Senior Sem Journal: The History of Women in Higher Education

Our third Senior Seminar journal entry from the beginning of the semester (and last for a week or so) is written by Christina Anderson (’12), who reflects on how she came by her interest on a particular chapter in the history of women and higher education in the United States.

University of Chicago Students, 1923
University of Chicago students doing field research at Yellowstone, 1923 - University of Chicago Library

I propose to study American Midwestern home economics departments in regards to higher education for women in the 1900s in order to discover how these women pursued their higher education at a time when they were beginning to be accepted into universities, so that I can aid in the understanding of the acceptance of women into greater roles in society outside of the home. I hope to prove through this study that by gaining a higher education through the home economics departments, these women were able to move out of the “cult of domesticity,” thus modifying society’s view on gender roles.

Settling on this particular topic was a difficult task. When presented with the assignment to choose a topic for my research project, I was overwhelmed by the significance of choosing a single topic that I will then research and develop over the next three months. In my mind, I had to create the perfect topic. I came up with a list of possibilities regarding areas that interested me. One overlying theme that I am always drawn to in any research project is the role of women, so I knew that my topic had to pertain to this aspect in one way or another. The problem was now how do I develop a more specific topic. I still had the idea in my head that my topic had to be perfect, but none of the ideas I developed satisfied my interest; they felt “off.” Finally, the night before I had to present my idea for research project topic, I formulated a completely new idea that related to the study of women’s roles – women gaining higher education in the 1900s.This quickly developed topic felt “right.” I was excited to begin research and immerse myself in the topic. What excites me about researching this particular topic is that my great-grandmother was a student studying at the University of Chicago at this time, and my family still has letters she wrote to her father from when she was a student. I hope to be able to use these letters as one of my resources in gaining an insight into what life was like for a female student during this time period. My main concern is gaining enough primary sources that pertain to this topic, especially student experiences in order to be able to determine if their higher education influenced their lives.

As I begin my research project, I hope to gain a greater insight into my topic. I am settled on an overarching idea, but I am interested in seeing how it will be transformed as I work on it throughout the semester.

– Christina Anderson

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A Conversation with G.W. Carlson and Jim Johnson

Bethel History Faculty, 1980s
The Bethel History Department in the 1980s: (left to right) Jim Johnson, Kevin Cragg, G.W. Carlson, Neil Lettinga — The History Center: Archives of the BGC and Bethel University

As we announced at the beginning of the month, G.W. Carlson is retiring in May. I’m a little sketchy on my history of the History Department at Bethel, but I think that the last member of our faculty to retire was Jim Johnson, longtime U.S. historian.

Catch two of the least retiring retirees in the world when Jim and GW present their conversation on the “Historian as Story Teller” — Thursday, February 23, 10:20-11:00am, Bethel University Library Fireside Lounge. As always, coffee and refreshments will accompany the presentation, and the Friends of the Library will have their annual meeting right after the event concludes. (Click here for more about that worthy organization.)

The Peace Corps and Council of Non-Profits

According to our most recent alumni survey, something like 10% of our graduates work in the non-profit sector, and many more aspire to such a career. So today we’ll highlight a couple of upcoming presentations that might help students and recent alumni break into this field.

First, Bethel will host an informational session about the Peace Corps on Thursday, February 23, 4:00-5:30pm in HC 241. Here’s the promotional blurb from our Career Services office:

Since 1960, Peace Corps workers have given their time and energy in over 135 host countries in the areas of education, youth outreach, community and business development, agriculture and environment, health and HIV/AIDS, and information technology. This exciting experience includes benefits such as: living allowance, medical care, transportation to/from country of service, and stipend upon completion of the 27 month program.

The program is quite explicit about wanting to appeal to students of all majors. Here’s a brief testimonial from a volunteer doing youth development in Peru:

As a liberal arts major and then Peace Corps Volunteer, I understand just how intertwined we all are in this world and how relationship-based life really is. In school, I cast my net wide to learn about a broad base of subjects, while volunteering in my community. This background helped prepare me for Peace Corps service, where I was able to work with people to improve their lives while also exploring my passions and specializing my skill sets.

