Three More Books to Read for Black History Month

Earlier this week at The Anxious Bench, I mentioned five books that I’m planning to read for Black History Month: biographies of Frederick Douglass and Jackie Robinson, plus a study of Catholic civil rights activism in Chicago, an analysis of the impact of the black church on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jemar Tisby’s widely-acclaimed history of Christian complicity in racism.

But I’m no expert, so I appreciate that Dr. Kooistra (here at AC 2nd) and Dr. Magnuson (at our Facebook page) have also shared resources related to African American history. And today, I’m happy to welcome back our colleague Ruben Rivera, Bethel’s chief diversity officer and the instructor of our Minorities in America class, who recommended three more books to read this month.

Audio book of Rankine, CitizenClaudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)

There are numerous books about the African American experience in a racialized USA. What I like about Rankine’s is that, with the exception of a few pieces in it, the highly personal experiences are conveyed in the form of vivid short prose poems. I have often been asked what microaggressions are. Still others believe the term was invented by liberals. Read Rankin’s book and you’ll know what microaggressions are and that they are very real.

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (Balzer & Bray, 2017)

The Hate U Give is a young adult novel that has been adapted for a major motion picture by the same name. It deals with ripped-from-headlines issues: racial profiling; policing in communities of color; and most explosively, the killing of unarmed black men by white officers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

This book comes in the form of a letter to his son Samori in the context of the need to make sense of recent killings of black men by police. Very well written, thoughtful, moving, and certain to stimulate questions about what it means to live in a black body in America.

– Dr. Ruben Rivera


The History Department Welcomes (back) Dr. Ben Wright!

photo-on-8-20-15-at-1-49-pm-2The Fall semester has a certain cadence. The rush of September gives way to a steady October routine; as we approach the finale, Thanksgiving week allows a (too brief) respite before the mad scramble of the final weeks, when final projects compete with the Festival of Christmas and final exams. Today, we as a department pause briefly to celebrate the Christmas season and enjoy each other’s company during our Christmas party.

I’ve been looking forward to today even more because we have the honor of welcoming back Bethel alum (’05), and former history major, Dr. Ben Wright, who will speak to our students during our celebration. After graduation, Ben went on to do his graduate work at Columbia and Rice University, and is now Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at Dallas. Ben has wide-ranging teaching and research interests, from religion to ideas about the apocalypse across cultures, but he primarily focuses on the history of race in the U.S. Ben is also at the forefront of our profession in finding creative ways in the digital age to study history, doing trailblazing work in the digital humanities. He is co-editor of both the Abolition Seminar, an online K-12 teaching tool on the abolition movement, as well as the American Yawp, a free and online American history textbook. Ben’s visit today has perfect timing: The history department has spent a long time designing a new digital humanities major here at Bethel, which we tentatively hope to launch next fall. Ben will speak to us today about his digital projects, and how all of us, students, professors, future teachers, can harness computing power to share our passion for the past with a wider audience.

If you have some free time this afternoon, stop by HC 413 at 2:50 for some free coffee and treats, and to hear about the great work this particular Bethel alum is doing.

Honoring God Through Athletics

On Saturday, November 12, 2016, friends and fellow travelers of The History Center gathered at the Underground for the program “Honoring God Through Sports and Athletics.”  Three coaches—Gene Glader, Tricia Brownlee, and Steve Johnson—presented the history of athletics at Bethel University.

In the 195os and 60s, Dr. Gene Glader was coach or assistant coach for four men’s athletic teams (football, basketball, track and cross country), intramural director, instructor in physical education, athletic director, and chair of the physical education department. Glader’s presentation highlighted the challenges of athletics at Bethel in the two decades before the campus moved from the Snelling Avenue location to Bethel’s current home in Arden Hills.  Only basketball had “home” turf with a campus gym; all other sports had to scrounge around the area for practice and game fields.  Glader described the men’s football team practicing on the quadrangle lawn of the Snelling Avenue campus.  This was also the era before Bethel had a conference affiliation, so coaches were on their own to organize a “season” of athletic competition for their teams.

