“Don’t find yourself, find your vocation”

Fuller with Towel

History major Jonathan Fuller holding his towel

When Messiah College students cross the platform during their graduation ceremony they receive a small white towel.  The towel symbolizes service.  As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, so we hope our graduates will think about their lives in terms of service to others.  I thought about this Messiah College tradition when I read Tom Perrin’s excellent New York Times op-ed, “One Way to Make College Meaningful.”  I especially like the subtitle: “Don’t find yourself; find a vocation.”

Here is a taste of his piece:

Why vocation, though, rather than the old model of learning for learning’s sake? Why not, as the religious studies professor Ron Srigley has recently argued, return to the old, “beautiful goal” of the university, “to discover and then to tell the truth,” disentangled from the mercenary arms of the offices of careers and student life? My answer would be that universities have always been hybrid creatures, serving many masters at once: social norms, the market, churches and the exacting standards of disciplinary research, to name four. But the fantasy of the university as a disinterested sphere of pure knowledge is just that. This is not so much to attack the liberal arts as it is to point out that to link them purposefully with life and career goals is not at all to alter the way they have long functioned.

Read the entire piece here.

Introducing a New Column: “Out of the Zoo”

annieA few weeks ago we introduced Annie Thorn, a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our new intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  Enjoy! –JF

This past fall semester, I joined my fellow Messiah College first-year students (mostly history majors) in a once-weekly night class that introduced us to the discipline of history. The assigned text for the class (Why Study History? by TWOILH’s own Professor Fea) argued that history is the act of reconstructing the past. We learned that as history students–and future historians–we are not responsible for procuring a long list of names and dates to commit to memory, but rather for putting flesh on the bones of the men and women who held those names and lived at those times, bringing the past to life for others to see.

I soon realized, after being introduced to this idea, that I had already been in the business of making history come alive for over a decade. No, I didn’t start reading Civil War soldiers’ diaries at the age of seven, or rifle through important documents at an archive for a fourth grade social studies project, but I did use what meager supply of knowledge I already possessed and combined it with my imagination to craft a picture of what the past might’ve been like. Spurred on by something I learned from an American Girl book, a local museum, or a PBS television show, I found joy through inserting myself into the past–it came alive to me.

I can’t quite explain why I so often entertained myself as a child by imagining what it would’ve been like growing up in 18th century Massachusetts or 14th century England rather than 21st century Michigan, but I think it has something to do with Adventures in Odyssey. My sister and I listened to cassette tapes of Adventures in Odyssey–a Focus on the Family radio show about a Soda Shop owner and inventor Mr. Whittaker–every night before going to sleep. In the show, Mr. Whittaker’s prized invention was a machine called “The Imagination Station” that could transport kids back in time and teach them about anything they could imagine–anything from the story of Moses to the Lewis and Clark expedition to the American Revolution. The Imagination Station made the past real to anyone who stepped inside. I didn’t have a machine, but I used what I did have to make the past as real to me as I could.

Now historians cannot simply replace facts with imagination–we can’t just make up what we don’t know when doing our research, even if it would be much easier that way. When studying history, it’s dangerous to make inferences based off of our own desires or experiences, rather than filling in gaps of the narrative we are constructing with historical context. If we fall into this habit, our imagination can get out of control and we risk resurrecting something akin to Frankenstein’s creature rather than an accurate depiction of the past. In moderation, though, I do think imagination remains an important tool for historians–when we use our imagination, informed by our knowledge, to walk around in the shoes of the men and women we study, the past truly comes alive.

Gina Barreca on the Importance of the Liberal Arts

Boyer Hall

What’s an education for?

University of Connecticut English professor Gina Barreca answers in her recent op-ed:

An education is about learning things you don’t know. Just as we need to try foods we’ve never eaten before, we need to approach unfamiliar subjects. Life’s menu can be innovative, varied and delightful, but without outside influences, it can too often be limited, boring and unappetizing.

