In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. . . .” Truly the history graduates who will walk across the stage tomorrow have brought me joy, have consistently made me grateful for being called to teach, and I wanted to thank them publicly for that.
In Senior Seminar this spring, it has been a distinct pleasure to work with students already so deep into the process of becoming “whole and holy persons,” thanks to their communities of friends, pastors, coaches, parents, and teachers. I’ve been humbled to see the positive impact of these folks in the lives of our students.
At the same time, I’ve been impressed watching the students in Senior Seminar rise to the challenges I’ve extended. Write better. Speak better. Persist in the face of distractions and crises. They’ve done it, and I couldn’t be more proud. If one ever wonders what value a Christian liberal arts college has, I’d point them in the direction of these students. As faculty introduced each student before his/her Senior Seminar presentation, faculty used words like: character, integrity, curiosity, endurance, courage, and service. These students are the kinds of people who will impact their worlds for God’s glory and their neighbor’s good.
The prayer for the week in the Book of Common Prayer reads: “O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful [humans]; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” That’s a great prayer, but I’ll return to Philippians for my parting prayer for these graduates: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”
Congratulations to our Spring 2019 graduates. God’s speed.
The internet can be a great place to start exploring resources regarding African American History Month. In my teaching, I return again and again to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South project, which contains a number of different collections including “North American Slave Narratives.” While the collection features the stories of famous abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, it’s worth checking out some of the less familiar items too. One intriguing source is Benjamin Drew’s work with “fugitive slaves in Canada.” Drew interviewed African Americans who had fled the institution of slavery first by escaping into the North, but who then abandoned the United States entirely when their freedom seemed threatened again. Initially, many had fled bondage in the U.S. South and resettled in a northern state that prohibited slavery. In 1850, however, the United States Congress passed a stronger Fugitive Slave Act, which “made the hunting down of escaped slaves, even in free states, fully legal.” The already tenuous freedom of those who had escaped seemed even more so, and the people Drew interviewed had made the difficult decision to safeguard their freedom by leaving the United States entirely. While the voices of these stories attest to the barbaric qualities inherent in the institution of slavery as practiced in the United States and its reach beyond the Mason-Dixon line, they also illuminate the tenacity and strength of the human beings fighting for their freedom.
The long reach of a racially-based system of slavery as practiced in the United States is also evident in the history of “racial passing.” The Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History notes that the term refers to “a crossing of a line that divides social groups.” The term “is used most frequently, however, as if it were short for ‘passing for white,’ in the sense of crossing over the color line in the United States from the black to the white side.” As even the entry in Wikipedia outlines, the literature on the topic is vast. My introduction to the topic came by way of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, which deals with the phenomenon in the context of early twentieth century Chicago and New York. The manageable length of the novel, combined with the complexity of the subject, make it an ideal primary text for the classroom–or, in my case, an informal book club among friends. For an academic treatment of the history of passing, I’d encourage folks to check out Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs’ A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. And, if you don’t have time for the full book, check out Hobbs’ TED talk on the subject.
Finally, how about one poem? Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” is worth the two minutes it will take to read it.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Although Travelocity reviewers only give the Watkins Museum in Winona an average of 4.0 stars out of 5, many are also quick to point out that it’s 1) free and 2) worth checking out “if you love history.” Well, I like free stuff, and I do love history . . . but it turns out there’s a lot more to the Watkins story than what a cursory tour of this relatively small museum reveals.
Today, Watkins sells a variety of products (including balms and liniments, soaps and detergents, spices and extracts) in stores like Home Depot, Target, and Whole Foods, to name a few. The company, however, got its start in 1867 when J. R. Watkins bought the rights to manufacture and sell a liniment formula created by Dr. Richard Ward. The liniment, still available today, was developed in the era of “patent medicines.” The label “patent medicines” suggested that the product had been granted government protection because of its exclusivity. Prior to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, however, the lack of regulation meant that most patent medicines were far from unique. Instead, these “medicines” featured large amounts of alcohol in combination with vegetable extracts. In addition, many concoctions were fortified with morphine, opium, or cocaine.
