Welcome to the Perspectives Journal Podcast where we have conversation with thoughtful and interesting people from a generously Reformed Perspective. We’ll be covering topics from theology and church to the arts and sciences.
Today, we’ll be getting to know one of our Twelve Bloggers a little bit better. Introducing Rebecca Koerselman, a history professor at Northwestern College.
In this episode, we discussed how Rebecca’s Reformed perspective and her faith shapes the way she studies history. She also tells of her fascination with gender history – studying history from the perspective of a particular gender and how that affects the way we perceive history.
On a lighter note, one of the things Rebecca loves about teaching history is hearing the different perspectives that her students bring as they interpret history. And aside from teaching history, she finds joy in baking, spending time with her daughters, and doing projects around her home.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcription for the full conversation and details.
Steve: okay well we welcome Rebecca Koerselman, history professor at Northwestern College in Orange City and a regular blogger on the 12 thank you Rebecca for being one of our first podcast guests for the perspective podcast
Rebecca: thank you Steve for having me
Steve: so part of our goal is just to get to know some of our bloggers a little bit better so could you just tell us a little bit about who you are or your background what you do maybe FamilyLife kind of name rank serial number starting stuff
Rebecca: Well, as you mentioned I’m a historian and I teach at Northwestern college. but I’ve kind of bounced around a few different places. I was born in Michigan, lived there for a while moved with my family to Iowa, went to Northwestern College as an undergrad and got my degree in history and secondary Ed, spent some time in South Dakota, and in central Iowa and then I spent time in Michigan at Michigan State to work on my doctoral degree in history. my first job was in Oklahoma and this is my second job, and this is my fourth year here. so we’ve lived a few different places mostly in the midwest. I have… my spouse Works in special education. and we have two daughters, which give our life a lot of fun and a lot of drama all at the same time .
Steve:and tell us about teaching. why do you like to teach? what excites you in the classroom are there courses especially to you like the teach? or topics? or what what is it that kind of makes you get up in the morning and want to go to work?
Rebecca: I love teaching. I love the interaction of Youth in particular dealing with content and history specifically. one of my favorite things about history is that it’s always an interaction between the present in the past. right? the past doesn’t necessarily change that much will occasionally does that most of the time that information say the same but we don’t. the things were interested in the things we pay attention to changes just like we do .and one of my favorite things about teaching history is that I get to see students bring their perspectives to what we’re looking at. so I could have read this book 4 5 times and then we talked about it in class, and I have students notice things and bring of things I’d never thought of or could ever possibly imagined before. and that’s one of my favorite things about teaching history. and I got to do that with high school students, I get to do that more with college students .because I got to spend less time policing behavior and more time talking about content, which I particularly enjoy. I teach all the u.s. history courses here at Northwestern College. and I’m primarily interested in 20th century US history. I do a lot and gender history and American religious history are two of my passions. I also oversee the student teachers and work a lot with the history education Majors, which I also really enjoy this is a passion and calling for me.
Steve: just say a little more about gender history. I mean I think it’s just a term a lot of people probably aren’t familiar with. what what does that even mean or describe?
Rebecca: Sure. It’s more of a scholarly/Academic term, but is essentially looks at gender the category of analysis in history. so for example, how does the history of religion look differently if we look at primarily this perspective of women, instead of men. and that was something that I got interested in in grad school. and I was really fascinated by the the method of doing history in that way. and of course one of the reasons I was interested in that was the way it intersected with my own experiences in the church as a female, particularly when I was young, that most of my teachers in Sunday School in catechism were female. and as I got older and in high school I noticed that a lot of the leadership was male. and a lot of the people who did much of the leg work around the church were female. and I found that really sort of interesting in perplexing at the same time. and so when I got to do some gender history so looking at what history looks like from a female perspective, and also what history looks like from a male perspective. and how are ideas of masculinity and femininity affect the way that we see the world, the way that we recorded history, the way that we understand history. I find that to all be very fascinating.
Steve:so this is kind of bringing it may be back down to my level just a little bit here, and it’s going to be kind of an auto left-field question but so– 20th century American history gender studies you have heroes.. I think can recognize when I read history I end up you know identifying with people are not identifying … and kind of wishing well I wish I’d been that person back and then are there people you look back on and you say Obviously these are people I admire? I learned from a lot from when I did research your read about him ?
