History in the Twin Cities: Pirates, Protest, and More

Looking for interesting exhibits and events around the Twin Cities related to history? Here’s what’s on and what’s coming up:

Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship

Now running at the Science Museum of Minnesota (through Labor Day) introduces the  “perils and privileges of 18th century pirate life” through interaction with over 200 artifacts (including coins, cannons, swords, and more), mostly related to the Whydah, the flagship of pirate Sam Bellamy, which sank in 1717.

Click here to learn more about the exhibition. Tickets range in price from $12-$36.

Coco’s Diary

The new play from the Minnesota History Theatre, Coco’s Diary is based on the diary kept daily in 1927 by Clotilde Irvine, the thirteen-year old daughter of a St. Paul lumber baron. Recommended for the whole family — and, of course, U.S. History and Jazz Age buffs. (You can also read the diary itself, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2011 as Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age.)

The play’s run started March 3rd and will continue through the 25th. Tickets range from $28-$38, with special student tickets available for $15. Learn more here.

Stand Up! Minnesota’s Protest Tradition

Next Tuesday night (March 13) at 7pm, the Minnesota History Center will host a new installment of its “History Lounge” series: a free talk and discussion featuring historian Rhonda Gilman, author of Stand Up! The Story of Minnesota’s Protest Tradition. She’ll discuss everyone from Floyd B. Olson to Paul Wellstone, Republican abolitionists to Farmer-Laborites.

Learn more at the History Center calendar page.

The Mistake by Japan to Start War in the Pacific

The Harold C. Deutsch World War II Roundtable continues on Thursday, March 22nd, 7pm at Fort Snelling, when author Jeffery Record (A War It Was Always Going to Lose) discusses the debate among Japanese leaders: was it worth starting a war with the United States in 1941 in order to gain access to natural resources?

Tickets are $5, but free for students. Learn more here.

We the People: The First Official Printing of the U.S. Constitution

Starting April 3 (and running through the 4th of July), the Minnesota History Center will have early copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights on display as a special exhibition (along with continuing and permanent exhibitions on Minnesota and World War II, the changing face of a neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side, and other topics).

History Center tickets are $11, discounted to $9 for college students. And there’s always free admission on Tuesday evenings (5-8pm). Or join the Minnesota Historical Society and get free admission anytime.

Click here for more about the Constitution display.


Senior Sem Journal: What Do Historians Do? (part 3)

When asked to define what it is that historians do in twenty-five words or less, most of our Senior Seminar students stressed both the distinctive methods by which historians seek knowledge about the past and applications of that knowledge. In this last journal entry we’ll highlight from that assignment, Ro Tollefson (’13), pointedly avoids application in order to stress the quest for knowledge itself. (For the semester, Ro — a History/Nursing double-major — is researching the history of Bethel’s nursing program. Part of that project involves interviews with professors and alumni, which might explain why she highlights the importance of physical and oral evidence to historical research…)

Historians strive to examine the past through oral and physical remains and piece together what has occurred before us.

I have partially revised my definition since our meeting last Monday as I continued to think about the question. I enjoyed the examination of the question of what exactly a historian does and is in our meeting and thought it was the perfect time to take time to look at this subject: in Senior Seminar, with enough history under our belts to understand the question to some extent, and on the brink of graduating and seeing where our lives with a degree in history take us.

What caught my attention in class the most was when we were each giving our definitions of what a historian does, and the primary difference between my answer and the rest of the students. This is what I would like to go into in more detail in this journal entry. By and large each student included in their definition of what historians do two parts: examining the past and applying it to the future. I, however, only included the first part in my definition, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this was an important point. I heard more on why the other students thought that it was important to “do something” with the knowledge of history that historians amass, something positive that will affect the lives of others. While I do think that that could be a worthwhile pursuit, I do not think that it falls within the definition of a historian. I think the primary reason that this is important is that it, by necessity, adds some extra level of bias to the research. I understand that all interpretation, including the study of the past, is to some degree or another, biased. However, there are ways that it can become more so, and having the interrelated motive of “teaching/doing something positive” with the history researched increases bias towards one’s own goals, be they moral or otherwise.