According to the company’s website, however, Watkins offered a “natural” alternative to many of the other medicines on the market. This commitment to quality led Watkins to develop the “trial-mark bottle” and a money-back guarantee.” Customers who used a product but stayed above the mark molded onto the bottle could receive a full refund if they were not satisfied.
When I perused the displays of the Watkins Museum, one of the products I found most interesting was the bottle labeled “Watkins Female Remedy.” Located in a case containing products from 1868-1929, the remedy claimed to be a tonic “stimulating nutrition, checking tissue waste, and acting as a sedative for the pelvic organs.” Furthermore the fine print says the tonic is “[u]seful for suppressed, painful or irregular menstruation, urinary troubles, falling of the womb, deranged monthly periods, etc., etc.” The bottle did not indicate what magical ingredients the tonic contained, but the language is strikingly similar to other products available in an era when birth control methods were elusive. When the Comstock Law was passed in 1873, it deemed birth control “pornographic” and thus banned contraceptives from dissemination and distribution through the mail or across state lines. Manufacturers of such products thus had to resort to euphemistic language in their marketing. By claiming to bring regularity to a woman’s menstrual cycle, patent medicines were suggesting their products helped to prevent (or, in some cases, end) pregnancy. (In addition to a number of books on the subject, Andrea Tone’s article is worth reading.) The Watkins Museum does a nice job of displaying a variety of their historical artifacts, but there is not a lot of “interpretation.” It does appear that the museum is about to undergo some renovation, so maybe some signs speaking to the historical context will accompany the fantastic array of artifacts.
This year, my annual trip to Michigan to visit family included a stop at Mackinac Island. The island is either most famous for its lack of cars or surplus of fudge, but it is also home to Fort Mackinac. (Mackinac, by the way, is pronounced mak–uh-naw.)
Unlike our local Fort Snelling, much of which had to be reconstructed from crumbled ruins, the buildings at Fort Mackinac are well-preserved remnants of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When I visited this place as a kid, the history of the fort in the context of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 did not stick with me. Nor did I appreciate the role the fort played in the lucrative fur trade economy–an economy involving local Native American tribes, French-Canadian voyageurs, and a host of others. Instead, the work of Dr. Beaumont, a physician who made some pioneering discoveries in the field of digestion, was a highlight. Alexis St. Martin, an employee of the American Fur Company, had been the victim of an accidental gunshot wound. Dr. Beaumont had been able to save St. Martin’s life, but the gunshot left a hole in the stomach that never fully healed, allowing Dr. Beaumont to perform all manner of experiments. Back in the early 1980s, I’m almost certain that the site told this story through the use of animatronic figures but they are gone now. In fact, the only animatronic figure left is that of a soldier in the North Blockhouse reporting on the arrival of the British soldiers at the beginning of the War of 1812. For some visitors, such figures provide “a true immersion experience.” On another website, however, a visitor reported that they were “crazy funny.” I tend to find them a little creepy, but in an oddly appealing way. They certainly help create a vivid impression of a piece of the fort’s history.
More than thirty years had elapsed since I visited the fort, so it was not surprising to see the stories of women featured more prominently in the exhibits. Fort Mackinac, for example, was no different from other forts in allowing officers’ wives to reside at the fort with their husbands–and the fort’s displays do a nice job telling such stories. At the “Soldiers’ Barracks,” an exclusively male residence by contrast, the accompanying sign speaks to the army’s masculine nature, noting that “[t]wenty-five thousand soldiers served in the all-volunteer, all-male United States Army of the 1880s.” Nonetheless, the visual artifacts of the exhibit include a trunk at the foot of one of the beds, opened to reveal the nineteenth century’s equivalent of the “pin-up girl.” (Robert Westbrook’s article on the pin-up girl in the context of WWII, by the way, is worth a read.) Maybe the next iteration of the sign could say something about the role of such images in the lives of the soldiers, but at least displaying the artifact is a start.
Some things, of course, happily remain the same. While the menu has likely seen some significant updating, I’m happy to report that the Tea Room (operated by the famous Grand Hotel) continues the same brisk business I remember from my first visit. Located in a portion of the “Officers’ Stone Quarters,” the tables on the patio look out over the town below and the ferries bearing more and more tourists. Join them later for some of that delicious fudge (and peanut brittle)–If the fudge shop dates to the late nineteenth century, I think it counts as historical research!