Nine of Dr. Tricia Brownlee’s 33 years at Bethel were in the physical education department. Brownlee started the volleyball program in 1968 at the urging of female students, and the softball program in 1969.  The remainder of Brownlee’s years at Bethel were in the academic dean’s office, retiring in 2001 from her role as Dean of Academic Programs. In addition to narrating Bethel’s athletic history from the 1970s to the present, Brownlee’s presentation highlighted the impact Title IX (1972) had on women’s athletics at Bethel and the stunning successes of women’s teams beginning in the mid-1980s.

Steve Johnson, now in his 28th year as Bethel’s head football coach, shared through a prerecorded video interview.  For those familiar with Coach Johnson, he stayed true to form with an emotional testimony about the interaction of faith and sports in the lives of athletes and coaches.

The event also featured athletic artifacts from The History Center and a book sale of publications produced by the Friends of The History Center.



How about Historians and Welders?

U.S. Navy welder
A welder on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson – U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

At last night’s GOP presidential debate several candidates used our friends in the discipline of philosophy as a punch line. Most memorably, Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) claimed that “Welders make more than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

Or as he put it today at an event in Iowa: “You deserve to know that the market for Greek philosophers has tightened over the last two thousand years.”

“I’m going to tell you right now: I am not going to win the philosophy vote in America,” he joked. “I’m going to find another major to pick on here soon.”

Uh-oh. Look out, fellow historians.

After all, the same 2014 Georgetown University study that found that recent philosophy graduates have an unemployment rate of 10.8% found that the same figure for History majors was 10.2%.

But: that’s the initial number. Among college graduates aged 30-54, the unemployment rate for philosophy majors is 6.8% — and for history majors it’s even lower: 5.8%. That’s roughly the same rate as for general engineering, computer science, and hospitality management, and it’s actually a bit better than for graduates with degrees in marketing, HR management, communications, journalism, public relations, and psychology.

And as pointed out today, several studies show that philosophy (and history) majors have a range of earnings — but generally do better than welders. For example, data from shows Philosophy grad earnings ranging from $37,000 to $83,000, versus $23,000 to $63,000 for welders. The range for history majors (citing jobs as diverse as high school teachers, paralegals, and operations managers) is even greater: from $26,000 to $88,000. And that doesn’t include attorneys with History degrees; they range from $38,000 to $248,000.

Or consider this infographic from the U.S. Census’s 2012 American Community Survey:
Pathways After a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts

Of course, earnings is far from the only — or best — way to measure the value of different kinds of education. But claims like those made by Sen. Rubio are demonstrably false, and do nothing but fuel the hysteria surrounding the supposed “crisis of the humanities.”

– Chris Gehrz

Cross-posted at The Pietist Schoolman

Introducing the Bethel 434 Campaign

Students looking for ways to help those affected by the violence in Syria can get involved by supporting the Bethel 434 Campaign.
The Bethel 434 Campaign presents a way for students to get involved with assisting those affected by the Syrian refugee crisis.

As college students, it is often easy to get lost in the difficulties of our own lives: dealing with exams, assignments, and student employment is enough to distract us from life outside of Bethel. We often forget that Bethel’s mission, vision, and values call us to seek out the truth, follow the teachings and example of Jesus, and to strive to be world-changers. Such a calling demands that we pay attention to the news, identify situations in which assistance is needed, and strive to do our part to help those in need.

Keeping that in mind, I would like to encourage each of you to do your own reading and research on the Syrian refugee crisis. However, if you don’t have the time for that at the moment, below is a brief overview of the situation provided by Professor Amy Poppinga:

“Did you know the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since WWII? 7.6 million Syrians are displaced within the country, and 3.8 million have sought refuge in other countries. The UNHCR’s latest figures show the crisis is getting worse. Families are moving not to simply better their lives, but to literally save their lives.”