Rebecca: I find all kinds of people to be very fascinating but one of the things I think that the mark of doing good history is the more you study about someone, sometimes the more tarnish their image becomes. somebody that you think is really great the more you learn about them you get usually Fuller picture and that picture is usually of them being quite human. which sometimes can be disappointing. recently when having said that, there I do have some people that I find particularly admirable. I was reading Dorothy day’s book “Loaves and fishes” and I was very convicted by her ideas about hospitality and poverty and what that means living in the United States. I found different political figures to be fascinating. a lot of women that I’ve learned about in church history, because of my interest in gender history that I didn’t know about as a kid growing up as much that I find really fascinating. Ervene Bell who pioneered a camping program in North Carolina. Lots of kind of unsung heroes. right? women who are doing good work of the church that don’t make a lot of headlines but are really doing the work of the kingdom. and I I find that really Inspiring.
Steve:that is I mean it’s interesting I mean especially those that aren’t unusual top 10 list kind of people, that you kind of dig around and you find them both inspired and maybe bring them a little bit of a little light shine on them too.. but you were talking about the you know kind of tarnished, and that this is at again kind of a bad Segway I feel but …. let’s talk about being reformed you know from tarnished to reformed, there’s some kind of subconscious link there … and you know so the 12 and perspectives we are rooted in the reformed tradition.. and what does it mean does it mean anything at all to be reformed in history? how does being reformed affect the way you do history, look at history, read history ?
Rebecca: that’s pretty big question and I feel like I’ll probably spend the rest of my life and career answering that question.. and maybe this answer or the answer will likely change over time but it is something I thought a lot about. so I’ve grown up I grew up in an RCA church, church family. and that’s been something that’s been a part of my life, for all of my life. and of course now teaching at a college that’s affiliated with the RCA. it’s something that I’m very comfortable with. I mean to be reformed… right I mean historically this comes out of the Protestant Reformation and I guess we went with reformed instead of protestant because sounds a little nicer right. but to be reformed and to be always reforming and paying attention to the Theology of what we believe, but more than that the way that Christ interacts with culture in the world, in the way that we think about theology, in the way we think about the world that we live in. as a historian how that changes over time. the way that we understand ourselves as Americans in the 21st century looks different than it did in 20th century, and than dead in the 19th century in the 18th century. one of the things I really like about the reformed tradition is that it’s not afraid to engage in scholarship, and it’s not afraid to think critically about what we believe and why we believe it, and what some of the influences of our current culture might be on our interpretations of scripture, on our discussions of Theology and scripture . but I like the reformed way of thinking because it corresponds with a lot of the ideas about things about what we think ,and why we think that, to be diligent and understanding, big questions about God, like why do why does bad things happen to good people? I mean these are Big questions that we’re not alone in struggling with. and I think that it’s really wonderful to have a tradition to look at, what did other people at different times and places how did they answer that question? and why did they think of it in that way? and how does that help me understand that question now today from my own perspective?
Steve:okay well good that’s helpful that is helpful and I guess then maybe this to you as a historian but I think I also made it to you just as a child of God, a mother, a person … What brings you hope? or what gives you hope? I think people we live in a time I just think when people are looking for Hope. and maybe you find that, I hope you do, maybe in scholarship sometimes. but just in general when you’re not feeling hopeful, what where do you find it and refill your hope tank ?
Rebecca: I guess I would say for me the easy answer is Christ is my hope, you know. Ultimately I know I know the end game. and that gives me great hope and great optimism. I don’t always know how to balance that with total depravity and understanding the sinfulness of humanity. and how those two things fit together are wonderful mystery in many ways to me. but I I am one of those people who loves studying history, which can maybe be dark and depressing. sometimes, I think ,as you mentioned maybe current time we feel less helpful than other times. as a historian of course we can look back and say, “well I don’t know there were other times that were pretty bleak” in US history in human history. how did people deal with that? and so in that sense I guess my my discipline of History I think helps me to be optimistic courses plenty of dark stories to I mean let’s be real but I know I tend to be more of the the sunnier Outlook or at least at this point I am. but I think ultimately that to do with a deep sense of peace about knowing who I am, that I belong to Christ. and that that is the key part of my identity. and everything else matters and and is important but it’s not quite as important as that is that truth in my life.
Steve: Let’s talk just a little bit about those things that maybe do matter a little less, just kind of talk about I don’t know, I mean I don’t want to put words in your mouth…. but you know is it gardening that sometimes brings you hope? or eating cinnamon rolls? or you know watching roller derby? all of the above? what are you find that list you that you know maybe not in the ultimate sense but you do this you know you know the robins arrive back I don’t know what what’s it for you?
