World War I Journal: Battlefields

Our World War I group is more than halfway through its J-term in Europe. As we continue our stay in Paris, we’re all still thinking about our four days at Ypres, the Somme, and Normandy, three of the most important battlefields of the 20th century.

Here I’m happy to share two reflections written by Graphic Design/Studio Art major Anna Solomon during that stage of the trip. She started by thinking about the first stop on our Ypres tour: the British cemetery at Essex Farm, where a Canadian doctor named John McCrae wrote one of the most famous poems of WWI. Then Anna reexamined her impressions of the First World War after seeing sites from the Second.

London’s Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge, London. All photos in this post by Anna Solomon – used by permission

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 – Going from the bustling metropolis of London with its energy, charm, fun, comfort, weather, and familiarity to Ypres was a meaningful experience. Ypres is quiet, solemn, open, quaint, moving (emotionally), cold… and home to some of the most remarkable experiences of the trip. Seeing where “In Flanders Fields” was written was humbling. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the gravitas of these places. I feel like I want to cry (I kind of have a few times), but that’s good because it means it’s important. Even though my great-grandfather was the one to fight here and not me, these sites are giving me a connection with a war I never fought and a man not even my grandfather knew.

Essex Farm was also impactful because we saw workers [from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission] maintaining the graves. Seeing them serving and interacting with the site in that way was striking. Watching them tend the grounds they seemed like gardeners of honor and ghosts of the past. The war still means so much to them, as does the conservation of these sites and of the sacrifices of the past. Here history walks the grounds and shakes me to my core.

Grave of an unknown WWI soldier

Saturday, January 12, 2019 – …at the WWI sites I felt distraught and bitter about the war. My great-grandfather’s dog tags and victory medal felt impossibly heavy on my mind and in my pockets. My eyes would tear up thinking of how brutal and awful a war it was. The WWII sites at Normandy, however, felt different, and it quite frankly made me ponder why I felt that way. At the beaches and bunkers I felt excited… maybe because this seemed like a place and a war where Americans were heroes, the good guys; we were victorious. In movies and TV shows I’ve heard about these events, and it’s exhilarating to be in the place where they happened. The feeling of this being a glorious war swiftly faded upon contemplation. What horrors were seen and committed here… how many lives were lost here… what a different world this would have been to live in and through… what a haunting legacy.

Arromanches home, with Gold Beach in the distance
Arromanches-les-Bains, France… with remnants of the temporary “Mulberry harbour” on what used to be Gold Beach

On Wednesday we’ll take the train to Munich, where we’ll conclude our trip by studying some of the most important legacies of the First World War: the rise of National Socialism, the start of a second world war, and the radical evil of the Holocaust. Look for a final set of student reflections next Tuesday or Wednesday.

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World War I Journal: London

Today our World War I group will head to Oxford to learn about the world wars as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis experienced and interpreted them. Meanwhile, we thought we’d share a few student responses from our first days in London, as they reflect on some of the commemorative sites we’ve visited.


“The memorial that I found most interesting was Trafalgar Square because it hit me the most in terms of generating empathy… if I had been there in 1914, I would have joined the war, too. The monuments to past generals, admirals, and war heroes inspired me, and I am not even English. I would have… wanted to be remembered in history as a part of them.” (Drew Davis, senior Business major)

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square, still a gathering place for Londoners – All photos Chris Gehrz

After going to multiple memorial sites, I found the one most memorable to be the Women of WWII memorial… The monument itself is stuck right in the middle of the road, which you’d think would grab the attention of the drivers who go past it. But it seems like it’s part of their daily routine. I love how tall it was and how it was solid. It serves as a constant reminder of the women who stepped up in the war effort to preserve the life that was still going on at home. I also like how the clothes represented different roles, which showed the diversity of the women who served.” (Laura Dahlquist, senior Nursing major)