If you follow Chris Gehrz on his any of his social media outlets, then you may have already read about his concern regarding the future of the liberal arts at Christian colleges. Among the many points Gehrz raises is that instead of just focusing on how a liberal arts degree can net students a job, we might also start by asserting that:
“Our tuition is high, but engaging in four years of patient study in a variety of fields with highly-trained faculty is the most valuable investment you’ll ever make, resulting in the transformation of your heart, mind, body, and spirit at one of the key stages of your life.”
Some of our colleagues at Bethel have read the post, and at least a couple give the impression that purveyors of the liberal arts education still need to reassure parents that such an education will provide their kids jobs and get kids out of their parents’ basement. Well, for the most part, it does. But there’s a lot of ways to get a job, and it may not involve going to college at all. I am all for employment. I just happen to agree with Gehrz that a lucrative job is not the primary reason folks should attend a Christian liberal arts university.
Back in 2005 when I first applied for my position at Bethel University, I responded to a prompt asking me to “explain what you believe to be the elements essential to the educational theory and practice of a Christian liberal arts college.” Even then I spoke about the tension between competing visions about education–one emphasizing practical concerns and one emphasizing more visionary concerns. If you care to read further, here’s what I wrote:
At the turn of the twentieth century, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois disagreed on the type of education African Americans should pursue. Washington thought African Americans should pursue a vocational education because this education would allow them to pursue the practical goals of economic independence, or self-reliance. DuBois, on the other hand, believed that African Americans should pursue a liberal arts education; exposure to the arts, literature, philosophy, and the natural sciences was the route to intellectual excellence and leadership.
These differing perspectives on education reflected contrasting ideas about the relationship of African Americans to the rest of the world. Washington’s ideas about education supported his theory of racial accommodation—that African Americans should not seek primarily to change the world in which they lived. Instead, they should seek to develop the skills that would allow them to get along as best they could in an imperfect world in which racism circumscribed black rights and opportunities. DuBois, on the other hand, did not believe in racial accommodation. He hoped that, through exposure to the liberal arts, black leaders would arise and challenge the existing norms of society to change it for the better.
For Christians, questions about the function of education are different, yet there are certain parallels. What are Christians called to do? Are they to give this world up for lost and focus exclusively on their individual quest for reunion with God in the afterlife? Or does the work of sanctification call on Christians to bring about renewal in the present world? In the process of making themselves holy before God, Christians are also called to take part in the redemptive work that Christ himself epitomized with his sacrifice on the cross. For this task, the liberal arts education has much to offer by seeking to acquaint students with a broad understanding of the world in which they live.
On the one hand, a liberal arts education can deepen students’ appreciation for God’s creation. When God had finished creating the world, he pronounced it good. Even though sin has corrupted this world, there are still evidences of that goodness. This is true not only in the natural world but in the contributions of humans, who, after all, were created just a little lower than the angels. The study of the natural sciences helps students see the intricacies of that creation just as the study of the arts allows students to understand the creative abilities God endowed to humans.
On the other hand, a liberal arts education can also show students the brokenness of creation, alerting them to the redemptive work that must still be done. While we are commanded to think upon holy things, we must also be willing to minister to the broken parts of creation. The study of natural sciences also helps students see creation run amuck just as the study of the arts shows students the darkness in the hearts of humankind.
Today, a Christian liberal arts college must retain some of the Washingtonian elements of education, equipping students with practical skills for economic independence, so that they can accommodate themselves to the world in which they live. Yet, a Christian liberal arts college must also offer students a deeper, broader understanding of the world in which they live, not only as a way of strengthening their understanding of the Creator but also as a way of creating Christian leaders to challenge the existing brokenness of society and change it for the better.
When I think about what I want for my daughter, I don’t first think of what kind of job she will have. Instead, I think of what kind of person she will be, and–to paraphrase the 1928 Book of Common Prayer–what good works the Lord has prepared for her to walk in. My hope is that a Christian liberal arts education is in her future, that it will help her grow in her faith, illuminate and challenge her mind, and provide her with a beloved community of support as she sets forth on a path of holy calling. If such a path involves some couch surfing in my basement, so be it.