Curiosity, like originality and delight, has to be nurtured. But if we keep emphasizing the notion of familiarity and security at the expense of new and potentially challenging experience, then we’ll be stuck with the intellectual equivalent of a 1968 Swanson’s T.V. Dinner.

Authentic education demands that students learn, and not merely that they are taught. It’s not about simply offering access to information or data. What happens in classrooms is not the same as what happens at UPS: it is not like transferring an unexamined parcel of information from one person to another. It must include, as all reputable teachers know, instructing students in academic discipline and personal responsibility.

This is one reason that students should be required to take classes from outside their area of specialization. Their futures are under construction. While they may have blueprints in place, perhaps handed down through their families or fantasies from glittering daydreams, there are many architectural models from which to choose. That way they won’t end up with the academic equivalent of a five-story one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen and a bathroom on the roof.

Read the entire piece here.

I appreciate Barreca’s point about students taking courses outside of their area of specialization.  At Messiah College, students are required to take a 100-level history course (a United States history survey course or a Western Civilization survey course) to fulfill their general education requirement in History.  But there are also other opportunities in the curriculum to take a history course.  A student can take World History to fulfill their Non-Western Cultures requirement.  Or they can take Native American History, African American History, the Historical Study of Peace, Immigrant America, Urban History, Women’s History, or Pennsylvania History  to fulfill their Pluralism requirement.  They can also take a history course to fulfill their Social Science requirement.  So, if I got this right, it is possible for a Messiah College business or nursing major to take four history courses to fulfill general education coursework.

But every now and then we have students who take history courses purely out of intellectual curiosity.  This semester in my colonial America course I have two students–an accounting major and a sustainability studies major–who are not required to take the course, but just find the subject interesting.  I applaud them and regularly tell them how much I appreciate them, but students like these are becoming increasingly rare in this age of specialization.

My Colonial America Course Hits Philadelphia

On Saturday I took some of the students in my Colonial America course at Messiah College on a field trip to colonial Philadelphia.  (I am taking the rest of the class this coming Saturday).

Here are some pics:

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Starting the day off at Welcome Park.  A great place to get students oriented to the colonial city.

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Group picture outside of Christ Church

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After we learned about Christ Church from a docent, I tried to say something intelligent about the Georgian architecture and its connection to Philadelphia’s 18th-century provincial identity

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Not a very “colonial” stop, but how could I not take the students to see the First Bank of the United States?  (And the Museum of the American Revolution across the street!)

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Carpenter’s Hall!

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And kudos to Joy Fea, our photographer on the trip!

WHAT????? Darryl Hart Actually Likes Something I Wrote

Covered Bridge Messia

Messiah College has a covered bridge on campus

Over the last couple of years I have been a regular target of Darryl Hart, professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan.  Read all his posts about my work here.

So needless to say,  I was surprised to see that Hart, a Front Porcher, actually liked my recent piece on small towns.  Read his take here.

Some quick thoughts on Hart’s take on my piece:

  1.  Hart includes a picture of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer with his post.  My Italian immigrant grandfather (died a few years ago at the 103) was a Teamster who drove a delivery truck for PBR.  I once won him a PBR glass on a wheel of chance on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
  2. I had no idea Hart was a student at Messiah College back in the day.
  3. I am from the East Coast, but I am not, nor have I ever been, one of the “coastal elites.”  (See the grandfather and Seaside Heights reference above).

If You Get a Chance to Live in a Small Town, Take It

Caroline last game

Seconds before the lights went out–literally and figuratively–at the Northside “Cage”

I was recently at a conference where I overheard a couple of history graduate students from an Ivy League university complaining about the job market.  This, of course, is pretty commonplace among history graduate students.  The market for tenure-track jobs in the field of history is terrible.

Yet these graduate students were not complaining about the small number of jobs available.  There was a sense of confidence in their speech as they talked about their prestigious advisers and the quality of the graduate programs where they earned their Ph.Ds.  They did not seem overly worried about landing a job.  Rather, their complaints focused more on the fact that so many jobs were located in rural communities in so-called “Red States” where they did not want to live.  Their conversation was infused with the kind of cosmopolitan snobbishness that I often hear in academic circles.  As I listened to them talk, I thought that maybe all those Trump voters and Fox News watchers are correct about the “coastal elites.”

