Learn More about Digital Humanities at Bethel

As you look at registering for fall courses, be sure to consider DIG200 Intro to Digital Humanities, which Prof. Goldberg will be teaching on Monday evenings (6-9pm) in the CC 325 computer lab.

Of course, you all got an introduction to the future of Digital Humanities at Bethel when Charlie joined us for our digital history unit. But if you want to hear more… he and digital librarian Kent Gerber will be giving a presentation in the Library next Tuesday morning (4/4) at 10:20.


Usable Pasts: Inspiration

As I read your response papers this week, the most popular “usable past” that came up was John Fea’s idea of the past as a source of inspiration (or caution). Three examples of that theme…

SHAWN: I see the past as a useful notion because why else do we have the ability to remember the past. It is useful because we have to past to remember and try not to repeat in the future. We see the past and learn from our mistakes so that when we move on in to the future we make bigger and brighter choices. …[John] Fea shares with us the idea that the past inspires us. Giving an example of how soldiers storming the beach at Normandy to William Wilberforce helping to end the slave trade to many more heroic things. Fea goes on in this section to expand this idea of being inspired and share that as we see these heroic events in the past us as humans get inspired and many times want to be better. While we see the past as a positive and heroic place, there still are negatives that are from the past that we dislike. Fea shares that the past is a useful “cautionary tale”, because it is filled with people and things that we do not want to repeat.This idea of hero is not secluded to someone famous, but to anyone in your life that you deem as a hero.

DUSTIN: [John] Fea talks about how people are able to use the past as a source of inspiration and motivation for present day life. He gives the example of his student Christina and the inspiration she received for her senior art project on Thomas Paine. Christina was able to not only find inspiration from the words of Thomas Paine, but also, it gave her the motivation to do her final art project on something that she was passionate about. History is full of figures and events that we can look to for guidance and also to serve as a reminder to the mistakes we have made in the past, “Whether it is inspiration or warning, we can all draw lessons for the present by studying the past” (Why Study History?, p. 33).

NELSON: …I grew up not knowing much of my family history; because of this I put a great emphasis on knowing the past, remembering it. In that sense the past is useful, it helps one understand how they got there. Perhaps more importantly to me is that the past is a source of motivation for me. Fea describes it as the “Inspirational Past.” Writers like Frederick Douglas inspire me to treat others equally, thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr motivate me to act peacefully, and other men like Hitler serve as a warning of what evils man can do. As Fea puts it, “Whether it is inspiration or warning, we can all draw lessons for the present by studying the past” (p. 33).

Is there a particular individual, group, or event from the past that you find especially inspirational — or cautionary? What problems do you see with the past-as-inspiration? How might McKenzie critique the idea of a “heroic” past? (see ch. 4 of The First Thanksgiving)

Usable Pasts: Identity

While many of your response papers this week warned against seeking an “escape into the past,” the value of seeking personal or national identity in the past resonated strongly — though not perfectly — with many of you.

SARAH: History may prove to be the most useful and avoid potential loss of value when used to assist in the formation the identity of a particular nation or group of people. Without a sufficient understanding of the past, the question of identity often becomes impossible to answer. Notions of freedom and liberty would not prevail in American society today had the events surrounding the American Revolution not developed into common and pervasive public knowledge (Fea, 37). Thanksgiving was responsible for the forming of a broad American understanding that all were immigrants at one time, although this idea was uniquely influenced by the fears surrounding the mass immigration of those from Eastern Europe at this time (McKenzie, 165). The past, when truthfully communicated, can inspire patriotism among the young (Fea, 38). But, although this use seems to hold more of a deeper application of usefulness, it can become controversial when events in the past are sugarcoated or seem to only focus on one aspect as a means of propaganda. This is demonstrated by the fact that Native Americans are not able to identify with the American corporate identity as immigrants and through presidents’ appeal to the Pilgrims to urge for soldiers to “fight for a better world for all” and for survival, forgetting that peace constituted an important value for the Pilgrims as well (McKenzie, 168). Despite the problems in this use of the past, its use as a national identity tool proves to get at a higher end than the mere consumerist mentality that characterizes the goal of many Americans’ efforts.

AIDAN: The most important place that people use the past is in shaping their identity. We are as a society very individualistic, and we do not like telling other people telling us what are identity or our character should be. That being said, everybody grounds their identity in something because it is really hard to have a baseless identity. The past gives us the best of both worlds. It gives you something to ground your identity in, but it allows you to still be individualistic, because it’s your past and you get to control it. Dr. McKenzie talks in The First Thanksgiving about how the holiday of Thanksgiving has been changed during the years from a religious holiday, to a family event, to a cultural celebration depending on our nation’s focus and identity. In the same way, we as individuals reshape our personal view of the past by highlighting one part of our history and putting less focus on other parts depending on the circumstances.

In your lifetime, do you think that the past has become more useful or less as a source of national identity? To what other kinds of pasts-as-source-of-identity do you personally turn? (e.g., Does the past shape your identity as a Christian? Or a woman or man? Or [insert other identity]?)

