Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Great Day in the Messiah College History Departrment

1st Year Feast Dessert
 Note: A shorter version of this post appeared last night at History on the Bridge, the blog of the Messiah College History Department. --JF

On days like this I am very proud to be the Chair of the Messiah College History Department.

The day began in my Historical Methods class where I got the privilege of watching three historians-in-training give presentations related to their research papers.  Today I learned something I did not know about Nancy Reagan, Lawrence of Arabia, and Woodward and Bernstein.  

Last year when I decided to alleviate some stress on the Department by stepping in to teach Historical Methods, our sophomore-level course on historical research, thinking, and writing, I was not overly excited about preparing a new course.  I was already starting another course from scratch ("Intro to History") and with two professors on sabbatical I had four new adjuncts to acclimate to life in the History Department. 

In the end, I am glad that I taught the course.  It has been a great semester watching these sophomores grow intellectually over the past several months.  I found it particularly rewarding seeing them develop research papers from scratch and helping them, step-by-step, along the way.  I hope I can teach this course again one day.  I should also add that our new series "Virtual Office Hours" grew out of this course.

After class I chatted with Megan Sullivan, my student research assistant, about a future project I am contemplating.  Megan has spent the semester digging into the papers and writings of William Livingston, New Jersey's revolutionary-era governor, as part of some of my work on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  We were wondering if it was worth taking another detour from this project to write a biography of Livingston.

Then it was on to a filming session in my office.  A couple of our students–Megan Piette and David Crout– are working on a short video about the History Department that we hope to send off to prospective students.  I got a chance to talk, on camera, about why I study history, what led me to Messiah College, the relationship between faith and historical thinking, and the distinctives of a Messiah College history education. 

In order to keep this project moving I have had to make four separate trips to K-Mart in order to purchase the right video equipment. (Thanks to Sloan Swiegart and Megan Keller who kept me company on the last trip). In the process I learned a valuable lesson--don't buy electronics at K-Mart, even if they are offering you an incredible on-line deal on a refurbished SONY video camera.

Later in the afternoon I found a seat in a jam-packed classroom to see senior history major Megan Keller deliver her honors presentation.  Megan is doing some fascinating work at the intersection of digital history, public history, memory, oral history, and labor history.  Her project is an i-Phone “app” that offers a walking tour of industrial Hershey, Pennsylvania.  As I said in another post at this blog, Megan’s presentation is the most innovative honors project that has ever been done in the Messiah College History Department.  She has paved the way for future projects in this area and is now the poster-child for some of the initiatives in public history and digital history that we as a department have been planning. In January we are going to Hershey to actually do the entire walking tour through some of these working-class neighborhoods.  Nice job, Megan!

Shortly after Megan’s presentation was finished, the Messiah College history faculty headed over to the “Private Dining Room” for the department’s annual “First Year Feast.”  As the last class period in the first-year “Intro to History” course, we invite all freshman to a catered dinner in one of the more swanky dining rooms on campus.  The First Year Feast is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate their success in making it through their first semester in college and their first semester as history majors.  (Thanks to my colleagues Jim LaGrand, Joseph Huffman, and Shirley Groff for planning the event). Tonight I felt a particularly strong sense of community in the room as we all got to know one another a little bit better.  Some students stayed well after dinner to chat informally. I got the impression some of them did not want to leave.

It was indeed a great day to be part of the Messiah College History Department.