A historian’s goal must be to present the past in as accurate a manner as is possible, true to reality. I think that, when this is done, then the step can be taken by individuals/the public to glean from it lessons or greater moral understanding, or keener insights into humankind and the patterns that man participates in over time. But this cannot be included in what the historian does as such; the examination of history, I believe, must be separate from that in order to maintain the highest level of truth/accuracy. Because what is the point of gaining historical insight from a distortion of history? This reminds me of what the student who spent last semester in Ghana said, that their history was not really a history at all, simply stories that were intended to teach people something. This, of course, is the extreme; however, I think that if learning morality from the past is something that is included in the definition of what a historian does, then it is already moving away from historical accuracy towards a biased bent towards one man’s self-serving (in ignorance or otherwise, for the good or not) investigation over another’s. I think that is dangerous to history’s real potency and moving towards what would be completely acceptable, even admirable, as long as it was acknowledged for what it is, a separate field of study and work.

– Ro Tollefson

<<Read the previous entry in the “Senior Sem Journal” series          Read the next entry in the series>>

Blog of the Month: Past Imperfect

One of the objectives of this blog is to encourage alumni and students of this department to cultivate habits of lifelong learning. While many of our former students don’t work in jobs directly related to history, we assume that their undergraduate interest in the past never entirely went away — and ought to be nourished by continued reading, museum visits, film watching, and other activities.

That’s why we collect a series of historical blog posts from around the Internet and post them as “Weekend Reading” every Saturday morning.

To a similar end, each month we’ll be highlighting other blogs that discuss history in an interesting, well-researched, and well-written fashion.

First up, a blog from Smithsonian Magazine that promises “History with all the interesting bits left in.”

Past Imperfect

Frequency of Posts: every 3-5 days

Five Most Recent Posts:

As wide-ranging as the museum with which it’s associated, Past Imperfect features magazine-quality writing that synthesizes recent scholarship into accessible but in-depth posts on pretty much any topic under the sun. (American history probably predominates, and — as you can see from the most recent posts — there’s a bit of sensationalism at work. A whole category is simply called “Scandals.”) Karen Abbott’s post about two famous female pirates of the 18th century won “Best Blog Post” in the 2011 Cliopatria Awards.

Minnesota Teachers and the Holocaust

This past Sunday the Star Tribune ran an interesting story on Minnesota social studies teachers and how they teach the history of the Holocaust and other genocides to increasingly diverse student populations:

For teachers like [Kacie] Holcomb [of Fergus Falls, MN], trying to explain the Jewish Holocaust to students is one of the most tortuous lessons they’ll ever face in the classroom. And yet the atrocities of Nazi-occupied Europe some 70 years ago matter today as much as ever, as Minnesota classrooms grow more diverse and include children of refugee families escaping war and other strife….

Last year, more than 500 teachers and other educators from Minnesota participated in seminars offered by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC). The council also takes students and teachers like Holcomb on an annual trip to the Holocaust museum.

“Students from war-torn countries — from issues of racism or bigotry or prejudice — there’s something that’s documented in the Holocaust curriculum that you can go back to and learn from,” said Laura Zelle, director of Tolerance Minnesota, the JCRC’s education arm….

Eleanor Minnema, an English teacher at Humboldt Secondary School in St. Paul, teaches Elie Wiesel’s seminal work “Night,” based on his experience as a prisoner at concentration camps. Among her students are the Hmong and the Karen, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand.

“We couched it [“Night”] in a bigger unit on genocide,” said Minnema, who was among the nearly 50 educators who last month attended a daylong JCRC training session at the Orono School District office. “I had one student who was Cambodian, and she researched the Cambodian genocide. We touched on the Armenian genocide. The forced famine with Stalin. Rwanda, Darfur. We tried to get a blend of areas in the world to show how genocide is still a modern issue.”

