The Dreaded Second Question – Or, In Defense of My Major

by Matt Beukema.

blackboard with hand writing in chalk "History"You’ve likely heard the question or even asked it yourself.

After answering “History” to the question of what I studied in college comes that dreaded second question. The question that comes nearly 90% of the time to history (and English, I’m sure) graduates.

“Do you want to teach?”

I don’t know why the question irks me so much. It’s innocent enough. Plus it seems like a large portion of history graduates do go into teaching.

Maybe it’s the underlying assumption that history is only useful for teaching. It’s a ridiculous concept, really. If something is only good for teaching others, why bother learning it in the first place?

I like to say that I study history for what is, not what was. I learned to think, to analyze, to communicate, to see what I’m seeing. I studied history to understand what ties humanity and the world together.

I learned to recognize and make sense of differences in street layouts and housing design over the 20th century in America, and the subtle racism and classism in post-World War II suburbanization. I learned to recognize strains of political and religious thought in American culture. I learned to dig deeper than initial, simple stories and listen to unheard voices.

I learned to look for connections—after all, a fact by itself means nothing (much credit to my advisor, James Bratt, for that one). I learned to pay attention, most of all, to recognize continuity and change as time goes by.

Studying history helps me make sense of the world around me. It reminds me that the world is both worse and better than I want to believe. History reassures me, advises me to panic less in a mad, mad world. History teaches me that Robert Frost was essentially right: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

The dreaded second question sells history–and the humanities in general–short. I’m a much better person for having studied history. I’m a better citizen, thinker, friend. I have little interest in teaching, but I’ll be forever grateful for studying history.

Are those not good enough reasons to study history?

I propose we begin asking better questions of history grads: So you like reading and writing? How does your degree shape how you see the world? How have you continued to learn about and analyze the world around you? What unheard stories are you listening to?

So please, stop asking me if I want to teach. Do all history grads a favor and ask more than the dreaded second question. We thank you in advance.

This post also appears on the post calvin, a blog for young Calvin alumni exploring the post-diploma years.

Matt Beukema is a 2015 history graduate of Calvin College. 

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Audio: John Fry on the Faith of Laura Ingalls Wilder

We had so much interest and enthusiasm for our February colloquium talk, that we are pleased to be able to share it here (with kind permission by the speaker):

‘This is What Men Call God’: The Faith of Laura Ingalls Wilder

A lecture by John Fry at Calvin College (February 22, 2017)

Poster for the talk features the title and speaker name and a woodcut drawing from the original Little House book.This year marks the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth in 1867. During the Great Depression, her Little House books—children’s fiction based on her childhood in Kansas and the upper Midwest—became best sellers, and they have remained popular since. These books were a collaboration with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Historian John Fry will discuss what the books and Wilder’s other writings reveal about Wilder’s faith and what the depictions of Christianity in the Little House books reveal about Wilder and Lane’s collaboration.

Listen here:

About the Speaker

John J. Fry is an Academic Dean and Professor of History at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois.  He is the author of The Farm Press, Reform, and Rural Change: 1895-1920 (Routledge, 2005) and the editor of Laura Gibson Smith’s Almost Pioneers: One Couple’s Homesteading Adventure in the West (Globe-Pequot, 2013).  He grew up on a farm in Western Pennsylvania, but now lives half a block away from the city of Chicago in Blue Island, Illinois.

This is the annual lecture for the Mellema Program in Western American Studies. It is also part of the monthly history colloquia series. These lectures are open to the Calvin community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come early to enjoy refreshments and conversation, and feel free to ask questions or join the discussion at the end.

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Why Your Denomination is Segregated (Podcast)

Podcast on Christianity Today.

Quote: "Methodists preached to mixed audiences: Anglos, other Europeans, Africans, Native Americans." - Eric WashingtonWhites and blacks worshiped together in colonial America? What happened?

Eric Washington joined Christianity Today assistant editor Morgan Lee and editor-in-chief Mark Galli on the podcast “Quick to Listen” to discuss the Great Awakening’s impact on African enslaved and free people, the overlap—if any—between conversion and emancipation, and the history of plantation churches.

Find out more and listen to the podcast here.

Eric Michael Washington is assistant professor of history and director of African and African Diaspora Studies at Calvin College. He is primarily interested in studying the African American church from its development in the late 18th century through the 19th century, and individual Christians, primarily Calvinists. He also has a growing academic interest in the growing “Black and Reformed” movement in North America.

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