Clearly, we, as the Bethel community, as Christians, and simply as human beings, are called to do something about this situation. But where do we even begin with such a major crisis? How can we organize ourselves and find a way to turn our concerns into tangible help? Fortunately, Bethel’s History and Political Science Departments have an idea- support the 434 Campaign.

The 434 Campaign began when History and Social Studies Education Grades 5-12 double-major, BTS minor, and current Modern Middle East student Brandon Sebey told his professor that something should be done. In his words, he “hates the idea of doing nothing when there is a problem and just couldn’t handle not doing anything.” After that, the campaign grew through discussions in Amy Poppinga’s Modern Middle East class, and has gained the support of the History Department and the Political Science Department. The campaign will last from November 2nd through November 6th, and will focus on two essential areas: awareness and action.

For the awareness portion of the campaign, we will see a visual representation of the number of refugees. 434 members of our community (or 17% of our 2500 member College of Arts and Sciences)  will be wearing orange on November 4th. This is to represent the estimated 17% of Syria’s population that is currently living as external refugees. Of these 434, 43 students, staff, and faculty members will be wearing orange t-shirts. These individuals will also be carrying laminated cards with important information about the Syrian refugee crisis. I would highly recommend that you stop to talk with one of the orange t-shirt bearers.

Please take the opportunity to discuss the 434 campaign with anybody wearing one of these orange shirts on November 4th.
Individuals wearing this shirt on November 4th will be able to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and the goals of the 434 Campaign with students.

Of course, the call to do something about this crisis does not end with awareness. Awareness must be coupled with action. The campaign’s goal is to get 434 members of our community to become involved in at least one of three ways:

  1. Giving $5.00 to the campaign. The campaign is partnering with World Relief, an organization active in many of the countries that are directly caring for refugees (such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Greece.)
  2. Signing the official petition to the White House and to our members of Congress urging the U.S. government commit to resettling 200,000 refugees in the upcoming year, to increase support for the millions of refugees and internally displaced Syrians, and to pursue peaceful ends to the conflicts that created this crisis.
  3. Committing to pray on a particular day of the week for the remainder of the semester. Students who make this commitment will be given a prayer card stating their day of the week and their specific prayer area, based off of the We Welcome Refugees Prayer Guide.

Please consider stopping by the 434 Campaign’s table in the Brushaber Commons on November 4th, 5th, or 6th for more information or to get involved. If you aren’t able to make it to the BC, Brandon Sebey recommends checking out the We Welcome Refugees website for more information and ideas on how to get involved. As a closing reminder, I’d like to share a short statement from Brandon that clarifies what the 434 campaign is really about:

“There is a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that says, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ I think that this quote applies quite a bit to the situation. This campaign in a call to action. I pray that it will stir something in students and faculty that will make them see the world as a place in need. It is often easy to just stay in our own little bubbles and not worry about others. It sure is the easy thing to do, but not the right thing. I think once you see how it is around the world, it is almost impossible to suppress that and not care for others in this world.”

Rwanda 20 Years Later

This spring students in HIS/POS324G Human Rights in International History have joined me in contributing to a course blog — responding to readings, continuing in-class discussions, and commenting on current events. While access to that blog is limited to members of the course, I thought I’d share this morning’s post: which I wrote both in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and as a kind of Good Friday reflection.   (Chris Gehrz)

This month the small African country of Rwanda is marking the twentieth anniversary of one of the most brutal, rapid genocides in history. In barely 100 days, 800,000 Rwandans died in April-July 1994 — nearly 20% of the entire population, including as many as three in four of the country’s Tutsi ethnic group. (In addition, tens of thousands were maimed and remain “living records” of this terrible episode in Rwandan history, as this New Republic photo essay memorably demonstrates.)