The Peace Corps considers applications from anyone over 18, and it is possible to defer repayment on several federal student loan programs. (See the FAQ section for this and other matters.)

If you’re interested in doing non-profit work closer to home, you might want to attend a presentation by the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits on Thursday, March 8, 10:15-11:00am in AC 228. This talk will highlight job and internship opportunities with the 2,000 organizations that are members of the MCN. For a preview, here’s the MCN page on “Working for a Nonprofit.”

Senior Sem Journal: Edison and Tesla

Our second Senior Seminar journal entry for the week comes from Dana Morrison (’12), also writing to introduce her topic, explain how she chose it, and reflect on challenges she expects to encounter in researching it. (By the way – Dana is continuing her family’s proud tradition of combining interests in history and theater. She starred in Electra last fall, and will appear in Urinetown later this month.)

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

RESEARCH QUESTION: Throughout history, the relationship between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla has been portrayed as tension-ridden and tumultuous and Edison came out the victor in terms of historical longevity. Is this because Edison had the right publicity team, better ideas and scientific practices, or because he had better connections?

It didn’t take me long to settle on this topic. I began assessing what my favorite areas of history were and then aimed at integrating my new found curiosity with history: why are some historical figures more memorable than others even if their work was not as memorable. By using these standards for finding a topic, I settled on the relationship between Edison and Tesla. In my education up to this point, I have learned little about Edison, but nothing about Tesla. I began pondering why that was the case? Was Tesla not as influential as Edison in his contributions to science or was he not easy to publicize and promote and therefore became a shadow under Edison?

In settling on this topic, however, I realize I have to be prepared to come to some dead ends in my research. Researching the lives of Edison and Tesla and even their contributions to science will be time consuming, but there are likely many books and journals published on the subject. But determining why Edison was more popular will be more difficult. Other people may have already hypothesized as to why Edison was more memorable, but I may not find an absolute conclusion through my research. I have yet to delve deeply into researching Edison and Tesla and may be pleasantly surprised at the information I find regarding their popularity. However, I am preparing myself to reflect more critically on the question and come to a conclusion based on sheer facts of their lives.

– Dana Morrison

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Weekend Reading

Some interesting posts this week from the history-related blogosphere…

• A brief history of the book “blurb” takes us all the way back to ancient Rome. (H/T Ralph Luker)

• Did you know that well into the Civil War, African-American slaves were forced to help build and maintain Confederate railroads? Or that, for many of these workers (up to 10,000 in one week in 1862), those (not-so-underground) railroads became a convenient way to escape to the North?

• The American Antiquarian Society presents an illustrated history of football in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (H/T John Fea)

• Frank Gehry’s design for the new Dwight Eisenhower memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC (scheduled to be completed in 2015) is drawing criticism from the former president’s family. That prompted our own Chris Gehrz to put on his amateur U.S. historian hat and investigate the history of presidential memorials in the nation’s capital.

John Tyler
Pres. John Tyler - Library of Congress

• Speaking of presidential history… Barry Landau, a “memorabilia collector and self-styled expert on presidential history,” pleaded guilty to conspiring to “collect” thousands of documents from the archives where they’re housed. Some of the more notable items stolen: a land grant signed by Abraham Lincoln ($300,000 value) and half a million dollars worth of presidential inauguration mementos.

Robert Krulwich of NPR on “human wormholes” — that is, “people who live long enough to create a link — a one-generation link — to figures from what feels like a distant past, and their presence among us shrinks history.” Examples from this post: long-lived Confederate war widows, and President John Tyler’s two living grandchildren. (Quick American Civ review: John Tyler was born in 1790 and left the White House in 1845.)

• But another such “wormhole” closed last Saturday when the last surviving veteran of World War I died at the age of 110. She was an Englishwoman named Florence Green, who joined the Women’s Royal Air Force near the end of the war in 1918.

