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Bind Your Heart

During one of the first weeks this semester I walked through the administrative Old Main building on campus, and noticed a slogan on a display for Messiah’s study abroad programs. Bind your heart to a foreign land, it said. Well, what they don’t tell you ahead of time is how it feels to leave your heart in that foreign land, I thought. For me, that ‘foreign land’ hasn’t just been physical locations, but the study of history as well. Let me explain.

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I, for one, could not be happier that Messiah College places such a priority on helping students have the chance to study abroad during college, especially since I’ve dreamed of travel since I was young. My dreams came true during the Fall 2014 semester, during which I lived and studied in Orvieto, Italy, and explored major European capitals. Since I’ve returned to Messiah’s campus, the first few months have involved intense levels of readjustment: I’ll be honest, although I dearly love my friends and the opportunities on campus, sometimes I have missed my European adventuring and independence with incredible intensity. Never have I regretted studying abroad, but had no idea before it happened how much I would change because of the process.

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How does this merit attention on a history blog, one might ask? Through pondering this concept within the context of traveling, I realized that it is much the same for the study of history. Under the tutelage of Messiah’s incredible history professors (and no, I’m not just saying that because I should: I truly believe it) I have poured my heart into studying the lives of people who have lived before me. These people made mistakes, struggled, and triumphed in similar ways that I have, and their lives now matter to me. I believe I speak for my fellow students when I say that I have learned empathy through taking interest in these historical figures (yes, as many of you know, I have a particular fondness for Joan of Arc thanks to Dr. Huffman). It is incredibly obvious that we will never have the chance to meet these long-deceased individuals in our lifetimes, and yet often a byproduct of intense scholarly research is a genuine interest and care.
Although it might seem less emotionally risky to open a book rather than travel across the world, I believe that studying history (particularly the peoples’ stories that comprise it) has equal potential for influence. I know that my awareness and appreciation of the modern world has deepened because of my historical studies, and I have “met” people that I am better for knowing. So although I probably won’t spend four months abroad again in the near future, I know that every time I open a new book or delve into an unknown subject matter, I am opening myself up to change and growth. Right now my heart is bound to places old and new, familiar and waiting to be explored, modern and long past, and I cannot wait to add to that list. Will you?

Cassy Baddorf is a junior History major with a minor in Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies. She has served as a History Department Ambassador, Executive Secretary on the Student Government Association’s President’s Cabinet, and is an avid member of the History Club on campus.

Interested in pursuing an internship in Washington, D.C.? The Washington Internship Institute has excellent internship opportunities for virtually any major throughout the metro DC area.  They also provide a high-quality academic component and very good housing.

Dr. Greg Weight, President of the Washington Internship Institute – www.wiidc.org, will be on campus this Thursday, March 26. Interested students are encouraged to stop by and speak with him in the Eisenhower Commons!

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…”

For those of you as obsessed with musicals and/or Julie Andrews as I am, you know to what that abbreviated quote refers. The Sound of Music, which has touched the hearts of many for over fifty years, introduces the song, “My Favorite Things,” with those seven words. I have often tried to create my own list of favorite things and immediately think of friends and family or beautiful natural settings. But do you want to know what my favorite thing is not?

History.

I know. I cannot possibly write that as a history major, right? Don’t we study what we love in college? Won’t some fine print show up on my diploma that says I must maintain a constant obsession with historical facts and knowledge? Don’t I have to constantly read the latest history publication with a critical eye, identifying methodological strengths and weaknesses? Don’t I have to be madly in love with all things history?

In all honesty, I think I have a pretty solid love-hate relationship with history. I could not exemplify this relationship better than by narrating some research stories. I am currently finishing research for my Senior Honors Project on American Christian Zionism, and some joyful responses to research finds actually have me a bit worried. After several hours of digging in decades-old issues of Christianity Today magazines, I burst into tears in front of my friends and a few dozen others because I found the March 9, 1992 issue devoted entirely to American Christian Zionism. On the other hand, those days in the library become more brutal with each passing seemingly-fruitless hour.

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The question naturally follows: why a history major?