The official commemoration has not been without tension. France did not take part in an international commemorative ceremony in Kigali, after Rwandan president Paul Kagame (who ended the genocide in 1994 by leading a Tutsi invasion from Uganda) renewed his accusation that the French had helped train the Hutu militia largely responsible for the slaughter.

And Kagame’s own government has received mixed evaluations, as The Guardian pointed out:

Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame – World Economic Forum

Kagame has won praise for pulling his country out of the worst spell of violence the world has seen in decades. His government has advanced women’s rights, economic development and health care. But critics say progress has been marred by the government’s authoritarian grip on control with many government critics and opposition members killed.

Human Rights Watch says civil and political rights in the country remain severely curtailed. It has condemned attacks on Rwandan government critics in exile.

In its own report for the anniversary, HRW was largely admiring in its conclusion: “Twenty years on, significant progress has been achieved in bringing some of the perpetrators to justice, both nationally and internationally. The combination of national and international action to end impunity for the genocide in Rwanda has also marked a turning point in the development of justice for international crimes more broadly.” Nonetheless, it called for reforms of the country’s justice system, “with a view to further strengthening its independence, and to enable those who suffered serious miscarriages of justice—whether defendants or survivors of the genocide—to seek a review of their cases within a reasonable period.”

Whether there is indeed “justice after genocide” will be an open question for us to explore at the end of April and into early May. We’ll consider systems of retributive justice, but also at more “restorative” approaches that rest on a mix of truth-telling, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

As we enter the Easter weekend and look for hope in the shadow of the Cross, I thought I’d close with the story of Steven Gahigi. Over fifty members of his extended family died in 1994, but Gahigi became a Christian pastor (about 94% of Rwandans are Christian) with a unique flock: convicted génocidaires in Rwandan prisons. (130,000 of them at the peak in 1998; now 36,000.) In Tim Townshend’s recent CNN story about such pastors (and the larger problem of whether there can be forgiveness for genocide), he shares Gahigi’s story of being called to this remarkable ministry:

Rwandan genocide memorial
Rwandan genocide memorial – Creative Commons (ConfigManager)

He had a dream about a mob beating Jesus as he hung on the cross. A voice told Gahigi, “Those people beating Jesus are the ones Jesus helped. They killed your countrymen and your family, but you can help them.”

When he woke up, he was crying.

“I cried all night, but when the crying stopped, I felt light and love,” Gahigi said.

He believed then that he had the power to forgive and to help others forgive. He began preaching reconciliation, and he sought out the prisoners who killed his family.

“That was Jesus’ mission,” Gahigi told me. “To forgive the sins of all men.”

After Kagimi’s story (also told in 2011 by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries), Townshend observes that “Christians believe God has already forgiven them, atoned for their sins in the crucifixion of Jesus. But that concept must be strained by genocide.” Do you think there can be forgiveness or redemption after a “radical evil” like genocide? Is there justice for such crimes? (Are justice and forgiveness interconnected, or in opposition to each other?)

Learn More about the Situation in the Ukraine

Poster for our Ukraine Forum on Thursday, March 6, 2014Are you concerned about what’s happening in Ukraine? Curious about the historical origins of the conflict, and the role of Christians in it? Wondering about its implications for U.S. foreign policy?

Join us this Thursday (March 6th) next Thursday (March 13th), 10:20am in the Bethel University Library for a roundtable discussion of The Revolution in Ukraine. It’ll feature G.W. Carlson, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science and an expert on religion and politics in Russia and the former Soviet Union, and Chris Moore, Associate Professor of Political Science and director of Bethel’s International Relations program. History professor Chris Gehrz, who regularly teaches a course on the Cold War, will moderate the discussion.

All are welcome!

Please note the changed date: we needed to reschedule so as to avoid a conflict with the funeral of former Bethel first lady Nancy Lundquist.