While many of our alumni remain in the Twin Cities, many have moved elsewhere. (Almost 40% of those on LinkedIn.) So if you’re one of our graduates who doesn’t live in town and maybe doesn’t have many chances to return to campus, know that Bethel might be coming to you!
This semester the Office of Alumni Relations has several Royal Nation events scheduled for different spots around the country, including one tomorrow night! (too late to register online, but it sounds like you can still attend if you just email that office)
Washington, DC: Thursday, March 1, 7:30pm, Washington Court Hotel — featuring Bethel political science professor Chris Moore, whom some of you might know from his cross-listed course on Revolution and Political Development — or from his many contributions to Prof. Sam Mulberry’s Live from AC 2nd podcast network.
Seattle, WA: Saturday, May 5, 2pm, The Museum of Flight
“The hardest page to write is the first page, and the hardest sentence to write is the first sentence.”
I have said these words to students countless times every semester for the last fifteen years as I have sat with time in my office. Along with being a teacher in the History department I also work as an academic counselor. I work with students on developing their study strategies and their time management skills. Inevitably we end up talking about ways to combat procrastination. One of my favorite questions to ask them is, “How many books have you finished reading in your life that you didn’t start reading?” There is always this wonderful, awkward pause as they do the math of the question in their head. The answer of course – by definition – is zero. The point I keep coming back to is that it is all about starting.
I bring all of this up because although this week marks the end of the fall academic semester, for me it mostly feels like it is about starting. The end of the fall 2017 semester means the beginning of my spring 2018 sabbatical. This is not only very exciting but also a little terrifying. It means I need to begin a very big project that I’m not 100% sure that I will be able to pull off.
My Sabbatical project – if I may quote myself from my sabbatical application form:
[E]xists at the intersection of oral history, artistic endeavor, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. I plan to film long form interviews (60-90 minutes each) with 20+ Bethel faculty members – beginning with those who have been awarded the Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching and expanding outward to include other faculty and staff – on the art and craft of teaching. From this footage, I plan on building a variety of productions. First, I plan on creating a feature length documentary film which centers on the core themes that arise from the interviews. Secondly, I plan on editing each individual interview into its own film which will be available along with the aforementioned documentary on a website I will build to make these materials available to the Bethel community and beyond. Finally, I foresee cataloging these materials in a way that would make it easy for me to work with groups like the faculty development team to build shorter theme based films for the purposes of faculty development and education.
Nearly every individual part of this project is something I’ve done before on a much smaller scale. I’ve conducted long form interviews with various Bethel Faculty members. over the years as part of my Autobiography Podcast project. I’ve done lots of different video directing and editing projects. I’ve built websites and digital archives. I’ve even managed a pretty large independent sabbatical project before. All of this should lead me to feel pretty confident about this spring – and if I’m being honest, I don’t totally lack confidence in myself or my project.
But I am little scared. What am I scared of? I’m scared that this is bigger than other projects I’ve undertaken. I’m scared that it won’t turn out well. I’m scared I’ll get in too deep with what I film and I’ll just get buried and won’t be able to find my way out. I’m scared that I won’t be able to pull it off. I’m scared because I’ve built a project in which I’m not quite sure where it will go.
Because of all this, I haven’t really thought much about my project all fall. I’ve looked for other things to fill my work life all semester so I wouldn’t have to think about or worry about sabbatical. I realize that – just like the students that I work with in my office – I’m pretty terrified to get starting. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get used to that stinging realization that I need start to listening to and following the advice that I am always giving to others. But that is where I find myself sitting this week. I’ve never finished reading any book that I never started reading, and I’ve never finished making a film that I didn’t start making.
For me starting this project involved two tasks – the first speaks to humility and the second to ambition. For my first task I sent out a message to all Bethel Faculty who have won the Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching to ask if they would participate agree to an interview. This is humbling because my project relies on their cooperation and partnership. There is no project without them and in many ways I am at the mercy of their generosity. For my second task I booked a big classroom for 7:00 pm on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 7:00 pm to debut my film. Now I have created for myself the urgency that comes with having other people involved and with a public deadline to meet.
