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 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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A post shared by Bethel History Department (@bethel_history) on

You can follow us on Instagram @bethel_history.



IMG_3066.JPGHello readers of AC 2nd, my name is Aidan Ruch and I am the social media TA for the History Department this year. As my name will be showing up on more blog posts this year I thought I would introduce myself and let you know a little bit about me.

I am a History and Political Science double-major and currently a sophomore. In my free time I enjoy reading a good book while enjoying a cup of tea, or trying to convince my friends to play one of those very complicated board games that take a good hour just to read the directions. I also take part in Bethel Student Government, Model United Nations, and many of Bethel’s theatre productions.

The fact that I am writing for Bethel’s History department is rather strange because it was not until recently that I envisioned my life going this direction.

I had originally planned on being a English major. My father is an English major, and I have always had a love of books. One particular summer I was reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which is about Gettysburg… while I was at Gettysburg. Being able to read about a great battle and the various men who fought in it and then being able to look up and see the exact thing being mentioned in the book was an amazing experience. It made the normal world seem as magical as the lands of Narnia or those in Lord of the Rings.

This began a shift that led to me becoming a history major, but it didn’t make me stop loving stories. Rather, I now focus on one great story, the story of the past.

I had no plans on coming to Bethel. I had always seen it as a good school, but I had lived in Minnesota most of my life and believed it was time for a change and a chance to leave the state. I did, however, decide to take a year of PSEO here, and in doing so I was irrevocably drawn in. I almost immediately clicked with the community, the faculty, and the History Department. I therefore decided to stay on at Bethel, and two years later here I am as a TA for the history department.

That is the journey that has brought me here and some my interests. Wishing you well from AC 2nd floor… I’m Aidan Ruch.

What We Did On Our Summer Break: Students

Now that our profs have had a chance to report on summer highlights, we thought we’d turn the theme over to a few of our 2018-2019 department teaching assistants. How do Bethel History students spend their summers?

Haley Johnson ’19:  This summer I did quite a few things. I worked on a project with Compass Airlines on updating all of their maintenance documents for Delta and American Airlines fleets so that they were up to code with the FAA. Aside from working, I planned my wedding, got married on August 11th, and honeymooned in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Haley Johnson and her husband kayaking in Cabo San Lucas
Used by courtesy of Haley Johnson

While there we got to go kayaking, snorkeling, and parasailing. It was quite the summer. (An Art History major, Haley will be assisting Prof. Goldberg with Intro to the Digital Humanities next spring.)

Justin Brecheisen ’19: This summer I had a Technical Sales Internship at Twin City Fan Companies in Plymouth, Minnesota. I spent a lot of my summer getting immersed in the business world in a way I haven’t before and I learned valuable skills I know I will be able to utilize no matter where God leads me in the future.

Justin hiking through Zion National Park
Courtesy of Justin Brecheisen

After spending much of my summer in a cubicle, I had the refreshing privilege to travel to Utah with my family. Visiting five national parks allowed me to explore corners of God’s amazing creation that I had never seen and opened my eyes to fresh perspectives. It was a fantastic way to finish out the summer. As I transition back to Bethel, this trip has framed my perspective, reminding me of the important things in life as I shift from a busy internship to a busy semester. (Justin is double-majoring in History and Business and will again help Prof. Magnuson in the archives.)

Peter Engstrom ’20: This summer I worked at Trout Lake Camps.  I was on adventure staff, which means I got to run all of the zip lines and rock walls for all of the kiddos. My summer was filled with 40 minute chats on the top of zip line convincing kids that the zip line had never dropped anyone before and it sure wasn’t gonna happen today on my watch. This summer I got the incredible opportunity to go skydiving, which was an amazing experience. I had always wanted to go skydiving but never thought anything would materialize out of that, until our adventure team decided to jump out of a plane together at 10,000 feet. This summer was filled with amazing experiences, and I got to see God work in incredible ways at camp. (One of our History/Social Studies Education students, Peter will TA for Prof. Kooistra when she returns from her fall sabbatical.)

Aidan Ruch ’21: This summer my dad got a sabbatical grant and my whole family took a two-month trip to the Netherlands, Kenya, and England. I have many fond memories of that trip, but one of my favorite stories was when we were staying at a bed and breakfast near Stratford-upon-Avon.