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I have invested nearly my entire career at a small church-related college in south central Pennsylvania.  I chose to work here.  In 2002, I had job offers from a research university, several regional state universities, and a couple of really good liberal arts colleges.  (The job market was obviously much better in 2002!).  I chose Messiah College because I believed in its mission. I still do.  Messiah is not a utopia, but it is certainly a place where I have been able to grow as a scholar and teacher with a supportive administration.  It is also an institution that has been supportive of my wife’s vocation.  We generally like it here.

Messiah is located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Mechanicsburg is not a very cosmopolitan place.  Many of my neighbors have lived in the town for multiple generations.  Some young people get out of town after graduation and never come back, but many never leave.  We have all the usual problems associated with small towns.  Race-relations could be better.  Drug deals go down in the convenience store parking lots.  The wealthy members of our town cloister in their gated communities.  But this is where we decided to raise our family.

When we arrived in Mechanicsburg our daughters–Allyson and Caroline– were ages four and one.  They attended kindergarten through high school in Mechanicsburg Area School District.  We chose to live in the Mechanicsburg School District as opposed to the larger regional Cumberland Valley School District (with more opportunities) because we wanted a smaller, more intimate community for our kids.  Both of them have thrived in this district and we have never regretted our choice.

Some folks in town who know me may think it is odd that I am writing about the sense of community I feel in Mechanicsburg.  As an introvert, I tend to keep to myself.  I would rather watch my kids play sports seated alone than join a crowd of cheering fans.  I am not very good at small talk.  I coached my girls in basketball when they were in elementary school, but I got disgusted with the politics, the ambitious parents, and the way many of those parents treated the selfless staff of our town’s recreation department, so I stopped.  I have not participated as much in the local life of my community largely because of the time I spend investing in the life of Messiah College.  But I have tried to serve when asked.  I could do better.

I thought about my relationship with this community again as I sat in the cold last night and watched the Mechanicsburg Girls Soccer team play their final home game of the season.  It was the second round of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s District 3 playoffs.  The girls won 4-0 over a team from Berks County and advanced to the District semifinals on Monday night at Hershey Park Stadium.  They are now 20-0 and ranked 21st in the nation.  A great story is developing here in small-town Mechanicsburg.  My daughter Caroline plays a minimum number of minutes each game, but she has been an intricate part of a team that is making local history.  She has been playing soccer with many of the seniors on this team since she was eight-years-old.  Some of these girls are her best friends.  Mechanicsburg is Caroline’s community.  This place has shaped her life in so many good ways.

Caroline had mixed emotions last night.  Her team will play again next week and, if things go well, will try to make a run in the state tournament.  Yet the sadness of playing her last game on her home field with her friends was palpable as she walked across the field to meet us.  Her tears were a mixture of joy for the blessing of an undefeated season (so far) and sadness that it was all nearing an end.  I fought them back as well.

Small towns are good things.  If you get a chance to live in one, take it.

Reflections on the 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

The 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History is over.  As program chair, I spent most of the weekend pinch-hitting for folks who were unable to come and making sure our plenary speakers were comfortable.  This is what program chairs do.  If I passed you in the hallway at the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College and did not stop to chat please forgive me.  I hope we can catch-up soon.

I wanted to blog a lot more than I did this weekend.  I got off to a good start on Thursday night, but then fell silent.  If you want to learn all the cool things that happened this weekend check out the conference Twitter feed: #cfh2018.  I am sure Chris Gehrz will eventually have a wrap-up post at The Pietist Schoolman.

Here are some of my highlights:

On Friday morning I chaired Session 12: “Christian Historiography: Kuyper, Ellul and O’Donovan.”  As I listened to Richard Riss’s excellent paper on Jacques Ellul, I realized that I should have read more of this French philosopher as I prepared to write Believe Me.