The Women of World War II memorial in Whitehall, London

For me the most interesting memorial was Australia’s… due to my lack of knowledge of Australia’s involvement in the wars. I was really amazed by the simple beauty of the wall, and by how many people had died… Their sacrifices in the wars were interesting due to their location… Their involvement and the number of battles show that the wars was appealing universally. Not just for Europeans, but to others around the world. A chance to prove oneself or to prove a country’s capabilities…” (Logan Olson, senior History/Political Science major)

Australian war memorial in Hyde Park Corner, London
The Australian War Memorial is one of four WWI memorials in Hyde Park Corner, joining memorials for New Zealand, the artillery, and the machine gun corps

On Wednesday we’ll start our tour of WWI (Flanders, The Somme) and WWII (Normandy) battlefields. Come back here next week to read some student reflections on that portion of our tour.

How to Follow Our 2019 World War I Trip

This afternoon Prof. Mulberry and I will fly to London with 23 Bethel students for the fourth iteration of our HIS230L World War I travel course.

Map showing sites on the Bethel WWI travel course for January 2019

As usual, we’ll start with eight days in London and Oxford, then cross the English Channel for our battlefield tour — this year including a day at Normandy to start making connections between the two world wars. We’ll finish with four days in Paris and five in Munich before heading home.

If you want to follow along with our journeys, we’ll be sharing photos on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages, or you can look for the hashtags #BethelWWI and #BethelAbroad. We might even blog a bit from the road, as students reflect on sites they visit and primary sources they read.

Please pray that we’ll all have safe travels and transformative experiences as we delve into the history of a war that ended a century ago last month.

CWC Journal: Lessons from St. Benedict

Today we’re happy to share a second example of recent exam essays in GES130 Christianity and Western Culture, in which students explained a lesson they thought contemporary Christians could learn from their medieval forebears. This essay comes from Maddie Sumners, a freshman at Bethel who hails from Victoria, MN and graduated from Chanhassen High School.

One important lesson that would help us in the 21st century comes from St. Benedict, an Italian monk who lived between the 4th and 5th centuries. He formed the version of monasticism known as the Benedictine Order, the rules for which are outlined in The Rule of St. Benedict. He calls Christians to live according to a set of rules that are not meant to be burdensome or oppressing, but gently guide them toward holiness. Also included in this version of monasticism is the idea of living one’s life to glorify God through work and study. What humans in the 21st century can really learn from the Benedictine Order, however, is the idea of living in community with other believers.

Maddie Sumners
Maddie’s major is currently undecided, as she is interested in a variety of subject areas, ranging from history to English, math to science. She also loves spending time with her family, friends, and three cats, and is looking forward to the coming years at Bethel and exploring all that it has to offer!

Modern culture is increasingly individualistic, with the rise of the internet and technology, people today rarely feel the need to interact with others. In fact, many people do not even leave their homes to attend church. They simply watch sermons online. This individualistic attitude, however, is in opposition to God’s call for Christians.

God calls Christians to join together as communities of faith, so that each person in the community may grow in their own faith journey throught he process of working through personal struggles with others and helping others through any struggles they may be experiencing. It is this mode of sharing one’s life with others that Benedict modeled so well through building monasteries for monks to live in.

Christians should respond to God’s call and live (metaphorically) as St. Benedict and his followers did. In doing so, Christians will form stronger, healthier relationships with God and others, an invaluable benefit of community. Though Benedict lived centuries ago, his model of faith is one that Christians today can learn much from, and his ideas on community should be applied in the 21st century, so that Christians can grow in their faith and come closer to God.

CWC Journal: Lessons from the Middle Ages

We’ve occasionally published student work from upper-level History courses like Modern Europe and Senior Seminar, but this week I thought I’d share some writing by Bethel students who aren’t necessarily majoring in History… but are studying the past in Christianity and Western Culture, the multidisciplinary first-year course that is a foundation of Bethel’s gen ed curriculum. Taking some inspiration from our former colleague Chris Armstrong, we asked CWC students to conclude their second exams with a short essay sharing “one important lesson… we can learn from medieval Christianity.” We’ll start with this wonderful piece by pre-nursing student Lynsey Zeng (Plymouth, MN).