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also is engaged in such training for teachers, bringing up to 5000 a year to Washington. The USHMM’s director for such teacher outreach, Peter Fredlake, underscores the challenge of teaching the Holocaust to students who themselves may be victims of radical evil: “By bringing this into the classroom, you’re bringing in material that could be upsetting to kids. Especially now, we have immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa, South and Central America, whose families may very well have … been victims of the kinds of crimes against humanity you learn about in the Holocaust. It’s really making teachers sensitive.”

Read the entire article here.

Senior Sem Journal: What Do Historians Do? (part 2)

Here’s the response of Jon Steen (’12), to my Senior Seminar assignment to define what it is that historians do in twenty-five words or less, and then to write some explanatory comments in their seminar journal entry for the week. As he wrote about last month, Jon is researching the history of Ghana in the Cold War, and here he again considers differences between the practice of history in the Global North and Global South.

Historians, in the Western world, do two things: they research and recreate the past and they look to apply the lessons that are learned to the present day.

When it comes to the research and recreation aspect, historians in the West look to rebuild from what we have the actual events of what happened in the past. This is not an easy task, for not everything that has happened has been preserved or is not even in existence anymore. So a historian’s duty is to take the fragments and look to at these snippets from the past, and then infer the rest from the logical connections of what is in between the pieces that are known. The topics that can be studied are numerous, ranging from warfare and battles to social structure to architecture and so on. By looking at such topics, historians can understand what people did and how they lived.

This leads to the second aspect of a historian’s vocation: historians apply the lessons from the past to the present day. This is where the historian is given a sense of purpose, for they look at what other people have done and how they have reacted in certain circumstances and are therefore better judges about what humanity should and should not do today. For example, if there is a recurrent theme of economic hardship, a historian can look to predict when the next economic crisis will take place and also look at what mistakes were made which either led to the crisis or perpetuated the cycle of problems. They can also know better tactics to properly alleviate the hardships that are about to occur. By looking at and analyzing these patterns and themes, historians look to have a better understanding of how to make the world a better place today and to lead to a brighter future.

There is one other aspect to discuss here, and that is the first clause about the role an historian does concerning the West. The world does not operate the way the West does, nor should anyone expect it to. One example that I am rather familiar with is to look at the idea of history from an African perspective, namely from a Ghanaian perspective, which I have the most experience with and understand the best from all of the possible African contexts. The first thing to understand about Ghanaian history is that it does not exist the way it does in the West. In fact, there is no word in any Ghanaian language that is directly equivalent to the word “history.” There are, however, some people such as chiefs who are in charge of remembering stories which are from the past. These stories are not told for historical accuracy, as it would be if it was done in the Western tradition. Instead, they are told for a moral purpose: to better know how to live today. The stories go through a lot of variation, especially considering that the stories are usually shared orally instead of being written down and passed on. So to summarize, Westerners are the main practitioners of history since it is their prerogative to remember the past as it happened, and to better transmit these ideas to the present day to learn from them. But the world does not necessarily look to recreate the world in the same way, so someone from the West has to make sure that the way that they are studying history lines up with the cultural constraints that the study originates from.

– Jon Steen

<<Read the previous entry in the “Senior Sem Journal” series

Weekend Reading

Shakers Dancing
Ca. 1840: Whole lotta Shakin' goin' on - Wikimedia

• The politics of chariot-racing in the Byzantine Empire.

• Why you can now count the total number of Shakers in this country on two hands (and soon one).

• The birth of the dollar bill, welcomed to the world by the worst conflict in American history.

• The real-life labor dispute that inspired Newsies (first the movie; now the Broadway musical).