On Friday afternoon, I spent some time with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn of Syracuse University.  Elisabeth’s plenary address, “The Art of Living, Ancient and Modern,” challenged us to consider the third-century Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus as a way of countering the therapeutic culture of modern life.  Lasch-Quinn pushed us to move beyond the pursuit of the “good life” and consider what it might mean to live a “beautiful life.”

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Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn delivers here Friday afternoon keynote address

Following Lasch -Quinn’s lecture and before the evening banquet, I got to spend time with my favorite Calvin College history major

Ally at CFH

Beth Allison Barr of Baylor University is the new president of the Conference on Faith and History and the organization’s second female president.   Her presidential plenary drew heavily on medieval sermons on the roles of women in the Church as a way of thinking about the place of women in the today’s church and the Conference on Faith and History.  She encouraged the conference to respect the past and move toward the future by listening to the voices of the record number of women in attendance.

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Beth Allison Barr delivering her 2018 presidential address

On Friday evening, I got together with some old friends at a Grand Rapids funeral home that has been converted into a bar and grill.  As you see from the photo below, much of the stained glass from the funeral home chapel was preserved.

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With Eric Miller (Geneva College), Jay Green (Covenant College), and Jon Boyd (InterVarsity Press)

Saturday began with a panel on Messiah College’s Civil Rights bus tour.  It was a great session and it made me proud to be part of Messiah’s work in the area of racial reconciliation.  It was also a privilege to chair a session with three of my Messiah colleagues.  Next time I won’t put them at 8:00am. (Sorry guys!)

After the Civil Rights session I had coffee with our latest sponsor of The Way of Improvement Leads Home PodcastBob Beatty of the Lyndhurst Group.  If you are a community leader, a historical site administrator, or a museum professional, the Lyndhurst Group can help you with your public history outreach.  Bob is a great guy with lot’s of energy, enthusiasm, expertise, and experience. We are so happy that he is sponsoring the podcast.

After the CFH board meeting, I dropped in on Robert Orsi‘s plenary address, “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.”  Orsi argued that scholars of religion must learn to pay attention to the relationship between religion and “horrors” such as pogroms, crusades, slavery, racism, misogny, and other “brutalities of everyday life.”  He suggested that “there may come a time when the human being who is also a scholar of religion reaches a limit of disgust.”  Beyond this limit, Orsi argued, “distinctions, qualifications, countervailing evidence, parsings, and other theoretical or hermeneutical subtleties fail.”  Orsi spent most of his time reflecting on “disgust” as a category of analysis in the context of the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.  It was a tough session to sit through, but many felt it was necessary.

Orsi at Calvin

Late Saturday afternoon I chaired a session that may have been one of the best CFH panels I have ever attended.  Session 53, titled “Theology and Spirituality in the Doing of History,” included three magnificent papers on the place of love and Christian spirituality in the doing of history.  Wendy Wong Schirmer, a newcomer to the CFH, argued that Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on love can help us think Christianly about the historian’s craft.  Brad Pardue of College of the Ozarks talked about how he integrates Christian practices into his history courses.  Mark Sandle of The King’s University (Alberta) delivered a powerful paper on loving the dead in the context of the archives. I hope all three of these papers will be published in Fides et Historia, the journal of the Conference on Faith and History.

It is not easy putting a 56-session conference together, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of Joel Carpenter, Ellen Hekman, Jay Green, Eric Miller, Devon Hearn, and Robin Schwarzmann.  Thank you.  I am now going to take a nap.

Bancroft Prize-Winning Historian Nancy Tomes is Coming to Messiah College Next Week!

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If you are in the area on Thursday evening, September 27, join us for the 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecture.  This year’s lecturer is Nancy Tomes of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.  In 2017, Tomes was awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History for her book Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients Into Consumers.  Tomes’s American Democracy Lecture is titled “Doctor Shoppers: From Problem Patients to Model Citizens.”  The lecture will take place at 7:00pm in the Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts, Parmer Hall on the campus of Messiah College.  Free tickets are required.  To reserve tickets call 717-691-6036 or reserve tickets online at messiah.edu/tickets.