“The hardest page to write is the first page, and the hardest sentence to write is the first sentence.”
During the Spring of 2014, Bethel’s Associate Dean of Intercultural Student Programs & Services Leah Fulton and I were talking about ways that we could share stories of students of color at Bethel. She came up with the idea of filming interviews with students of color who where about to graduate.
We sent out a call to all of the graduating students of color at Bethel to see if anyone would be willing to sit down for an interview and ended up having six students agree to individual interviews. It was really wonderful to have the opportunity to spend time with these students as they shared their stories. That summer we edited these individual interviews in an 88-minute film which intercut their stories.
In subsequent years, Leah and I continued to interview students and to record their stories. When Leah Fulton left her position in Student Life to pursue further graduate study, Priscilla Kibler stepped into her role, and we continued on with the project.
In the Spring of 2017, we had ten students agree to sit down for interviews. Then in the Summer of 2017, we edited these interviews into a 79-minute film.
As someone who has spent half of my life in the Bethel community, these films can be hard to watch. I am deeply moved by the honesty of these students. What they have to say is very important. When we started this project, our goal was to collect student stories to be able to share them with other students, faculty, and administration. I feel like I have learned a great deal from these students about their experiences and the experiences of other students of color at Bethel.
As an historian, these videos represent the types of projects that are closest to my heart. I love the idea of creating an outlet for people to leave a record of their stories. I love being able to find ways to share these stories with the Bethel community. I also have hope in the possibility that these interviews and the interviews that we film in the future will serve as a primary source for future historians of this institution.
As Dr. Gehrz mentioned a few posts ago, I have been spending my time of late at the Huntington. Located in San Marino, California, the Huntington boasts several gardens, terrific art galleries, and an incredible library. Daily I walk past lemon, orange, fig, and kumquat trees, and the abundant jasmine and lavender infuse the smog with a hint of perfume. Sir Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” resides here in what was once the Huntington mansion (but since 1924, a full-fledged art gallery). I definitely preferred the collection of American art at the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, however, including John Sloane’s “McSorley’s Cats” (shown above). Given my research interests, let’s just say that scene is fitting. The library, too, is home to several masterpieces, including some from my neighborhood’s namesake, John J. Audubon–just one example from a collection of 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts. So, if you’re still looking for summer travel ideas, the Huntington is worth a visit.
The Huntington is also a great place to research. Summer is peak research time here, and you can find folks like me in the Ahmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Center. I’ve spent most of the last week and a half poring over the collection of “Los Angeles area court records, 1850-1910” for my book, Gender and the Business of Prostitution in Los Angeles, 1850-1940. The research has been rewarding, but in surprising ways. The criminal records, for example, yielded a few nuggets of new information, but they mostly confirmed what I knew from extensive newspaper research. The records dealing with property–whether in the probate or superior court–were a different story. They painted an extraordinarily detailed picture of the everyday lives of individuals involved in the business of prostitution. When people fight over assets, they tend to list every one of them in the court documents they file, down to the “one petrified greyhound” in the “rooms off the parlor”–what? Digging through such inventories has made me feel like more of an archeologist than a historian, but such an experience speaks to the craft of our discipline. History requires not only the work of uncovering the artifacts, but the skill (and discipline) of interpretation and narration. I only hope that NE Minneapolis is as beneficial to the latter as the Huntington has been for the former.
This past weekend Bethel University celebrated hundreds of new graduates, including thirteen History and Social Studies Education majors. Thanks to our in-house photographer, Prof. Sam Mulberry, we’ve got a few glimpses of graduation to look back at:
Left to right: Danny Jaderholm, Angela Stephens, Emily Ruud, Lauren Gannon, Ryan Auer, Grant Martinson, Connor Larson, Prof. Kooistra, Prof. Poppinga, Prof. Gehrz, Grace Wiegand, Prof. Goldberg, Prof. Magnuson, Mitch De Haan, Jared Demma. Graduates not pictured: Austin Boylan, Emma Young.
Congratulations again to all of our 2016-2017 graduates. And to the rest of our returning and incoming students: we’ll see you in the fall!