• The excellent PBS documentary series American Experience has recently premiered a couple of new episodes: Clinton and The Amish. (both available for online viewing at the PBS website)

• The very recent history of the first border war sparked by a conflicting interpretation of Google Maps.

Senior Sem Journal: What Do Historians Do? (part 1)

This past Monday in Senior Seminar, students stepped back from their research projects in order to consider broader questions: What is history? What is it that historians do? We considered the nature of historical research, differences with and similarities to other fields and disciplines, and the applications of historical scholarship in the present day (if any). For their seminar journals, students continued to reflect on these questions, writing a short (25 words or less) answer to the question, “What do historians do?”, and then adding some clarifying or expanding comments.

First, we’ll hear from Dana Morrison (’12), who finds historians standing at the intersection of past, present, and future.

Historians aim to connect the past with the present and future. History has a tendency to repeat itself, and historians are prepared to respond.

A goal that historians aim to fulfill is finding the connections between the past, present, and future. Humanity is fulfilling a continuing story: I, as a history student at Bethel University in 2012, have been influenced and shaped by the likes of the ancient Roman civilization, the medieval English crown, and the Industrial Age of the early 20th century. Had these events never occurred, my life would not be exactly like it is now. For instance, the ancient Roman civilization used the basis of the republican government. Their influence shaped how the United States chose to operate its government after the Revolutionary War, and it is still how we run our government today. There is an endless list of examples where history has determined, shaped, or influenced how the present and future events will occur.

History can also prepare people for what can occur in the future. History usually repeats itself in some form or another. An instance where this is true is the World Wars. Occurring within almost 20 years of each other, the unresolved problems of the war (and the new problems created by the war) paved the way for a Second World War to erupt.

Apart from determining how history has influenced the future, the goal of historians is to discover truth. Historians should never take historical accounts and interpretations as absolute truth. They act as researchers, detectives if you will, to find the truth within history. There are many discrepancies among historians and some of them are not necessarily bad, but the fact that there are differences should alert historians. What is the truth? How do we find the truth? Our job is to do our best to find that truth. In order to find that truth, some use their religion as influence. As a Christian and a historian, truth is an integral part of my life. Just as I aim to find truth in my research and historical findings, I want to find truth in all places, influenced by my faith.

– Dana Morrison

<<Read the previous entry in the “Senior Sem Journal” series          Read the next entry in the series>>

Study World War I in Europe!

Later this month Bethel’s annual J-Term Study Abroad fair will include a History course for the first time in a long time:

Starting January 2013 (and then odd-numbered years thereafter), Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry will be teaching HIS230L World War I on location, in four European countries whose citizens fought on the former Western Front. Further details will be available later this spring, but the course will roughly follow this schedule:

Chris Gehrz and WWI Artillery
Prof. Gehrz at the Imperial War Museum this past January, posing with a British artillery piece from WWI


Key Sites/Experiences: Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Museum of London, Tate Britain or Tate Modern, the Cenotaph, Hyde Park Corner memorials, and St Paul’s Cathedral; seeing the play War Horse in the West End; plus a day trip to Oxford where we’ll tour sites associated with WWI participants/authors like Vera Brittain, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis.


Key Sites/Experiences: a local guide will lead a tour of the Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Somme battlefields, where we’ll walk through preserved and recreated trenches, visit British, Australian, Canadian, French, and German memorials and cemeteries, and experience “Last Post” in Ypres. Then we’ll also take in the American cemetery and memorial near Belleau en route to our next stop…

PARIS (5 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: French army museum at Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles (site of the peace conference that followed the war), Nôtre Dame, art museums (Louvre, Orsay, or Pompidou); plus an afternoon with members of France’s Armenian community and a lecture on the genocide that killed a million Armenians during the war, and a walking tour of Paris sites associated with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other postwar expatriate authors and artists.

MUNICH (5 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: a walking tour of Munich’s Nazi history; the Munich City Museum and Jewish synagogue; memorials in the Hofgarten; and a day trip to Dachau to see the concentration camp museum.