Usable Pasts: Escapism

In ch. 2 of Why Study History? John Fea explores several types of “usable pasts.” While some struck most of you as quite valid as you wrote your response papers, one that was generally unpopular was the notion of past as an “escape from the pressures and anxieties of modern life” (p. 33).

JOHN: If you always escape to the past to avoid your problems then your problems will never go away. Sometimes you need to face your pressures of life head on and try to correct them. I see this with some of my friends from high school. The first year of college they will go home a lot of the time because they feel safe there. That is ok to do time to time but they also need to try and deal with their anxiety about college. There are many ways to make the past useful and I feel we need to take advantage of those ways.

JAKE: I think this point contradicts the idea that we should be using history to influence our world today. McKenzie draws on this point, that history should not be understood in a passive sense. He says, “A dismissive attitude toward historical truth robs history of its greatest potential benefit to us a disciplined study that helps us to see the present more clearly” (McKenzie, p. 171).

Fea cites the example of a Twilight Zone episode. Can you think of a specific example of historical escapism in popular culture? Can you see any benefit to the past as a source of escape? (Do you ever do this? Do you think you’re more or less prone to this kind of escapism as someone who’s especially interested in history?)

Response Paper: The Usable Past

In Why Study History? John Fea contends that most Americans, far from being disinterested in the past, are actually obsessed with it. “The past,” however, “must be relevant. It must be usable. Or at the very least, it cannot be useless” (p. 30). During the week, I want you to explore several versions of “the usable past” and write a response to this way of engaging the past. You’ll have a response paper due by noon on W 3/29, then continue the conversation up till class on Friday afternoon by commenting on blog posts.


1. Read ch. 2 in Why Study History?, in which Fea suggests different kinds of “usable pasts” that are common in American culture.

2. Then read ch. 7 in The First Thanksgiving, in which Tracy McKenzie explores the “cultural usefulness” (and, at times, “uselessness”) of the Pilgrims’ story — and why historical revisionism challenges such usable pasts.

3. Finally, spend some time thinking of where you see versions of “the usable past” showing up in present-day America. (Or in your family, church, college, or other communities.)


By noon on Wednesday, upload to Moodle a 300-word response paper in which you draw on this preparation in order to answer the following questions: (however you answer them, it should be clear that you understand the idea of “usable past” and at least two of its particular manifestations)

On balance, what do you think of the notion that the past ought to be “useful”? Why or why not? Are you particularly drawn to any one of Fea’s reasons for using the past? Which of those approaches do you find most problematic?

Provide supporting examples, from the reading (Fea and/or McKenzie) and from your own observation and experience.

NOTE: This is another response paper that’s meant to help you scout ahead for a future assignment. After Easter Break, your second group project will give you a chance to dive more deeply into one of Fea’s “usable pasts,” using examples from American popular culture.

Debates about Historical Commemoration

In the past couple of years, what Americans commemorate from the past — and how they do it — has become a significant political question for cities, states, organizations, and the nation. To prepare for our in-class discussion of this topic on Monday afternoon, spend an hour this weekend reading up on at least one commemoration debate.

Whichever article(s) you read, make you’re sure familiar with the controversy and the arguments made on both sides.

Confederate “Heritage”

When a young white supremacist murdered nine African Americans at a church Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, it reopened a long-running debate about how the Confederacy is commemorated. While critics called for the removal of Confederate flags and statues dedicated to Confederate leaders, others defended them as symbols of Confederate “heritage,” not white supremacy.

To explore this topic, you might start with my own July 2015 blog post on Confederate memorials, which links to a wide range of other essays. Or try NPR reporter Jessica Taylor’s overview of “The Complicated Political History of the Confederate Flag.”

The debate flared up again last February when the governor of Mississippi proclaimed April to be “Confederate Heritage Month,” prompting criticism from Mississippians like Timothy Abram, an African American history teacher who “agree[d] that it is important that we analyze our past to avoid mistakes in the future” but “simply [couldn’t] find anything to celebrate about the Confederacy.”

Just last week, an editorial writer in New Orleans suggested that “Germany has much to teach us about Confederate memorials,” since that country has also had to wrestle with how to commemorate an ugly chapter in its national history.

(On the larger notion of “heritage,” see Fea, pp. 39-40. It’s one of the “usable pasts” that you might explore and critique in your second group project.)


The larger debate over Confederate heritage helped feed controversies on two Ivy League campuses: Yale University, where students protested that one residential college was named after John C. Calhoun, a Yale alum who became one of the leading advocates of slavery in the decades leading up to the Civil War; and Princeton University, where a college and a program are named for Woodrow Wilson, the former Princeton and U.S. president who has since been fiercely criticized for resegregating the federal government during his time in office.

Princeton ultimately decided to keep the Wilson name, but Yale reversed an earlier decision and decided to rename Calhoun College after Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneering mathematician.

Closer to Home…

Calhoun also figured in a naming controversy closer to home, as he’s the namesake of one of Minneapolis’ most popular lakes. In 2015 the Charleston shooting prompted a petition (one of many in the lake’s history) to rename it after someone other than Calhoun. In this case, matters are complicated by the fact that Lake Calhoun was itself a renaming — the Lakota “Bde Maka Ska” was replaced when European settlers took over the land that became Minneapolis. In the end, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board compromised: it kept the Calhoun name, but added Bde Maka Ska to park signs.