Senior Sem Journal: Kwame Nkrumah and the Cold War

As we hinted at earlier this week, throughout the semester we’ll be featuring posts from students in our capstone course, HIS499 Senior Seminar. Posts are taken (with students’ permission) from the seminar journals in which students will weekly reflect on their research projects, or questions related to the philosophy and methodology of history. For their first journal entry, students took a first attempt at stating their research question or thesis, and then explained why they find the topic intriguing, exciting, challenging, etc.

Our inaugural post comes from Jon Steen (’12), whose choice of topic reflects his experience last fall studying in Ghana.

Kwame Nkrumah Stamp
1989 Soviet stamp featuring Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)

RESEARCH QUESTION: What was the role and impact of Kwame Nkrumah in the Cold War as a non-aligned figure?

This topic is exciting to me for two reasons. First, the world is becoming more global every day, so it is becoming more and more necessary to actually look at history beyond what is immediately in front of us. I know that one’s own history is vital for one’s identity, but there is something to speak to about opening one’s boundaries and stepping out of one’s comfort zone and historical tradition. With the world being more connected, it is becoming more imperative to begin to incorporate other traditions, so that everyone can better understand one another. To the surprise of many Westerners, the world does not operate the Western way. It makes sense in Western nations, but when these ideas are taken out of its original context, they are unsuccessful and counterproductive. Instead of imagining our viewpoint everywhere, we should be more open to hearing and understanding how other cultures view the world. It will break the communication barrier and better humanity. I can only look to doing this with history, since that is what interests me the most.

There are problems to approaching this paper concerning Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah within a Western setting. The biggest one is the conception of history within both societies. The Western tradition looks to rebuild the past so that we can understand precisely what we did right and wrong to move into the future and not repeat our failures. Ghanaian culture does not even have a word that is the equivalent of the word “history.” Their tradition is not like the West, for they look to tell stories of the past to which they can better understand the world they currently are living in. It is not about historical accuracy, but about historical meaning. Since this paper is dealing with modern times and is taken within the Western context, I am alright with working through the Western concept of history, but I will certainly be making notes throughout my paper to better complement how a Ghanaian would view what I am writing.

JFK and Kwame Nkrumah, 1961
John F. Kennedy and Kwame Nkrumah, March 1961 - Kennedy Library

The second reason is to do something radically different than what other Bethel-ites have done in the past. The most common area of focus for Bethel history majors is something involving Minnesota history. It is good to look into this area to better understand ourselves, but honestly it seems that it has been covered so many times by other people that it sounds rather boring to me. I want to pave the way for future Bethel students to think beyond their immediate context and look into a world where other cultures are respected equally with their own.

As far as personal experience goes, I feel quite prepared to take on this task. I have had four months in Ghana to witness first-hand how they view the world and what their perception of history is. I have also heard and read a lot about Kwame Nkrumah, since he is Ghana’s biggest national hero, and there is plenty written about him. However, what will make this a challenge is getting primary source material. As far as this aspect of the paper goes, I am not fully prepared to take on such a task. I have to do some research and see if I can find anything online about his or his staff’s personal writings. But I do know that there have been numerous correspondences with key Cold War players and Nkrumah, such as Kennedy, Khrushchev, Tito, and Mao. Perhaps these may be available online as well. So I have an idea of what primary source material I can work with, but the actual material may be difficult to access from Minnesota. I am certainly not worried about secondary source material; there are plenty of resources that can play into my topic. But I am excited for the challenge and am prepared to put the necessary work into this paper!

– Jon Steen

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Washington County Historical Society Scholarship Program

For Bethel History and Social Studies Ed majors who have residence in Washington County, Minnesota (and any incoming students who are about to graduate from a Washington County high school)… The announcement below came in this morning from Kirsta Benson Sanchez of the Washington County Historical Society:

Stillwater, Minn. – The Washington County Historical Society (WCHS) is offering a scholarship for post-secondary students. The deadline for applications is March 15, 2012.