The church Aidan and his family visited in Stratford-upon-Avon
Courtesy of Aidan Ruch

At breakfast I was talking to the owners of the place, and I happened to mention that that I was a history major. Upon hearing this the owner’s eyes lit up. He explained that he was quite the history buff and offered to show me the local church later that day. It was built in the early 1100s and was one of the first churches in the area. Indeed, on the ceiling there are various pagan carvings such as a learning face of a druid, as the people who originally built the church were unsure about this newfangled religion called Christianity and so decided to hedge their bets. Our host, Mr. Kerr, happened to be the church warden and had the key to the safe. After sorting through the various items in the safe, he pulled out a beautiful chalice, looked at it, and said, “ Oh we don’t want this one; it’s only from the 18th century.” He put it back and pulled out another chalice made in the 150’s, which local legend says was made out of silver plundered from a Spanish galleon. In this manner I was able to hold a chalice that, had it been discovered off the coast of America, would now be in a museum, all while standing in a church that is older than my country. I am awestruck to this day that I was able to have such an experience, and it is something that I will forever cherish. (Aidan is a History/Political Science major and Prof. Gehrz’s social media TA for the year. Look from much more from him at AC 2nd in the weeks to come…)

What We Did On Our Summer Break: Faculty

It’s the first week of the new year at Bethel, but before we get too far into the fall, we thought we’d look back at what the people of AC 2nd did with their summers. We’ll hear from some students soon enough. But let’s start with a few members of our faculty:

Prof. Poppinga wake boarding off Costa Rica
Courtesy of Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga: It is hard to believe we are already back to school. I had a wonderful summer that consisted of research and writing, quality time with my immediate and extended family, and some personal time with friends. It started with me traveling with my closest friend from Bethel on a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate our 40th birthdays. We attended a week-long women’s surfing camp. It was hard work but I loved it! We met as students in the History department, and I am grateful for our enduring friendship despite many moves, job and life changes.

Then along with my good friend and colleague, Sara Shady, I received two grants to work on creating a new course for Bethel’s Pietas Honors Program. The course centers on community, spiritual identity, and interfaith engagement. Keeping with my continued interest and research in the field of Interfaith Studies, I just co-authored an article, “Building Bridges Across Faith Lines: Responsible Christian Education in a Post-Christian Society” with Marion Larson and Sara Shady for the Journal of Christian Higher Education.

Prof. Goldberg in Greece
Courtesy of Charlie Goldberg

Charlie Goldberg: I was thrilled to have been selected to travel to Greece for nine days to participate in a seminar on fostering an appreciation for the classics in undergraduate education. The seminar was run by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in conjunction with the Council of Independent Colleges. Along with nineteen other college professors and trip leaders Greg Nagy (Harvard University) and Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), I toured the Peloponnese and spent time in Delphi and Athens. The group discussed strategies for raising appreciation for the classics and ancient history at small colleges, shared lesson plans, and made plans for future collaborations. I also shared my experience launching Bethel’s new Digital Humanities major with others interested in similar efforts at their home institutions, and will forever appreciate the lifelong professional and personal relationships I forged on the trip.

Diana Magnuson: I continued to collaborate with two historians at the Minnesota Population Center (U of MN). My paper with Steven Ruggles, “Capturing the American People: Census Technology and Institutional Change, 1790-2020,” was submitted in July to an American history journal. Our paper was accepted for presentation at the Social Science History Association annual meeting in Phoenix (November 2018) and will also be presented in October at the Office of Population Research, Princeton University.  We have another project underway researching the history of privacy and the U.S. Census. Then Ronald Goeken and I are expanding our research to include all major census recounts.

Sam Mulberry: I spent this summer getting back up to speed with normal Bethel work after my Spring 2018 sabbatical.  I had two major projects on my plate.  First, I worked to build academic schedules for incoming students who will be new to Bethel in the Fall.  This included both building their initial schedules as well as meeting with students throughout the summer to make changes and adjustments to their schedules.  Secondly, I taught CWC (GES130) online with Chris Gehrz and Amy Poppinga.  This was my sixth straight summer teaching this class.  Although everything in the class went really smoothly, I did spend a chunk of the summer starting to think through how the next iteration of the class might look.