If you want a taste of what you might expect at the lecture, listen to our interview with Tomes in Episode 22 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

If you are a health-care professional or someone who is interested in our current health care debates, this lecture is for you.  I will see you there.

A Different Kind of August

Office

On Saturday I cleaned the office.  It looks much better now than in this photo

I returned to the office today.  The summer seemed longer than usual.  This is probably because Messiah College starts classes a week later this year.  (The first day of class is next Tuesday).  It also seems longer because I am no longer chair of the Messiah College History Department.  Some of you may recall that I wrote a bit about this back in February.

For the last eight years, August was filled with anxiety and stress about the start of the new year.  Was I fair in the distribution of new advisees to the faculty?  Will everything go well with the opening ice-cream social and the department picnic?  What kind of new administrative paperwork will emerge after our first big department meeting?  And the list goes on.

When I posted about leaving the department chair back in February I wrote:

I am not sure what role I will play going forward at Messiah College.  At small colleges like Messiah, administration is really the only way to advance one’s career within the institution.  So I will return to life as an ordinary faculty member.  I will be in the classroom a bit more and will have more time for thinking about my teaching and writing.   We will see how it goes.

This year I plan to teach and serve the department and Messiah College the best I can.  I  will also be on the road a lot.  I hope to continue to say something to the larger culture and Christian community about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  I also hope to enjoy my daughter Caroline’s senior year before Joy and I head-off into the empty-nester stage of life.  In the Fall, I will be watching a lot of Calvin College volleyball.  And, at 52-years-old, I want to take stock of what the last pre-retirement chapter of my life might look like.

But right now, I need to finish a syllabus for “Colonial America” and my U.S. Survey to 1865 course.

Remembering John McCain

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McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace

Tenure-Track Job Opening in the Messiah College History Department

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This ad will appear in all the usual places very soon, but I thought I would also post it here at the blog. Starting date is August 2019.   Feel free to share and spread the word.

The Department of History at Messiah College invites applications for a term-tenure track position in Public History with expertise in post-1865 United States History.

Applicants must be committed to working closely with undergraduate students. Teaching responsibilities will include an advanced course in public history, upper-division courses in area of specialty, a United States history survey from 1865, and first-year interdisciplinary general education courses. We are especially interested in candidates who could offer one or more upper-division courses in subfields of public history and American social history.

Ph.D. in Public History/United States History, with specialization in post-1865 American history. We seek faculty committed to undergraduate teaching and research in the context of a Christian liberal arts college.

The history major at Messiah College allows students to study a wide range of historical periods and subjects ranging from public and digital history to courses in American, European, Ancient Mediterranean, World, and South Asian history. We emphasize the cultivation of a breadth of historical learning along with liberal arts skills of research methods, critical thinking, and high-quality writing. History majors take a standard sequence of core courses in historical surveys, methods, and historiography, and then have the option of selecting from a range of upper-division classes in American History, Classical and Medieval European History, Modern European, Public History, and World History. History majors seeking careers in secondary education (grades 7-12) have an option of completing the state credentialing program in conjunction with the Education Department. The department also offers minors in history, digital public humanities, and Classical, Medieval and Renaissance studies, as well as many enrichment opportunities, including interdisciplinary study, undergraduate research honors theses; collaboration with professors on research; internships with museums, historical archives, and governmental agencies; study-abroad semesters and short-term trips around the world; archaeological training; digital projects; and service-learning.

