better equipped to enter into dialogue about how to approach the current sexual landscape—one that we share with a diverse group of people and communities, not just Christians who subscribe to Bethel’s interpretation of biblical sexuality.

I think that we do a great disservice to ourselves if we believe that silence and avoidance of uncomfortable topics or subjects will cause them to go away, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to engage in frank discussions with students about such topics. I am also grateful that the students taking my class seem to see the value of developing historical empathy for a range of views that don’t necessarily align with their own. Part of the success of the course, though, relies on what I think the original intention of the sexual harassment laws may have been, namely, to treat the people around you, with respect. Again, Bethel approaches this goal from a fundamentally different direction from the Department of Education. I doubt, for example, that the concept of imago dei appears in any of their documents, but possibly we may be trying to create what could amount to a similar learning environment which seeks to create a safe space for all people to learn together even while working through uncomfortable, even earth-shattering and heartbreaking ideas.  Because, really, as much as the world is beautiful, it is often, too often, one that breaks our hearts. And that is more than uncomfortable, it is tragic. We won’t be better at coping with tragedy, however, by pretending it doesn’t exist.

– AnneMarie Kooistra

Sankofa: The Past is Alive Within Us

Amanda Soderlund ’17 is an international relations major. She recently accompanied a group of Bethel University students and faculty on the Sankofa trip, and has graciously agreed to write about her experiences.

Over spring break, a group of 29 Bethel students and faculty participated in an intensive learning experience about the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples. We visited sacred sites and engaged in a process of cultural learning, historical understanding, and racial reconciliation.

We encountered many narratives of historical injustice against the Dakota in Minnesota on our trip. Stories of genocide, being robbed of land, stripped of language and spirituality, dehumanized and forgotten. Some major events we studied included the US-Dakota War of 1862, the hanging of the 38 Dakota in Mankato, and the forced march of 1,700 Dakota people to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling, in which 600 people died.

We experienced history through the eyes of Native Americans. We abandoned our notion of seeing history as linear, which distances ourselves from the past. Instead, we adopted the Native practice of considering history as alive in space and time. With this viewpoint, the very ground is a witness to history, and the past exists in that space. Through this paradigm shift, I could no longer remove myself from the pain and injustice of the past because of a great chasm of time. “The Earth remembers,” as our leader Jim Bear would say.

It was painful and eye opening to hear their history and the immense tragedy that accompanies it. I felt betrayed by the American school system, and the ugly, hidden truth of our state’s history. The version of history I was taught in school emphasizes American patriotism while hiding its crimes. At best, we hear about certain events of injustice against Natives, but these events are either quickly mentioned, one-sided, or are told with a gross lack of moral sensitivity. Teaching about historical oppression with detached passivity is not conducive to healing the generational trauma that oppressed communities feel today.

Going forward after this trip, I am sure of a few things. The first is that we have a responsibility to teach what really happened to the Dakota people in Minnesota in 1862. This also means bringing to light the racist actions of celebrated figures like Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, or Andrew Jackson. Lincoln himself signed off on the execution of the Dakota 38 in Mankato, which still remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

I also ask that we strive to find ways to honor our neighbors and their sacred practices. The Ojibwe and Dakota have a very strong connection to the earth, and taking away their land is like taking away a part of who they are. The current struggles they face include developers destroying sacred lands and the constant violation of treaties. The government has already taken so much away from the Dakota and Ojibwe; it’s time to ask our government to protect and uphold treaties and sacred land.

I want to encourage Bethel students and faculty to go on Sankofa the next time it is offered. It was an immense privilege to learn about Native American culture and history outside of a classroom context.

-Amanda Soderlund

 

Now Hiring: History Department TAs for 2016-2017

While our students are getting set to register for fall courses, our faculty are also looking ahead to next year and preparing to hire teaching assistants (TAs). Typically, each of our professors works with one or two TAs, and several members of this year’s group are graduating. So we’ll be hiring several new TAs for 2016-2017.

Students: if you’re interested in serving for the first time as TAs, start by clicking here to read the job description and requirements. Then to be considered for a TA position, complete this Google Form no later than April 15th.

To get some insight into what it’s like being a TA, we interviewed two of our graduating TAs — Julia Muckenhirn ’16 and Micayla Moore ’16 — for this week’s installment of our department webisode, Past & Presence. (skip ahead to 12:45 for the TA interviews)

Coming to Bethel in Fall 2016: Prof. Charlie Goldberg!

Charlie GoldbergToday we’re very happy to introduce Prof. Charlie Goldberg, who will join our faculty starting this fall!

A native of Buffalo, MN who graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Charlie is about to finish his doctorate in Roman history at Syracuse University. His research explores the intersection of politics and gender in the Roman Republic, with a particular interest in Roman ideals of masculinity.

In our department Charlie will regularly teach HIS311 Roman Civilization, as well as HIS310 Near Eastern and Greek Civilizations and HIS312 Medieval Europe. He’ll also become the newest member of the teaching team for GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. Response to Charlie’s teaching demonstration was overwhelmingly positive, with one student describing him as “incredibly engaging and personable…. You can really tell he enjoys what he does.”

In addition to teaching ancient and medieval history, Charlie will work with faculty and staff from across the College of Arts and Sciences to help develop an exciting new major in the Digital Humanities (DH). As coordinator of that program and instructor of new DH courses, Charlie will draw on his work experience with a software startup and what one English professor who met him on his campus visit called his “entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to helping facilitate cross-departmental learning…. Just as Charlie is a ‘digital native,’ he also seems to be a ‘collaborative native.'”

You can hear Charlie reflect on the role that digitization plays in his own discipline and field at the end of this extended interview, in which he also talks about the importance of a study abroad experience in fixing his desire to study ancient history.

Please join us in congratulating Charlie, and welcoming him to Bethel.

What’s Coming Up at the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

Today we’re thrilled to announce the full program for the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium, taking place at Bethel on Saturday, April 9, 8:30am-3:30pm.

Click here to view the entire schedule. A few highlights:

  • Thirty-seven students will give presentations on their historical research. That’s more than twice as many as last year and just over three times what we started with in 2014! Another eleven students and twenty faculty are scheduled to attend.
  • Together, the presenters represent eleven different Christian and church-related colleges and universities in Minnesota. Last year’s four participating institutions (Bethany Lutheran College, Martin Luther College, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, and Bethel) are all returning, to be joined by newcomers Augsburg College, the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University, Concordia College, Crown College, Saint Mary’s University, St. Olaf College, and the University of St. Thomas.
  • We’re grateful to colleagues from other schools for their help in promoting this symposium, and for agreeing to help chair panels in our three concurrent sessions. We’re particularly glad to welcome back to campus two of our own alumni: Dr. Rick Chapman ’79 (professor at Concordia College) and Nathan Weaver Olson ’97 (doctoral student at the University of Minnesota).
  • In addition to ten student panels on everything from immigration to genocide, the symposium will include a closing roundtable discussion on academic freedom in church-related higher education, featuring faculty from Bethel, Martin Luther, and St. Mary’s.

If you’re interested in attending any of the sessions, it’s not too late to register. Just email symposium coordinator Chris Gehrz by Wednesday. (Registration is free, though you’ll have to pay for your own lunch.)

Or follow the proceedings virtually, as participants live-tweet sessions using the hashtag #MUHS2016.