Maybe this introduction warrants more biographical information. History is my second and secondary major in addition to Christian Ministries. Pastoral ministry has developed a strong presence in my future plans – I’m already deep in my search for the right seminary. However, history has always intrigued me. My high school history teacher, whom I had for four history classes, evoked that love out of me and helped steer it toward American religious history. I find myself fascinated by questions of religion’s role in a culture and religion’s meaning to individuals and communities. Call it ambition or – more pejoratively – overachieving, but a history major seemed like a noble sub-quest on the larger mission of undergraduate education.

To continue my relationship motif, I assumed my love for history meant our interactions would prove easy, joyful, and always pleasant. Like a young man falling head over heels in love with the girl of his dreams (or vice versa), I thought history and I could do no wrong. But like any of you with long-term relationship experience know, the road of love is not always easily traversed. I have found myself frustrated with history at times, given its nature to narrate the most unpalatable of stories and present issues, dilemmas, and ambiguities. I cannot help but believe history has had its share of frustration with my laziness and indifference at times. At the risk of taking this metaphor too far, history and I have come far too close to the brink of separation on multiple occasions.

I know I’m avoiding the question. Why a history major? History has value far more intrinsic than mere recitation of historical facts or maintenance of historical sites and artifacts. History opens up past stories of events, places, and, most importantly, people. History closes the door on pride, forcing the reader to enter into another story with humility and listening ears to understand. History exits complex current conflicts and seeks to understand these events’ historical causes. And ultimately, history enters us, forming and shaping us into better members of the human family that try to see the biggest picture and the smallest detail for what they are worth.

Why a history major? As a future minister, history could not inform Christian faith and ministry more. How can we understand where we go if we do not understand from where we come? How can we faithfully understand the biblical narrative without at least a basic awareness of the cultures out of which the texts came? Serving others requires understanding systems and processes, how they are established and maintained, learning about what worked and what failed, and then moving forward with a decision. A “history-minded” person has a tremendous advantage in these situations, for they are accustomed to listening and grasping context and implications before advancing. As a Christian, I have a calling to value each individual – what better arena in which to practice that calling than the past? Christianity, and religion in general, informs so many decisions with historical weight, and my two majors go hand in hand at times when Christians move to significant social action in such cataclysmic events as the Civil Rights Movement.

Why a history major? Why pursue something that causes me so much frustration at times? History is worth it. The joyful moments are worth it. And – as yet another relationship cliché goes – nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Jonathan Fuller is a junior Christian ministries and history double major. He serves as Student Body Chaplain on the Student Chaplain Team and work study and research assistant to the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies chair.

On February 26th, award-winning journalist Michele Norris graced Messiah College’s campus to present the Keynote Lecture of this year’s Humanities Symposium. Norris is also the creator of the “Race Card Project,” an undertaking which Norris takes the time to flesh out in more detail. (See below.)

Michele Norris quickly claimed the attention of the audience with her conversational tone, humorous anecdotes, and eloquent questions. In a little over an hour, she described her personal journey from a journalist adamantly opposed to talking about race to one of America’s leading participants in the race discussion. Some of the strongest moments of her lecture occurred when she spoke intimately about her family — more particularly, her family secrets. She tells the story of how her father, a service man pursuing the right to vote, was shot by a policeman. She reveals how her grandmother had once been employed as a “traveling Aunt Jemima,” — a job which Norris explained relegated her grandmother to the portrayal of a slave woman. Norris also related to the audience her own story of how she herself learned these family secrets, and the “shifts” they caused within her, inspiring her to become more outspoken about the topic of race.

It all began when she printed 200 “race cards” and distributed them to the public. She asked for the recipients to record their thoughts and feelings on race in only six words. Slowly they began to flood in, inspiring her not only to distribute more but to assemble them all on one website. Norris describes the race cards as one big “conversation”  that is easily heard if you read them one after the other — which is exactly what Norris did. Some examples of content she shared included: “Black babies cost less to adopt,” “Lady I don’t want your purse,” “White: not allowed to be proud,” and her self-proclaimed favorite: “Underneath we all taste like chicken.” Her uninterrupted reading wrapped up her lecture in a powerful climax which unlocked multiple perspectives on race and gave plenty of food for thought. Norris explained that the Race Card Project not only allows a safe medium for a conversation which is so often discouraged in our society, but that it allows people to listen to one another. She professed that it takes “true courage” to listen, ESPECIALLY if you don’t agree.