When Dante Alighieri wrote his way to heaven, he was putting into words what the Medieval mind already knew: that the world, nestled within concentric, crystalline spheres, was little more than an abyss — a hollow pocket to faintly echo the symphony of the cosmos. Beneath the earth, the wintry crater of hell juxtaposed the swift revolution of the planets with its stillness, and the human being, caught at the center of the universe, was given the choice to either ascend or be drawn under. The heliocentric universe, with its conviction that it is outer space which is silent and the world which is a cacophony, would have been ridiculous to the medievals. To them, heaven was paralleled in the order of the universe, and God was just beyond the rim of the stars. For centuries, they built cathedrals like causeways and constructed and constructed towering scholastic arguments in an attempt to peer beyond the physical. Above all, the paradox of the Sacraments was a startling reminder that the Christian must contradict the world in order to be oriented towards God. Modernists may scoff at the primitive science of the “Dark Ages,” but it is telling of our spiritual state that we are often content to live comfortably within the world while the medieval was always trying to climb out of it.

Lynsey Zeng
Lynsey graduated from Chesterton Academy high school where she developed interests in Medieval history, philosophy, and Renaissance art. Though the majority of her college classes are devoted to the sciences, she believes that courses such as CWC are necessary in order to provide patient-centered healthcare because they contextualize scientific observations within an analysis of human nature.

Heliocentrism is correct; human ears cannot perceive sound in the vacuum of outer space and so we have filled the earth with endless distractions. In the 21st century, it is a rare and uncomfortable thing to experience silence, but to the medieval, it was essential. It is what the Christian would have confessed his sins into, and hearing them apart from himself in the quiet, they would have appeared alien and ugly. Silence is what the mystic needed to envision, the scholastic to rationalize, and the monk to reflect. Modern Christians need not believe in geocentrism, but there is something admirable in the medieval attempt to turn culture into a compass towards God. From the Middle Ages we are reminded that we are between heaven and hell, that the distractions of this world are ephemeral, and that perhaps only in the silence can the symphony of heaven be heard.

How to Commemorate World War I This Month

As many of you may remember from one of our courses, World War I ended 100 years ago this month — at least, on its most famous front. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns finally fell silent in Belgium and northern France.

If you’d like to take part in commemorating the centennial of that armistice, here are a few events coming up in the Twin Cities:

Silent Night

The Pulitzer Prize-winning opera about the Christmas Truce of 1914 comes home to the Minnesota Opera for a run at the Ordway Center in St. Paul. There are performances this weekend and next, plus the 13th and 15th. (I was part of a panel previewing the production last Monday; here’s a blog post inspired by one of the questions I received: “What misconceptions do we have about World War I?”)

State Veterans Day Event

The Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights will host the state’s Veterans Day event on Sunday morning, 9:30-11:30. The keynote speaker will be Nancy O’Brien Wagner, editor of a new collection of WWI letters from her great-aunt, one of the many women who volunteered for service in the war.

Bells of Peace

Around the country on Sunday, there will be bell-ringing ceremonies to mark the centennial of the Armistice. In addition to local churches, there will be a state Bells of Peace event on the University of Minnesota campus at Northrup Auditorium. The ceremony will start at 10:45am, with 21 bells rung at 11am, and then the reading of the names of all 1,432 Minnesotan soldiers killed in the war. (Presumably including at least a couple of Bethel’s fallen alumni.)

The Great War Symphony

Then at 4pm, Northrup will host the American debut of composer Patrick Hawes’ Great War Symphony (simultaneous with a production at Carnegie Hall in New York). While you’re at the Lest We Forget concert, you can also see David Geister’s mural, World War 1 America, which he painted during the run of that exhibition last year at the Minnesota History Center.

That mural now resides in the library of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley, which is open Thursday-Saturday and has a special exhibit through next year, In the Fight: Minnesota and the World War.

Save the Date: The 2019 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

We’re delighted to announce that the Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium will return to Bethel on Saturday, April 27, 2019!