The goal of the Washington County Historical Society Scholarship Program is to encourage historic preservation and interpretation, and to encourage students to study history by providing financial assistance in the form of an educational scholarship.

The program:

  • is available to graduating seniors enrolled in a Washington County high school, or students in a college or university program with a permanent residence in Washington County who are focusing on history, American studies, architecture, or a history-related field of study;
  • applicants must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher;
  • applicants must be a member of the Washington County Historical Society, or have an immediate family member who is a member of WCHS.

To download an application form, please visit or call (651) 439-5956 to have one mailed. Please send applications to: Washington County Historical Society, c/o Scholarship Committee, P.O. Box 167, Stillwater, Minnesota 55082.  The deadline for applications is March 15, 2012 and the recipient(s) will be notified by April 1, 2012.

The WCHS scholarship is made possible by an annual grant from the DeLonais Foundation.

Senior Seminar

This past Monday night marked the first meeting of our spring section of HIS499 Senior Seminar, the capstone course in Bethel’s History major. “Senior Sem” primarily involves a significant project of original research, with each student investigating whatever historical topic most interests them (so long as it can be researched given their knowledge of languages and/or the availability of sources) and producing both an article-length paper and a formal presentation to students and faculty at the end of the semester. (Here’s a summary of the projects presented at the end of last fall’s section of Senior Sem.)

In addition, HIS499 serves as a chance for students to reflect more deeply on some philosophical and methodological questions facing historians (particularly, historians who are also Christian and wondering what difference that might make for their faith or their work), and to consider their vocation outside of college. What will it mean for them to continue to cultivate their interest in history apart from participation in a college major? For some, that interest will take them to graduate school, or lead them to work in a social studies classroom, archive, or museum. For most, history will remain a passion without much obvious connection to their profession.

To share with you all something of what our students get out of this course, each week through May we’ll be posting at least one or two reflections from the current Senior Seminar-ians: excerpts from the seminar journal they’ll be keeping throughout the semester. Some posts will be focused on the status of research projects; others will be more philosophical in tone. (And, of course, students will have the chance to opt out of having their journal entries turned into blog posts. The only words you’ll see from these journals are those that students are willing to share beyond our class.)

In the meantime… Alumni: what are your memories of Senior Seminar?

Black History Month at Bethel

As many of you know, February is annually celebrated as Black History Month, a time to reflect on the African-American experience in this country. It’s being marked at Bethel in a few different ways.

First, in keeping with this year’s theme, “One More River to Cross… Literacy,” Bethel is running a month-long community book drive: please consider donating children’s books that are multicultural in nature (e.g., written by persons of color, featuring pictures of children of multiple ethnic backgrounds — download this list for suggestions). In addition, you can sign up outside Campus Ministries or at the Seminary reception desk to take a turn reading to kids in the campus Child Development Center (weekdays, 9:45am and 2:45pm) or the King Child Development Center in Frogtown (all this week — Feb. 6-10 — at 9:00, 9:30, and 11:00am).

Second, various offices and individuals at Bethel are helping to produce a series of events highlighting African-American history and culture. Remaining events include:

Thursday, Feb. 9 — Dramatic Skit and Music, 12:10-12:55pm, Seminary Lower Campus Center
Details are forthcoming. Please contact Rebekah Eller if you have any questions: rebekah-eller(at) or (651) 638-6049.

Monday, Feb. 13 — SemPM Chapel, 7:35-7:55pm, Sem Lower Campus Center
Alumnus Nancy Ellis leads students in a time of song, reflection and prayer.

Tuesday, Feb. 14 — University Library Musical and Literary Review, 10:20-11:00am, Bethel University Library
Herb Johnson (Music) and Angela Shannon (English) share words and music from the African-American musical tradition.

Thursday, Feb. 16 — Conflict Resolution Workshop, 6:00-10:00pm, Eastlund Room
Facilitated by Leon Rodrigues and our own Ruben Rivera.