Her lecture was powerful and poignant, and ended on an informal and easygoing note characteristic of Norris as she declared: “If you have questions, I’d love to hear them – or we can all go have cookies!”

Recently, I came across a blog post by an undergraduate who remarked that she would only consider herself a historian once she received her diploma. To be a historian, in her mind, was a position that had to be earned. This is a very common mentality among undergrads. Compared to their professors, undergraduates have limited expertise in any given field and are still learning how to think like historians. After only two or three years of study, who are we to claim that title?

There are several professors in the Messiah College History Department who refer to their undergraduate students as “historians.” Up until several months ago, I, like many others, inwardly balked at this. How can we be historians already? I would think to myself. Even though I knew we were doing the same things as our professors – engaging with primary texts and thinking critically about what those texts reveal about the past – I was reluctant to call myself a historian.

However, last semester I studied at Oxford, where undergraduates would introduce themselves as “third-year theologians” or “second-year philosophers.” And indeed, it seemed like Oxford students had a right to identify with their respective disciplines in such a manner. After all, at Oxford, rather than attend classes, students meet with professors (called tutors) once a week to discuss and debate the ideas that the students present in their essays. It is very rewarding to have a world-class academic engage with one’s ideas and say, “I never thought of it that way before.” The student is a scholar, but so is the tutor. Both engage with and learn about the past; they are merely at different points in their academic journey.

However, one does not have to attend Oxford to be a scholar who is able to make valuable academic contributions. Now that I am back at Messiah, I am no longer uncomfortable when I hear a professor say, “You be the historian.” Reinterpreting my status as an undergraduate scholar has encouraged me to take my studies more seriously, have confidence in the value of my ideas, and to embrace (rather than be self-conscious of) my position in the wider scholarly community. Now I can proudly state, “I am a third-year historian.”

Kathryn Kaslow is a junior history major with a concentration in public history.  She is a research assistant, student diplomat for the History Department, History Club officer, and a contributor for History on the Bridge.

Nick Schmuck

We are pleased to announce that History on the Bridge is beginning a new series focused on “catching up” with Messiah College History alumni. Each month we will feature different alumni and find out what life has been like for them since graduation! This month we will be hearing from Nick Schmuck, graduating class of 2011. Nick is currently studying Paleo Cultures and Environments at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has taken the time to answer some questions!

Q: What has your life been like since graduating Messiah, and how did you end up in Alaska?

A: It will be four years this spring since I graduated! I transitioned pretty smoothly from Messiah into an MA program at the University of York (UK) studying Medieval Archaeology.  At the time I was on a mission to be a historian that integrated archaeology with their work, but the archaeologists won out.  At York I focused on the Viking Age and ended up hiking around Denmark looking for Iron Age burial mounds and cemeteries – it was a dream.  I used GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to play with maps and try to predict where sites might be…it’s fun stuff.  When I got home, my life was applying to grad schools and looking for jobs as an archaeologist.  Eventually I started travelling a lot, did some volunteering in Colorado and Wyoming, went to conferences, and volunteered on a post-wildfire archaeological survey in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming (which ties into how I got to Alaska, sorry it’s a long story).  Anyway I ended up getting a proper job in St. Mary’s City in Maryland, which landed me in Chesapeake Bay/Colonial archaeology.  That was almost nine months of full time excavation, all through winter.  Fantastic experience.  I still had the itch to go to grad school and do research though, and the prehistoric material we were finding underneath the colonial in Maryland was far more interesting to me.  I had heard good things about some exciting work up here in Alaska from a fellow volunteer on that Wyoming project, and as it turns out the archaeologist leading that survey was well acquainted with some of the professors in Fairbanks. So here I am, frantically trying to learn everything there is to know about North American prehistory all at once.  Not where I saw myself a few years ago, but I love it.

Q: What does a typical week look like for you?