Rebecca:I love playing with my girls. the way they see the world is so fresh and so new and so fun. I think that’s great. I love talking with other and older Generations. I enjoy that too. and I’m working on a an oral history project so I get to talk to people about what they remember and those are things that energize me. and I love baking. I got addicted to the Great British Bake Off for the Great British baking show in the US. and I would like to watch that with one of my girls. and we like to experiment in the kitchen. but it’s about that sort of relaxing for me. exercise ,being outside, doing project, painting, house projects we’ve been doing, we’re going to do some gardening. I joke sometimes that because I’m in an academic fields and a lot of the work I do is intellectual that I like doing things to relax, that I can show that I actually accomplish something instead of just thinking about something. right? I have an end product so if I go in the kitchen and bake pie I can say look what I accomplished this afternoon. sometimes in my job you know we talked about a lot of ideas, but there’s not always as substantives and product to a show at the end of thing. so it’s it’s it’s fun for me to do things that show some visual progress of something being accomplished. I enjoy that
Steve: okay well thank. you last question. really big one …but is so if I say Jesus what do you hear or feel? somewhat for the word.. but obviously behind the word? Who or what is Jesus to you? when you know what is what difference does it make likes it how does that word ReSound in your soul?
Rebecca: Yeah, you’re right, that’s a big question. I feel like as a person who belongs to Christ and also a historian, that those things are sometimes in tension and sometimes complementary. so for example you ask me that question and right now I happen to be teaching a book in one of my classes called American Jesusby Stephen prothero. and essentially he talks about all the different ways that Americans Christian and non-Christian Americans have sort of formulated and reformulated Jesus to fit what they want to be right? so you know whether that means women molding Jesus into someone that emphasizes more of his feminine characteristics, his parenting. whether it’s sort of the muscular Christianity movement that emphasizes Jesus as being served Scrappy and masculine and as a carpenter. so there’s the part of me that as a historian thinks, there’s so many different ways that people have interpreted Jesus. I mean I I read stories to my daughters at night and we have children’s story Bibles and they literally picture Jesus in a particular way. right? and I think there’s so many different ways of understanding Jesus. one of the things I love about Christ is so many of those things I don’t know the answer to – what he looked like, if he had a high voice or low voice, how he communicated– and I I love wondering about those things in the same way they serve loves these different perspectives on History. right? and so when I think about Christ as a Jew who lived in first century Palestine I’m fascinated is a historian. but also is a savior I have a connection to Jesus, that sort of unique and inexplicable and so many ways. and there’s a sense of understanding to the Holy Spirit when I read the gospels or when I hear people talk about what Christ has done in their lives. and that I’m always kind of struggling between sort of the the person of faith and the historian. and like I said sometimes those are in tension with each other and sometimes their they’re perfectly complementary.
Steve: good answer, good answer. And, Rebecca, you know really what we’re trying to do on these things just so people read your blog, they just have a little bit better sense of who you are what’s behind that… all those kind of things. any anything else you just want to say to people add about almost anything you know?
Rebecca: I’m just really passionate about people engaging. and I I love, I love when people comment on the blog. you know? and then try to sort of push us back on some things. I love that. I don’t always respond as quickly as I want to. because I have other obligations as soon as you also require feedback. but I I love that sort of engagement. Right? I mean if we can’t talk about it in a Christian College or institution then where can we talk about it? I mean in that community of of Christ, and also a larger academic community, and also maybe even brought her to community Americans in the United States, or around the world… we should be able to talk about these things. and and to do it and do it kind and respectful. and I think that’s really important .and it’s something I really care about modeling to my students. and I I think we need to do more of that, particularly in the church. that we should we should do a good job engaging. I don’t know what the answers or outcome to those engagements look like. but I I know that were called to engage, an end to do that in a respectful way. and I I really love to see that you know whether people agree with me or I agree with other people and some ways that’s not really the point .right? the point is to talk about it and to learn some of those different perspectives and I absolutely love that.
Steve: all right well Rebecca, we thank you for taking your time and sharing your thoughts and a little bit of your heart and letting us just talk for a bit and being one of our first ones. so you know you get a gold star and our thanks.
Rebecca: thanks so much Steve. this was fun
Steve: thank you Rebecca