First Congregational Church of Litchfield, CT
One of the places Prof. Gehrz preached this summer: First Congregational Church in Litchfield, Connecticut, whose oft-photographed building dates to 1829.

Chris Gehrz: This summer break was incredible! I spent the first five weeks of break out east, mostly doing research for my new Charles Lindbergh biography. I started at the Library of Congress (holding an impromptu alumni reunion along the way) then spent a month back at my graduate alma mater, Yale University, home of the Lindbergh Papers. While I was in the Northeast, I also had the chance to preach at three churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as a follow-up to my 2017 book, The Pietist Option. Meanwhile, I found time to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, see my first game at Fenway Park, and visit Plymouth Rock. But the true highlight of my summer came in mid-July… On my way back to the Midwest, I detoured to southwestern Virginia for a week to take part in the celebration of my dad’s retirement, after 45 years of service as a pediatrician and medical researcher.

MN Travelogue: Watkins and Winona

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.

Exterior, Watkins Museum (Photo: AMK)

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.

Watkins Female Remedy
Watkins Female Remedy, on display at the Watkins Museum in Winona, MN. (Photo: AMK)

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.

Winona has its fair share of architectural gems, by the way.  One of them is adjacent to the Watkins Museum.  By the early twentieth century, the Watkins company was doing well enough to hire architect George Maher to design its Administration Building.  Completed in 1912, the building features a 70-foot rotunda dome covered in 24-carat gold leaf, marble walls, and multiple stained glass windows designed by the Tiffany Company.  The application for National Register status claims: “The entire building is a tribute to the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society of which the architect George Washington Maher was a founder.”

One of the Tiffany Company’s stained glass windows, Administration Building (Photo: AMK)

The Watkins family seems to have been fond of Maher’s work.  They also hired him to design their bank (now called the Winona National Bank) and their Winona mansion, Rockledge.  While Rockledge is no longer standing (the heir maybe preferred to raze the house rather than let anyone use it?!), the bank certainly is.  If you’re not a fan of great architecture, that’s okay, you could head up to the second floor for an exhibit on big-game hunting.  Really.  J. R. Watkins had one daughter named Grace who grew up to marry E. L. (Ernest Leroy) King.  Mrs. E. L. King apparently liked to spend her spare time in Africa, big-game hunting.  In addition to writing a number of books on the subject, she brought some of her trophies home to Winona where the second floor of the Winona National Bank houses “twenty exotic specimens.” The collection includes: “[a] black rhinoceros, hippopotamus, warthog, African buffalo, cheetah, hyena, African leopard, ostrich, lion, marabou stork, dik-dik, baboon, wildebeest, and a host of gazelle-type creatures.”  (By the way, seven years after Grace became Mrs. E. L. King, her widowed father married Grace’s mother-in-law.  Thus Grace’s mother-in-law became her step-mother, and Grace’s husband became her step-brother. Odd but true.)

Related image
One of Mrs. E. L. King’s publications on big-game hunting!


Interior, Winona National Bank (View from second floor) (Photo: AMK)

I realize the fall semester starts in just a couple of days, but if you’re looking for a quick getaway for the Labor Day weekend . . . well, Winona might be just the ticket.


Congratulations, Dr. Moore!

Congratulations to our friend and neighbor, Dr. Chris Moore, winner of the 2018 Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching!

Chris MooreDr. Moore teaches courses on international relations in the Political Science department, including one that is cross-listed in History (Revolution and Political Development). Many of you know firsthand his skill in guiding in-class discussion and integrating simulations into courses, and that his office is a regular hangout for students who want to talk about politics and faith. Dr. Moore also advises Bethel’s Model United Nations club, and regularly contributes to several of the podcasts on Prof. Mulberry’s Live from AC 2nd network.

The teaching award was announced yesterday afternoon at Bethel’s annual faculty retreat, along with those for service and leadership (Bethany Opsata, Business & Economics) and scholarship (Juan Hernandez, Biblical and Theological Studies). Congratulations to three richly deserving recipients!