A: A typical week for me is not terribly exciting.  Life in Fairbanks certainly provides a few extra quirks to grad school life.  A ton of us live in dry cabins (no running water/indoor plumbing), and it gets properly cold and has snow and long dark winters.  Heading to your outhouse in the middle of the night and getting floored by how vibrant the auroras are – that makes it all worth it.  It’s a lot of fun, honestly.  Other than that my typical week involves long hours in the office every day.  When you’re not in class you’re reading for class, and if you’ve finished reading for class, you’re reading for long-term projects or to continue working through the literature for your region of study.  It never ends.  Grad students are good at finding excuses to get away though, so evenings on weekends tend to be…less productive.  I’ll take this opportunity to say that summer archaeology in Alaska is a blast –  a lot of sites are helicopter-access only, you spend two-three weeks camping at a time and get to experience a summer with no night.  Sure, the mosquitoes are bad, but the archaeology is so much more interesting than back home.

Q: Having done archaeological work and research in such unique places, what is one of your favorite stories to tell?

A: I really can’t pin down a favorite story, I’ve picked up so many.  One of the good ones comes from when I was in England.  I joined up with a professional reenactment group – they take themselves seriously, everything is about accuracy and they like to play around with experimental archaeology.  Anyway, one weekend we were camping in front of a 12th century castle to put on infantry and cavalry displays for some rich English folks, within earshot of a herd of cattle.  Famous cattle, these are the only wild cattle left in the world, supposedly genetically isolated since the Romans were ruling Britain, and generally massive and dangerous as far as cows go.  So of course we crazy Americans ignored the warnings and all the signs in the woods and multiple fences to go looking for these things, dressed like a couple of poor roman soldiers.  Long story short, an irate bull chased us out of his field, and we were left praying the fence we jumped would hold him in.  It’s not every day you face a charging primeval bull while dressed in a tunic and cloak.

Q: From your experience, how does the job market look for history students interested in archaeology?

A: The job market is rough anywhere. Experience and connections are your answer.  Museum jobs are an option, if you don’t mind lab work.  For fieldwork, you have to be willing to be mobile and flexible.  Hiring strategies are interesting for CRM (Cultural Resource Management).  They probably represent the bulk of archaeology jobs, and are often focused on pedestrian surveys prior to construction of roads or pipelines, that sort of thing.  It’s great if you like hiking for miles every day and camping, getting paid to find awesome artifacts in the middle of nowhere.  Funding for their projects can be troublesome though (I had a job lined up in Arizona that pushed the start date back week by week for a month before I moved on), but if you find a good company to get in with you’re on your way.  A lot of these companies now have representatives at conferences, and meeting those people while you hand in your resume can be everything.  In the southwest, many companies ONLY hire from people they meet at the annual regional conference (Pecos).  To break into archaeology as a history major you’ll need experience though, so get to a field school, take some classes with Dr. Pettegrew, and volunteer!

Q: If you had to choose one experience or event from your undergraduate years at Messiah that has most prepared you for life after graduation, what would it be?

A: Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s hard to say what prepared me most for life after graduation.  Because I went on to academia, I have to say that the most influential experience was my study abroad semester in Oxford.  Getting new perspectives is incredibly important, and my time there convinced me that as painful as academia can be, it was something I wanted to really get into.  I’m so happy Messiah had that connection, it really enriched my greater Messiah experience.

Q: Do you have any advice for Messiah College History students preparing to graduate?

A: What I wish I would have really accepted when I graduated was the need for volunteering experience in our field.  We all come out of college feeling like we put in our time and deserve to be paid, but that isn’t how it works anymore.  I spun my wheels applying to jobs I was technically qualified for (on paper) for months and months, and it wasn’t until I started volunteering that things started happening.  It takes a lot of work to find the right fit, and it can mean ‘wasting’ a summer, so it isn’t easy.  I pretty well went broke driving around the country.  I volunteered a bit with a great company out of Denver called Historicorps, they’re a nonprofit that focuses on restoring historic buildings.  I spent a week deep in the Rocky Mountains on a crew repairing log buildings in an abandoned mining complex from the turn of the century, and then got to do some archaeology in the Wyoming wilderness, where I made some great connections.  One connection leads to another opportunity which leads to another.  Make volunteering work for you – sure I didn’t make money, but I found options that had me camping in the mountains (and the food was incredible).  It gave me the opportunity to learn some new technologies in the field – and that can make all the difference on a job application.  I wasted a lot of time being unemployed or doing basic labor jobs while I looked for better work because I felt entitled, so don’t fall in that trap!

Q: Can you tell us a little about your current research?