Friday, Feb. 17 and Saturday, Feb. 18 — Moberg Conference, Eastlund Room
The fourth Bethel University Conference on Sociological Perspectives on Reconciliation. Click here for more details on speakers and sessions.

Friday, Feb. 17 — Gospel Concert, 7:00-8:30pm, Benson Great Hall
Featuring Bethel’s Chapel Choir, Herb Johnson, and other guest performers.

Wednesday, Feb. 22 — Film Forum, 6:30pm, CC313
Screening the film, 500 Years Later, plus a panel discussion.

Thursday, Feb. 23 — Seminary Chapel, 2:30-3:00pm
Please contact Rebekah Eller if you have any questions: rebekah-eller(at) or (651) 638-6049.

Tuesday, Feb. 28 – Musical and Literary Review, 12:00-1:00pm, Seminary Lower Campus Center
Herb Johnson and Angela Shannon share words and music from the African-American musical tradition.

A Defense of the Liberal Arts

Nannerl Keohane
Nannerl O. Keohane - Duke University Library

Are the liberal arts (e.g., history) irrelevant or out of date? Not according to Nannerl Keohane, former president of Duke University and Wellesley College:

The very broad, capacious form of education that we call the liberal arts is rooted in a specific curriculum in classical and medieval times. But it would be wrong to assume that because it has such ancient roots, this kind of education is outdated, stale, fusty, or irrelevant. In fact, quite the contrary. A liberal-arts education, which Louis Menand defined in The Marketplace of Ideas as “a background mentality, a way of thinking, a kind of intellectual DNA that informs work in every specialized area of inquiry,” lends itself particularly well to contemporary high-tech methods of imparting knowledge.

And far from making the liberal arts less important, trends like technological development and globalization are enhancing their value. (She notes how professors are adapting to the “power of multimedia,” and points out the attractiveness of the liberal arts curriculum to Asian universities like those partnering with Yale.) Yet they seem to be increasingly under attack in this country, as academic disciplines become more and more specialized, the perception grows that professional programs offer greater economic advantage, and graduate education receives more focus.

In response, she claims five distinct advantages of a liberal arts education:

First, it teaches us how to learn — and in such a way that “that you look at the subject from many different dimensions and incorporate the material into your own thinking in ways that will be much more likely to stay with you, and help you later on.” In addition, this kind of learning is timeless; while

…if you only focus on learning specific materials that are pertinent in 2012, rather than learning about them in a broader context, you will soon find that your training will have become valueless. Most important, with a liberal education you will have learned how to learn, so that you will be able to do research to answer questions in your field that will come up years from now, questions that nobody could even have envisioned in 2012, much less taught you how to answer.

Second, whatever its benefits for preparing students for further education and training, a liberal arts education also has this monumental benefit (especially important at a Christian college like Bethel, I think):

…it hones the mind, teaching focus, critical thinking, and the ability to express oneself clearly both in writing and speaking—skills that are of great value no matter what profession you may choose. It’s not just that you are taught specific materials in a liberally designed context, but more generally, the way your mind is shaped, the habits of thought that you develop.

Third, Keohane remains convinced that the liberal arts are best suited to educate people for “citizenship in a democracy like ours.” She quotes Martha Griswold’s Not For Profit, that a liberal arts education helps prepare the “complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements” that a democracy requires, citizens who have the abilities “to think about the good of the nation as a whole, not just that of one’s local group” and “to see one’s own nation, in turn, as part of a complicated world order.”

Fourth, liberal arts cultivate people “who have rich and fascinating intellectual furniture in those spaces rather than a void between their ears”; they help us to prepare a “back room” in our minds, full of art, music, literature, etc. “Back rooms” that “[prepare] you for both society and solitude.”

And finally, such studies “admit you to a community of scholars, both professional and amateur, spanning the ages.”

Read Keohane’s whole essay (adapted from a speech to the Council of Independent Colleges’ Presidents Institute) here. (H/T David Williams)

– Chris Gehrz

Cross-posted at The Pietist Schoolman