Monday, February 23, 2015

Dispatches from the History Major: "Surviving Coursework"

I hope you are enjoying "Dispatches from the History Major."  Here is the next installment from Messiah College sophomore history major James Mueller.  --JF

Up to this point, I've praised the benefits of studying history, disparaged the modern mentality towards collegiate education, and discussed some of the opportunities the Messiah College History Department offers to its students. But I realize I haven’t given you much of an insider’s view concerning what life as a history major is like at Messiah.  So let me say a few words about my coursework this semester:

My spring semester is pretty light.  I took a three-week intensive French 201 course last January, and I will be taking another three-week intensive archaeology course on the island of Cyprus this May; so that leaves me with 12 credits between February and May.  Here are some of the things I have learned in my courses so far this semester:

Course: Tudor-Stuart England (1400-1700)
  • If you’re a king, try to avoid having six sons – it makes succession a mess.
  • The destruction of the “Great Chain of Being” and the rise of entrepreneurialism/individualism in early modern England destroyed village life, increased poverty, and indirectly encouraged the first English welfare system (note: I know there were positive side effects as well, but I wanted to highlight these issues because they are contrary to the popular western perspective which glorifies individualism).
  • If Kings and Popes solved their problems by playing "rock-paper-scissors" we would have fewer churches.    
Course: French Culture and Language (French 206)
  • There are WAY more francophone countries than I ever imagined.
  • The subjunctive can be tricky; it would be nice if it was easier.
  •  J’aime beaucoup la langue et je la veux continuer dans l’avenir ! 

Course: The History of Ancient Rome
  • There are major source problems with Suetonius’ writings, but boy is his emperor-gossip entertaining.
  • The morality of the Roman people was a persistent concern for many of Rome’s greatest emperors, senators, and politicians – Emperor Augustus even tried to enforce laws to eliminate adultery and divorce among the aristocracy.
  • Emperor Caligula and the Joker from Batman would be fast friends if they ever met in an alternate universe.    

Course: Urban History
  • There are some interesting thoughts out there about the relationship between cities and Christianity (Tim Keller’s ideas are especially challenging for the suburbanite believer).
  • Place matters. Cities are worth thinking about because of the cultural and historical things they can tell you about a society.
  • Jane Jacobs proves that experience and good prose can outdo theoretical city planning any day (albeit, her solutions to city planning problems are a bit provincial at times).
On Wednesday I’ll post a piece on Messiah’s History on the Bridge website about how being a nerd has made me a better history major. If you want to see how I think things like games, movies, and role-playing intersect with the intellectual sphere, check it out!