A: I’ll be working in Southeast Alaska, where sea-level fluctuations through time have been more dramatic than anywhere else in the world.  I’ll be using paleoenvironmental data and paleoshoreline models (what plants/fish/animals/etc. lived where in the past and where the coastline used to be) to help direct surveys looking for places where early hunter-gatherers lived.  Over the last few years a geologist and archaeologist working for the Forest Service in Tongass National Forest have used a paleoshoreline model to look for older sites on one of the many islands off the coast, taking our number of Early Holocene sites in Southeast Alaska from 5 to 16.  Hopefully I’ll be helping to broaden our search to other islands and tighten the predictive capabilities of the model.  Now that we know where to look, we’ll be able to better understand how people were living and moving along the coast.  In the next few years I should be joining surveys and then excavating and analyzing these early sites for my thesis.  Pretty exciting stuff!

Nick Schmuck3 Nick Schmuck2

Nerddom at its Finest

Nerdom at its finest

For the past three weeks, Dr. Fea has graciously featured me on his blog for a new series he’s running called Dispatches from a History Major. The point of this series is to give people a better picture of what the life of a history major is like at Messiah College, and in my latest post, I tried to accomplish this goal by writing about what my coursework has been like this spring. It was great reflecting on my coursework, however, I feel like it would be disingenuous to just write about the work I’ve been doing and completely leave out the play. So this is going to be a post about the ridiculously nerdy game I played with 5 of my friends last January Term, and why I think it made me a better college student.

Late last fall semester, I gave a presentation in my Historical Methods class, and my classmates received it so well that afterwards it made me say to myself, “I need to role-play more.”

Yeah, you heard me right. Like Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying (except I had in mind a Star Wars version).

I won’t blame you if you fail to make the connection between my successful presentation and Dungeons and Dragons. The picture that comes to mind when someone says the word role-playing is far from historical or academic: a bunch of unsociable, adolescent boys, sitting around a dimly-lit table in a basement, dressed-up in costumes, talking in voices that sound like something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and doing nothing but rolling dice and screaming when they get a 20. Indeed, this image justifiably makes a person who doesn’t understand roleplaying question the mental stability of someone who pretends he is a High-Elven Mage. However, this picture is only partially accurate (please, I’ve never worn a costume), and certainly not the entirety of role-playing. At its best, role-playing can help you develop intellectual skills which are crucial for a successful college career.

Here’s what I mean. When you role-play, you work together with a group of people to create a story, and I think there are three major benefits to this:

  • You become less egocentric – stepping into the shoes of fictitious character is no easy task. Seriously, try to convincingly act like a burly dwarf form the Crystal Mountains for 5 minutes (it will not only improve your ability to empathize, but also markedly improve your Scottish accent).
  • You become a better communicator – good stories require solid narrating skills. Role-playing forces you to use vivid language, sustain an audience’s attention, and be quick on your feet. Nerds may be unsociable, but if you ever need a solid battle speech, turn to the kid wearing the Firefly shirt and he’ll probably knock your socks off.
  • You become more open-minded to new ideas – when you roleplay, a story can go in any I’ve had sessions when I’ve had to completely scrap my Game Master notes and follow the group’s led. This makes you more intellectually flexible, patient, and able to manage conflicts (it’s rare that everyone will want to take the story in the same direction).

I made good on my post-presentation words, and, when J-term rolled around, I spent the next three weeks playing a Star Wars roleplaying game with 4 other history majors and 1 engineering major. And, as I suspected, we sharpened some skills which are vital to any college student (though the emphasis on good narrative is particularly important for the historian) and laughed all along the way.

I acknowledge that there are better ways to hone intellectual skills than roleplaying, but I hope this short post is illustrative of a larger point: games, literature, and movies that are characteristically written off as a waste of time can have value and can make connecting with the past easier (I know if it weren’t for Tolkien or Age of Empires 2, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in the past as I am now).

So, before you judge your nerdy friend’s hobbies, ask him why he likes them. You may just find that it’s because he has a genuine interest in people, culture, language, and expressing creative capacities.

James Mueller is a sophomore history major with a minor in French Language. He is a Student Fellow for Messiah’s Center for the Public Humanities, Member of the Digital Harrisburg team, level 34 Dark Elf Sorcerer, and contributor for History on the Bridge. 
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