Tim Krueger’s Lament for The Philippines

From Bethel History alum Tim Krueger (’10), who grew up in The Philippines and wrote a lament for that typhoon-ravaged country for Rachel Held Evans’ popular blog last night:

I mourn for my home. I’ve never met the people in the pictures, but I feel like I know them. What remains of their homes, stores, schools, streets, and markets looks familiar to me. The giant tangles of power and telephone lines are no different from the ones I used to marvel at through my dentist’s window. I don’t see a foreign country; I see my home….


I mourn the silence of many Christians I respect. I’m not talking so much about my immediate church community, who has been bathing the Philippines in prayer this week, but those voices that stake their reputations on biblical justice and reconciliation, demand that the church be more like Jesus and less like white America, and call us to enter into the narratives of pain and oppression in the world. When disaster strikes our shores, they have no shortage of ink to spill reminding us to have compassion on the victims, or to weigh in on the theological implications of so-called “acts of God.” But when thousands of bodies, caked in mud and pierced with splintered boards and rebar, lay baking and swelling in the ninety-degree heat, where is their ink? Where is their lament?

I believe it’s there, but it needs to be spoken more loudly and more often.

Read the full post (including suggestions for how you can help with relief efforts) here.

[Photo: Tacloban City, The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan – Creative Commons: Trocaire]

Coptic Church Festival in the Twin Cities: August 24-25

While clashes between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood have received ample attention in recent days, Western media have started to take notice of the violence affecting Egypt’s largest Christian group: the Coptic Church, spiritual home to about 10% of the country’s population.

If you’re not familiar with one of the oldest churches in Christianity, you can learn about it right here in the Twin Cities this coming weekend. On Saturday, August 24 (11am – 8pm) and Sunday, August 25 (11am – 7pm), St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in South St. Paul will hold its eighth annual Coptic Festival. All are invited:

Come join us as we share our Coptic Christian heritage and culture with you. Our festival will have a cultural program includes movies, slide presentations, church tours, and church choir music free of charge. The festival also includes exhibits and sale of books, artifacts and jewelry, bakery sales and great Egyptian food. There are activities for children, and a lively and fun atmosphere for all!

Look for Bethel History minor Andrea Kanani, who will be giving tours on Coptic history and theology.

Gettysburg at 150

150 years ago this morning, troops of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia encountered dismounted Union cavalry defending the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. So began a three-day battle that left nearly 50,000 Americans dead, wounded, captured, or missing. It ended Lee’s attempt to bring the Civil War to the North, and the creation of a national cemetery months later inspired some of the most famous words uttered by an American president:

…we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here. (Abraham Lincoln – Nov. 19, 1863)

"A Harvest of Death" - Union dead at Gettysburg
Timothy O’Sullivan’s famous photo of dead Union soldiers at Gettysburg – Library of Congress

Seventy-five years later, another famous American president spoke at the unveiling of Gettysburg’s Eternal Peace Memorial; the audience included some twenty-five veterans of the battle:

If you’re interested in the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, you could start with the Gettysburg 150th site. Other articles, reflections, and posts on the subject include:

  • Ten things you might not have known about the battle
  • How photojournalists’ coverage of war has changed from Gettysburg to today
  • A profile of John Buford, the Union officer from Kentucky (he had turned down a Confederate commission) whose troops first encountered Lee’s army at Gettysburg
  • A swarm of Civil War reenactors is expected for the anniversary at Gettysburg — and they’re not all Americans
  • How a carpenter named George Buckman experienced the battle as part of the famous 1st Minnesota regiment
  • Peter Carmichael of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College lamented that “the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War has largely missed an opportunity to make the past usable. Too many historians have been afraid to ask hard questions, much of the public is seduced by the heroic view of war, and Congress has defunded the National Park Service (NPS)”
  • The story of The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s acclaimed historical novel about the battle (later filmed as Gettysburg, with Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee and Jeff Daniels as Col. Joshua Chamberlain, whose Maine troops held Little Round Top on the second day)