We are a department of six full-time faculty and approximately 45 majors. Students are encouraged to think independently, engage in fruitful debate, and become citizens committed to service, social justice, and reconciliation. The department maintains strong collaborations across campus with the Center for Public Humanities, Teacher Education Program, Office of Diversity Affairs, and the Oakes Museum of Natural History, and off campus with the city of Harrisburg, county and state archives, and regional schools. Our faculty work closely with students to consider how a history major provides a set of transferable skills that will allow them to access diverse opportunities for employment. Our graduates pursue employment and graduate school in a variety of fields, including history, public history, religious studies, journalism, communication, education, sociology, library science, business, law, computer science, data analytics, theology, among many others.

Read the entire ad here.

Bancroft Prize-Winning Historian of Health Care Nancy Tomes is Coming to Messiah College

Nancy Tomes is Distinguished Professor of History at Stony Brook University.  Her 2016 book, Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American history.

“This is like a dream come true.”

On September 27, Tomes will deliver the 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecture at 7:00pm in Parmer Hall.  If you are in the area you will not want to miss this lecture!  See you there.  Stay tuned for more details.

Listen to Tomes discuss her book on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

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Jared Burkholder Reviews *Believe Me*

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When you get a chance, check out the new look at Jared Burkholder‘s blog The Hermeneutic Circle.

Today he is running a review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This is my favorite review so far! Not only is it a positive review, but I appreciate the way Jared connects Believe Me to some of my earlier work in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism and fundamentalism and my experience as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am also guessing that he will be the only reviewer to suggest that the Anabaptist heritage of Messiah College may be rubbing-off on me!

Here is a taste:

Historian John Fea gets back to his roots in explaining the “81%.” (The percentage of evangelicals who supposedly voted for President Trump.) Though he has a long list of accomplishments in mainstream historical circles, Fea’s original forays into writing about history was as a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism under old-school church historian, John Woodbridge. I got to know John after he moved on from Trinity, but it was through the influence of him and others like him that I enrolled in the same program. In fact, when I had Woodbridge as a professor, our class used a bibliography on American fundamentalism that Fea had compiled while he was a student. While at Trinity, he completed a thesis on hard-core conservative fundamentalists. So while Fea has moved on to weightier topics such as the American Revolution, the early Republic, and Christian nationalism, he knows a thing or two about conservative evangelicals and the roots of the Religious Right. Fea draws on all these experiences in writing about how evangelicals helped to put Trump in office and why many continue to support the president, despite the president’s lack of Christian virtue.

Read the entire review here.

Bonus Episode: Live at Messiah College Educator’s Day

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On May 21, 2018, the Office of the Provost at Messiah College surprised the faculty at their annual Educator’s Day with a live recording of our podcast. Under the theme “Flourishing in a Digital World,” the goal was to highlight the ways in which Messiah faculty have been using digital tools within their own scholarship. In that spirit, we interviewed history professor and lead architect of the Digital Harrisburg project, David Pettegrew (@dpettegrew); English professor and director of the Center for Public Humanities, Jean Corey; and film and digital media professor, Nathan Skulstad (@NathanSkulstad). The episode also features an interview of our regular host, John Fea, conducted by the director of the Agape Center, Ashley Sheaffer. Finally, special thanks also go out to the director of the Ernest L. Boyer Center, Cynthia Wells for organizing and co-producing the event.

Our First Live Episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is in the Books!

Podcast on stageThis morning we recorded our first live episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast before the Community of Educators (faculty and co-curricular educators) at Messiah College.

The Community of Educators gathered today at “Educator’s Day,” a tradition in which our faculty and co-curricular educators mark the end of the previous year and turn our attention to developing ourselves for the year ahead.  The theme of this year’s Educator’s Day was “Flourishing in a Digital World.”

As I noted in my post this morning, the administration asked us to record an episode of the podcast related to this theme.   Our guests were three humanities scholars doing very creative work at the intersection of digital scholarship and place.  David Pettegrew runs Messiah College’s Digital Harrisburg Initiative, Jean Corey runs Messiah’s Center for Public Humanities, and Nathan Skulstad is a digital documentarian and story-teller.

