Students in our capstone course, Senior Seminar, recently finished reading and discussing Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, edited by John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller. It closes with a series of essays on understanding the historian’s vocation within the context of community.
While most of the contributors to this section (as throughout the rest of the book) focused on Christian historians working within colleges, universities, and the larger academy, Robert Tracy McKenzie urged readers “Don’t Forget about the Church.” He contended that “part of the calling of the Christian historian is to be an historian for Christians, not only to have a voice in the academy but also to speak in, to, and on behalf of the church” (p. 281).
McKenzie was writing to fellow professional historians, but I asked my students if they thought his model of vocation also fit them, as undergraduate history majors: are they called to bring their training as historians into the church or other non-academic communities? Many chose to respond to this question, and all gave a resounding Yes. Including Danielle Johnson (’12), in the following seminar journal entry. Earlier in this series, Danielle wrote about narrowing down her research to focus on British and Scottish identity in the late 18th century, and then shared her experiences reading Robert Burns’ poetry during spring break.
Just before I began writing this response my friend, who was writing a paper next to me, had some questions about citations. Being a History major and therefore all too familiar with citing sources, I was able to answer her questions. I also advised against her citing an unreliable source — a nongov or edu website, without a listed author.
When I returned to my own assignment a few minutes later, Robert Tracy McKenzie’s article about the calling of historian to serve their community seemed especially relevant. I do not mean to imply that as a person who reads and writes a lot, a Christian historian is definitely called to edit their fellow Christian’s papers (especially when this is something that many people could do)—but this could be one small example of what McKenzie was proposing.
Historians generally are equipped with the skills to study materials/documents/sources and report or present this information in a cohesive manner. These are skills which can be used to serve the church in teaching, archival work, or even in matters of church history. Personally, as an undergraduate student of history, I am developing these skills myself (at least in some sense) and therefore have something to offer my church and community as means of service.
I know my church at home, which is merging with a larger church, has a rich history that would be worth someone’s time to document in some sort of historical work. (The church was founded by Swedish immigrants in a really wealthy suburb of Chicago, so they — the servants — would have a place to worship!) However, as I am searching for employment this will probably not be the means of service by which I will use my skills as a historian. Probably for now I will do more of the paper editing and other less glamorous/interesting tasks.
But less glamorous/exciting ways to serve are probably good lessons in humility as well.
– Danielle Johnson