Public History Sites and Tours (for April)

As I mentioned in class on Monday, in a couple weeks we’ll be doing a unit on public history. As part of that unit you’ll need to have completed a site visit to a museum, historical society, or other public history space in time to write a response paper due at noon on W 4/12.

Here keep in mind that one of the reasons we give you Wednesdays off is to let you “engage in more experiential learning, doing an activity on- or off-campus that helps fulfill our course objectives in a different way…. Giving up the third class hour each week creates plenty of space for you to arrange those activities in a way that fits your schedule.”

One pre-arranged option that I’ve also communicated is that you’re invited to join a larger Bethel group in visiting the Minnesota History Center on Saturday morning, April 8 — the day that the new “WW1 America” exhibit opens to the public. If you’d like to take this option, sign up by Friday at noon (using the Google Doc link I sent you on Monday).

If, however, you’re not interested in visiting the MN History Center or not available on the morning of 4/8, here are a few of the alternative sites you can visit on your own. (I’ll just require that you provide photos or some other evidence that you’ve actually visited the site.)

Other MNHS Sites

The state historical society owns and operates 25 sites in addition to the History Center in St. Paul. Just in the metro area, that list includes Historic Fort Snelling, the James J. Hill House, the Mill City Museum, and the Oliver Kelley Farm. Three others aren’t open until May, or only for special events and group visits. Wherever you plan to go, be sure to check hours and admission costs ahead of time.

Other Historical Societies, Museums, and LIVING HISTORY SITES

The metro area is home to several smaller, but well-run historical societies, several of which operate their own museums and living history sites. Here’s a fairly complete list. (It doesn’t include Eidem Homestead in Brooklyn Park, whose coordinator is Bethel History alum Eve Burlingame ’08. I’m not sure of Eidem’s hours this time of year, but you could try contacting Eve to arrange a visit. In the past she’s also had one of our students work as an intern, in case that interests you…)

Archives and libraries can also work, but clear them with me first. And I’ll remove our own archive from the list, since that’s already been the subject of an extra credit assignment.

Walking Tours

Another way to fulfill this assignment is to take a walking tour of historical interest. I’ll lead one of my own on Saturday afternoon, April 8th — if you’d like to join students from HIS231L World War II in touring local war/veterans memorials, let me know.

Or take one of the self-guided Minneapolis Historical or Saint Paul Historical walking tours. You can download them as apps for your mobile device, or use the web-based versions to plan your route.

Visualizing the Careers of America’s History Majors

Here’s the data visualization that Will showed early in his presentation this afternoon. Click through to see Ben Schmidt’s analysis of education/career data from the American Community Survey.

Visualization of History major careers by Ben Schmidt

Just look for the “History” box on the left-hand side of the chart and click on it to see what History majors nationally have tended to do for their careers. It’ll give you total numbers of jobs, plus how that compares to other fields of study.

Response Paper: Exploring Careers

As we check back in on the topic of history and vocation, take some time this week to explore at least two career paths followed by people who studied history as undergraduates. Then write a 300-word response paper summarizing what you learned, due by 5pm on Thursday 3/23.

(I won’t repost what you write, and we’ll take a week off from blog commenting. This is just a chance for you to do some personal exploration.)


1. Start by reviewing the final essay assignment — and perhaps the first response to it that you wrote at the beginning of February.

2. Then use LinkedIn and/or the Labor Department’s O*Net database (both introduced by Dave and Will in class on Monday afternoon) to identify at least two careers that you find intriguing.

3. Using our department’s series of alumni interviews (From AC 2nd to…) and/or John Fea’s long-running “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” blog series, read about former history students who have pursued the two careers you identified. (Note: at the end of the semester, you’ll be interviewing a Bethel alum — so you might want to use this assignment to identify a potential interview subject.)


By 5pm on Thursday, upload to Moodle a 300-word response paper in which you draw on this reading and research in order to answer the following questions: (however you answer the questions, it should be clear which careers you explored and which interviews/blog posts you read)

Just how relevant is undergraduate study of history to the careers you chose to explore? What connections did you see in the interviews/blog posts? (Can you think of any others?) In what ways is a history major or minor by itself insufficient to prepare you for these career paths? Finally, what’s something specific you can do this semester, this summer, or next fall to prepare you better for one of these careers? (declaring a major/minor, picking a course or courses, seeking an internship, networking, other experiences, etc.)

Summer 2017 Internships at the Minnesota Historical Society

AC 2nd

One of the great things about studying history at a university in the Twin Cities is that you have access to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), one of the largest and best organizations of its type in the country. For example, MNHS runs a significant internship program for college students and recent graduates, with cohorts recruited for the fall, spring, and summer.

If you’re interested in pursuing an MNHS internship for the summer, applications are being accepted all throughout the month of March, with intern orientation in May and jobs starting on June 1st. As usual, the program encompasses a wide variety of fields, with over twenty positions available in everything from digitization to web design, oral history to textile conservation, youth camps to special events.

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