We could not have done this live episode without the hard work of podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling and Cynthia Wells, the director of the Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah.  Thanks as well to Ashley Sheaffer of the Messiah College Agape Center for interviewing me on the episode and the skilled technicians on the Messiah College sound team for making us sound good!

Stay tuned.  This bonus episode will drop sometime in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, head over to Patreon site and help get us to Season 5.

Some tweets:

And Drew’s excellent response to Mr. Hatfield’s snarky tweet:

Welcome Messiah College Community of Educators!

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Parmer Hall, Messiah College

When this post appears on the blog (9:50am on Monday, May 20, 2018) I will be sitting with Drew Dyrli Hermeling on the magnificent stage of Parmer Hall at Messiah College hosting a special episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The episode is being recorded right now in front of a live studio audience at Messiah’s “Educator’s Day.”  Every year, Messiah College’s community of educators gather on the Monday following graduation for a day of professional development.  This year’s theme is “Flourishing in a Digital Age” and the administration has asked me to dedicate a podcast episode to digital scholarship and teaching at Messiah College.

We have done 38 full episodes of the podcast thus far.  I have interviewed Pulitzer Prize–winning authors and all kinds of other important people in the history field, but I have never been more nervous than I am this morning.  There is something different about having to host this podcast in front of a few hundred of my colleagues!

I think it is fair to say that most Messiah College educators are not familiar with the blog or the podcast.  Many will be finding their way to http://www.thewayofimprovement.com from their phones and laptops as they listen to us recording the podcast on stage. If you are one of those educators, welcome to our online home!  Feel free to explore a bit and get acquainted with what we have been doing here for the last ten years!  🙂

A 2018 Messiah College Graduate Reflects on the Power of the Humanities

Boyer Hall

I never got a chance to teach Becky Kimmel, Messiah College class of 2018.  I met her for the first time back in January when she interviewed me for a story on Confederate monuments that she was writing for the college news magazine.  We had a great conversation that day and I left wishing that I had had her in class.

In today Harrisburg Patriot-News, Kimmel reflects on the value of her humanities degree at Messiah College.  Nice work!

My liberal arts education has taught me perspective. How to look critically at myself and my place in society, but also at others and their place. What does it look like for me to actually be a good neighbor to my fellow citizens?

I’ve learned self-awareness. How might I have implicit biases that I don’t even recognize, but that still affect my everyday thoughts and interactions?

I’ve learned appreciation. What would our world look like without fine arts and theater — without films that move us and books that capture our attention?

I’ve learned the importance of stewardship. What am I doing to protect the planet and those creatures I share it with?

I’ve learned how to be accepting — that guess what, not everyone is going to look like me and think like me and talk like me, but that, yeah, they still matter. And are still entitled to their own opinions and actions.

And possibly of the most importance, these past four year have taught me empathy. In a society that seems to thrive on who can throw the most shade — deliver the hardest blow — I’ve learned that being nice is cool; that looking out for someone other than number one is important; that standing up for what is right, rather than what is easy or popular or will deliver the most money to my pocket, is what really matters.

Read the entire piece here.

Digital History at Messiah College

harrisburg digital

Yesterday I was telling the museum professionals at the PA Museum Association annual conference about our Public History Program at Messiah College.  Here is what I said:

As the chair of the history department, I have also been involved in helping to create Messiah College’s public history program.  Our public history students get training in the kind of historical thinking and historical content that all of our history majors receive.  That includes 39 hours of coursework.  But they also take a course in public history theory and practice and enroll in other courses that have substantial units devoted to oral history, local history, history education, public archaeology, and digital history.  But that is not all!  Students also take electives in topics such as web design, event planning, GIS technology, business administration, museum studies, public relations writing, or photography.    Our program is innovative, and I know of several colleges that have used it as a model for their own public history programs.

As I told the museum professionals, digital history plays an important role in our public history program.  We offer a 300-level course in the subject and use the Digital Harrisburg Initiative as a home base for a lot of our work in this area.

Want to learn more about digital history at Messiah?  Watch this video. (For whatever reason, I cannot get it to embed).