History Department uses blog to promote discussion


Photo by Daniel Paulson

This February, Calvin’s history department started blogging.

Historical Horizons, the department’s new blog, aims to cultivate a historically minded community among students, faculty, staff and anyone else who is interested in historical topics.

Jenna Hunt, the history department’s administrative assistant, explained the genesis of the blog.

“The history department has been talking about the possibility of a blog for at least a year now,” said Hunt. “We really believe in the importance of history and historical thinking, so we have been brainstorming for some time about what we can do as a department to boost the profile of the humanities in general and history in particular, both on Calvin’s campus and nationally.”

“There’s been so much bad press … about the ‘crisis of the humanities,’ and that makes a lot of people think that it’s a bad idea to study history,” Hunt added. “We don’t think so, of course, and we wanted a space to publicly have a discussion about history and historical thinking.”

The blog has two main goals. First, it is a way to connect with students: current students, prospective students and alumni. Second, it serves as an alternative outlet for faculty and potentially for students to publish short articles.

“We have all sorts of conversations around the coffee table,” said Professor William Katerberg, chair of the history department. “It takes years to get something published even if it’s just an essay, whereas [writing a blog post] happens in a day or in a couple of weeks.”

“There’s lots of things that people have interesting ideas about that will never get published because they don’t have the time to do the research for a book or a 25-page peer-reviewed essay,” Katerberg continued, “but it’s perfect for a little 300 to 800-word blog post.”

Generally, the department posts two short entries and one longer entry to the blog each week.  Topics range from Mexico’s lawless drug cartels to climate change to the connection between the Winter Olympics and a fake village in 18th century Russia.

Katerberg hopes that the blog attracts new students to Calvin and, ultimately, to the history program, but he does not think that is the blog’s primary purpose.

“For me,” said Katerberg, “the bigger thing is the hope that it creates more of a vital sense of intellectual community among people interested in history at Calvin and among our colleagues interested in history, whether those are fellow professors…or other people who just find what we do on the blog interesting.”

“It’s a way of really creating intellectual community,” he added.

In terms of logistics, Hunt runs most of the blog’s day-to-day operations.

“I am the one who physically posts the entries onto the blog,” she explained. “Writers — usually faculty members, but also retired professors and possibly alumni and students on occasion — send me their posts, and I spend some time copyediting and suggesting changes as needed.”

Katerberg also assists in the blog’s administration but, in terms of content, the blog leverages the talent of the whole history department.

“The writing of entries is really a department-wide project,” said Hunt.

“Most of the department faculty have already written entries, and we’ve been receiving a lot of support and enthusiasm. We’ve always been a department that loves to talk over coffee or email Listserv about big ideas. Now we have a space to invite others into the conversation, and it’s becoming common during coffee break to hear someone say, ‘That would make a great blog entry.’”