As always, MUHS gives our students and other undergraduate historians from Minnesota and neighboring states a chance to present their research to peers and professors from a variety of private religious colleges. But this time we’re also excited to welcome a keynote speaker from beyond our faculties: Kent Whitworth, the new director of the Minnesota Historical Society, will open our symposium by talking about the future of public history.

Kent WhitworthKent came to MNHS this summer after serving as executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society for fourteen years. While in his previous position, he also helped to found and lead the national History Relevance campaign.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Kent explained that his desire to be a historian started on a childhood tour of the Yorktown battlefield, where “it dawned on me… I could do that as a living.” He went on to earn a master’s degree in history and historic preservation from Middle Tennessee State University, then worked for a time at his undergraduate alma mater, Asbury University (one of our sister schools in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities).

We’ll keep you posted as plans come together for MUHS 2019. But here’s what the event looked like the last time Bethel hosted, in 2016.

How You Can Hear Prof. Gehrz Talk about World War I — and Maybe Opera

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War on its famous Western Front. As part of the international commemoration of that event, the Minnesota Opera will be performing Silent Night, a dramatization of the 1914 Christmas Truce, at the Ordway Center — November 10-18.

As a preview event, the Minnesota Opera, MinnPost, and the University of Minnesota’s School of Music are presenting “Silent Night: A Soldier’s Humanity and the Impact of WWI” — Monday, October 29, 7pm at Westminster Hall in downtown Minneapolis. I’ll be one of the panelists discussing soldiers’ experiences of the war, plus a member of the cast will perform selections from the opera itself. The event is free, but click the link above to register.

To put you in mind of the subject… Enjoy these photos from Monday night’s meeting of our J-term WWI trip participants. Bethel alum Jenna Kubly ’02 joined us to share some of her extensive collection of WWI artifacts, including everything from swords and uniforms to medals and postcards.

Coming to Bethel: Former History Major David Brooks

Join us next Tuesday evening (Sept. 25, 7pm) when New York Times columnist, bestselling author, and radio/TV commentator David Brooks gives a public lecture in Benson Great Hall. (Tickets are free, but must be ordered ahead of time.)

Brooks, The Road to CharacterEntitled “The Road to Character,” Brooks’ talk builds on his 2015 book by that title,  which contrasts résumé virtues (“the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success”) with eulogy virtues (“the ones that exist at the core of your being”).

He’s one of the most prominent people to speak on campus in recent years, but I wonder how many people know that David Brooks was once a history major.

In an interview with the student newspaper at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, Brooks said that he ended up majoring in history because it somehow seemed more “practical” than his other choice: literature. But even as he moved into the worlds of politics and journalism, Brooks never lost his interest in history and literature.

In the midst of the Great Recession, Brooks dedicated one of his Times columns to warning against the decline of history, literature, and the other humanities as college students were increasingly tempted to think they had “to study something that will lead directly to a job.” He emphasized how history and similar fields train their students to read and write well, to understand emotion, and to make analogies.

But above all, he wrote that history and the other humanities would help students “befriend The Big Shaggy.” Here’s what he meant:

David Brooks…Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy….

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy…

…over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

Learn more about David Brooks’ Bethel talk at bethel.edu/brooks. His wife, Anne Snyder (a former philosophy major at Wheaton), will be the convocation speaker during Chapel time on Monday.

We’re on Instagram!

For about six years now, we’ve tried to use social media to better connect with past, present, and future Bethel history students. While it seems like this blog and our accounts at Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn serve alumni well, we’re always looking for better ways to reach out to current and prospective students.

Instagram logoSo last week we launched a Bethel History account at Instagram, the fast-growing photo-sharing site that is especially popular with young adults.

While we’ll keep publishing interviews and other posts about career paths, study abroad and internship options, and department news and events, our Instagram feed will feature much less text. In keeping with one of the key themes of our new Digital Humanities program, we want to do a better job of telling stories visually.

Here’s a sampling of some early posts:

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