Some Back-to-School Inspiration for Teachers

If you’re one of our many alumni working as a teacher or professor — or you’re teaching in other contexts — and you haven’t yet seen Prof. Mulberry’s Why We Teach documentary… I recommended it this morning in my weekly post at The Anxious Bench blog on Patheos.

Why We Teach titleBethel BTS alum Sara Misgen ’13 (now finishing a PhD in theology at Yale University) told me why she resonated so strongly with Why We Teach. Perhaps some of you would respond similarly:

I rarely find myself nostalgic for Bethel, but this film got at the heart of what I loved about that place, and what I still love about it. I loved that my professors took an interest in me as a person, that they make space in their busy days to listen to the stories of their students, as so many of the teachers of this film point out. I love that my life was changed through their courses, that I’m still in contact with so many of you five years after my graduation.

…Bethel’s distinctiveness isn’t in the campus, in the buildings, or even in some of its more obscure traditions. It’s in the relationships of faculty and students, and I’m so glad to see that was captured here.

If you don’t need convincing, skip my post and just go straight to Sam’s movie. It’ll only take an hour and a half of your time.

Happy preparations for the start of a new school year!

Bethel Magazine on the Value of the Liberal Arts

If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the value of the liberal arts, read the cover story in the new issue of Bethel Magazine. It notes the growing number of business leaders — especially in the tech sector — who are celebrating the liberal arts, and adds perspective from Bethel professors in everything from literature and philosophy to mathematics and athletic training. (Of course, much of what’s said also applies well to history.)

Here’s a taste:

Summer 2018 issue of Bethel Magazine…no less an authority than Apple founder Steve Jobs had this to say about his groundbreaking company: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”

Bethel’s been doing just that for years—combining a strong liberal arts foundation with training in the hands-on skills required for students’ areas of expertise. This approach equips students with a timeless skill set that is readily transferable in an ever-changing job market. “In a culture permeated by data,” says Mark Bruce, associate professor of English, “the most valuable skill is not about generating data, but rather about making sense of data, understanding what it means to people and helping people understand what to do with it. This will be the most marketable skill of the 21st century.”

Mark, by the way, studied history as a Bethel student himself and now teaches courses on the literature of the Middle Ages. He adds later in the article that Bethel, as a Christian university, approaches the liberal arts “in a way that goes far, far beyond mere ‘marketable skills’ into the matters of humanity, spirituality, and emotion; the ideas of what it means to be a flourishing human being, loved by God, within the realities of our world, and not simply a piece of hardware whose value is only determined by its potential to produce capital for corporations.”

Click here to read the full article.

Inside Intro to History

Since we revised our major and minor four years ago, our new gateway course — HIS290 Intro to History — has been a site of hands-on learning, helping students to apply traditional historical methods in a digital age. As taught now by Prof. Diana Magnuson, Intro to History has students work extensively with digitized primary sources — e.g., taking part in Cornell University’s crowdsourcing project to digitize runaway slave advertisements and using oral histories at the Minnesota Historical Society to understand the experience of recent immigrants to the state.

“I want students to be as engaged in the past as they are in the present,” Dr. Magnuson told Bethel News for a new feature on HIS290. “Hands-on experiences help them understand that the people they read about lived in color, just like we do.”

Students working in the library computer lab for HIS290 Intro to History

In addition to cultivating empathy, she added, students prepare for an array of careers, since the “skills students are learning are transferrable everywhere.”

That includes future social studies teachers like Intro to History student Sophia Carlson ’19, who found herself “seeing the possibilities of what my future classroom could be—not a place with simple lectures and textbook questions, but a classroom with the exploration of artifacts, sources, and real research that will help students to love learning.” But also those who will work in the business, public, or nonprofit sector. Sterling Harer ’18, a double-major in Business & Political Science and International Relations major,  explained:

When you interpret historical sources yourself, you have to think critically and try to set aside your own biases to truly understand how people thought back then… It’s an important skill for the workplace, because you have to be able to understand your colleagues and their points of view.

Click here to read the full story about Intro to History and how it connects to the work Prof. Magnuson does with students in Bethel’s own archives. And if you’re a current or prospective student, look for HIS290 to be taught again next spring.