That Was The Week That Was


• I’m normally a big proponent of empathy as a historical virtue. But I can’t say that I grieved all that much to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Josef Stalin suffering the stroke that killed him. I did, however, enjoy teaching my students a song about said demise…

• What is the poor Downton Abbey fan to watch between now and whenever the fourth series starts? I’m glad you asked! (Truth be told, I’m not taking any of my advice: instead, I’m halfway into the Netflix remake of House of Cards. There’s probably a post there, but I’ll wait till I’m done before writing.)

Why study history? Pre-order John Fea’s book answering that important question (cover art now revealed), and check out our department blog to read some common responses from my students.

• If you missed my post last month suggesting some books, essays, articles, documents, blogs, etc. about Pietism, I adapted it into a more permanent page that you can find linked at the top of this page. (“Learn More about Pietism“)

…There and Everywhere

Dachau gate
“Work shall set you free”: the infamous gate to Dachau – Sam Mulberry

• According to a new study, the Holocaust was even worse than we thought.

• Our visit to the concentration camp site at Dachau ended up being an important part of “Over There! Reflections on Studying World War I in Europe,” a presentation that my colleague Sam Mulberry, myself, and two of our students gave this past Thursday at Bethel. Video is already available.

• Almost 600,000 students in the American high school class of 2012 took an AP exam in history. (Interestingly, only about 50% of students passed the US and World exams, which are growing fastest in popularity, while the European exam has seen over 60% of its 80,000-some takers get a 3 or higher.) Perhaps most interesting, the AHA’s Robert Townsend points out, the population of high school students taking AP history is much more diverse than that of college students majoring in the field.

• Van Cliburn, who died this week, was best-known as a kind of musical ambassador in the midst of the Cold War. Less well known was his Baptist piety.

• I’m excited that The Christian Century has added a weekly online feature called Then and Now, “a space where scholarly expertise collides with the faith, hope and love of those of us who seek thoughtful reflection about our pasts to bear upon the confusing issues of our presents.” Then and Now editor Edward Blum (co-author of the acclaimed The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America) got things off to a great start with a post that concluded, “To use history poorly is to abuse it and the people who still suffer from its burdens. It is also to remain in a darkness of one’s own choosing and making. But history can be helpful. Approached from an effort to honor life and to transform ourselves for the better, history can be a dear friend and informative ally.”

• Jana Riess on the now-lapsed practice of wearing mourning clothes after the death of a loved one: “…the purpose of the all-black fashion regimen was to give the bereaved survivors some much-needed cultural latitude…. Mourning clothes gave people permission to take time to grieve…”

• I can’t say I knew much about the group of Australian neo-Puritans known as “Sydney Anglicans.”

• I took a day off from blogging on Wednesday, part of the END IT Movement’s attempt to draw attention to present-day slavery. I returned by re-running a post that engaged with Jay Case’s observation that abolitionism is not something someone like me has earned, but is a kind of grace: God working through history. In that vein… Read Jay’s critique of the way that Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln marginalizes the role played by black and white abolitionists in paving the way for the 13th Amendment. But also, consider Rachel Held Evans’ reflection on the way that the Bible was used against the abolitionist cause.

• Peter Leithart came away from watching a debate about same-sex marriage struck by the difficulty that its Christian opponents have making arguments that can’t be dismissed as “theocratic”: “That leaves Christians with the option of making theologically rich, biblically founded arguments against gay marriage. But do we have the vocabulary ready to hand? And even if we do, does the vocabulary we have make any sense to the public at large?”

C. Everett Koop
C. Everett Koop (1916-2013) – National Institutes of Health

• There’s no one I admire more than my own father, and I’m not sure he admired anyone more than C. Everett Koop, the pioneering pediatric surgeon who became perhaps the best-known Surgeon General in American history, though a controversial one. His death this past Monday led Christianity Today to post this brief overview of Koop’s career and views, and to rerun a 1989 article about Koop by Philip Yancey (who featured Koop in his book Soul Survivor). It was also interesting to read Michael Specter on Koop: he found him immoderate and sometimes wrong, but deserving of enormous respect;

• A while back I posted something about Christians and sports that was inspired by reading New York Times religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer’s profile of a tennis-playing Episcopal seminarian who struggled to reconcile the virtues of athletic competition with the love to which Christ called him. Oppenheimer returned to the theme with the cover story of the February 4th Sports Illustrated, focused on Christians who play pro football. It’s not available online, but you can read biblical scholar Ben Witherington’s summary and response.

• If you haven’t heard yet, there’s yet another ugly crisis within the world of Christian colleges, this time at Louisiana College. Here’s historian Scott Culpepper’s open letter to the LC board, explaining the reasons for his resignation from the faculty of that Southern Baptist school (he’s now at Dordt College) and calling for the dismissal of LC president Joe Aguillard. Based on the non-renewal of contracts to three LC faculty, Thomas Kidd characterized the conflict as constituting “The latest front in the Baptist battle over Calvinism and Arminianism,” but art historian Rondall Reynoso (another former LC professor) has disputed this interpretation.

• What’s the value of the humanities? AHA Today offered a set of links that should help historians and their scholarly neighbors better answer that increasingly urgent question.

• Daryl Hart is rather less appreciative of former AHA president William Cronon’s enthusiasm for the liberal arts than I am… But I do think he raises a valid point at the end of his critique of Cronon’s list of the values of a liberal education: “…this list, while patting those involved with liberal education on the back, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the students who come to liberal arts institutions do so by way of families who have inculcated many of the virtues touted in this list — even some of those critical skills attributed to liberal education.”

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