To get a taste of what you might see on the trip, check out the video preview that Dr. Gehrz produced (mostly using photos and videos he shot during a scouting trip to Europe this past January) and posted on our new YouTube channel:

For more information, contact Prof. Gehrz.

(You can also check out a series of posts that Prof. Gehrz wrote on his personal blog last summer, in which he essentially thought aloud through each day of the course. Some of those links are embedded in this post.)

UPDATE: Only one spot remains and time is running out…

What to Do with a Graduate Degree in History?

Alumni in graduate school, or current and former students contemplating applying to master’s and doctoral programs in History…

Consider this brief piece by Greg Jones, graduate student representative with the Conference on Faith and History (the leading professional society for Christian historians). Noting the growing call from leading historians (he’s responding to an op-ed piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by American cultural historian Thomas Bender — requires subscription) for graduate schools to rethink how they train their students, and whether “tenure-track professor” ought to remain the primary career path, Jones muses:

…few of us aspire to land at “publish or perish” universities, instead preferring the teaching-friendly and teaching-heavy confines of the liberal arts institutions that spawned our ill-fated desires to pursue this profession.

It leads me to a few questions; first, why does the academy as a whole seem to look down their noses at the teaching-dominant workplaces?  Is there something inherently non-academic about teaching a 4/4 load?  Secondly, what does this mean for those of us who believe in Calling?  Are these articles and statistics a “sign” that we should begin considering other options (the proverbial “door closing”), or are they instead obstacles to test our perseverance in the midst of lifelong refining fire?

Jones’ question about Calling should have special resonance for aspiring Christian historians, if Dorothy Sayers was right that the work to which God calls us is not what we do to live but what we live to do.

– Chris Gehrz

Senior Sem Journal: Shaping Scottish Identity

Our next Senior Seminar journal entry comes from Danielle Johnson (’12), who is studying the development of Scottish identity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While she intends to focus on Romantic writers like James MacPherson and Sir Walter Scott, this post finds her exploring other influences.

Gottlieb, Feeling BritishThis week, in my quest to discover the shaping factors of Scottish identity, I read a chapter of Evan Gottlieb’s scholarly monograph Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing. I read his chapter titled, “’That Propensity We Have’: Sympathy, National Identity and the Scottish Enlightenment,” which focused on how the works of Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Adam Smith defined and understood national identity. After reading this, I thought it would be appropriate to read John Lowrey’s article in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, “From Caesarea to Athens: Greek Revival Edinburgh and the Question of Scottish Identity in the Unionist State,” which explored how the development of the Scottish city of Edinburgh in the 18th century reflects how the Scottish people understood themselves in relation to England, and as part of Great Britain.

As I was reading these two articles, I was struck by the very different manners in which one can approach the topic of national identity. Gottlieb examined national identity through the lens of philosophical writings, while Lowrey examined the Scottish understanding of self through the architectural development of a city. Both articles provided evidence that there was a sort of embrace of being British as well as Scottish during the 18th century, but in my opinion, Gottlieb did a better job of recognizing those who did not feel a “British” sense of national identity, and recognized that the Northern and Highland opinion was much more pessimistic of the Union between their country and England.

I found both articles to be very interesting, and also quite dense. It took me several cups of tea (I started “Feeling British” myself) to read through the articles and I had to look at a lot of their footnotes to understand their references in a way in which I could grasp the fullness of their arguments. This was the case particularly for Lowrey’s article, as I am almost completely unfamiliar with architectural history. I thought both articles cited really interesting sources; Gottleib included a correspondence between David Hume and Adam Smith that I believe helped me have a more imaginative understanding of this time period. (In the letters, the two philosophers were trying to decide which city would be best to live in. It was concluded that France was too foreign and Londoners hated the Scotch, so Edinburgh was probably best).

– Danielle Johnson

<<Read the previous entry in this series          Read the next entry in this series>>