Well, we’ve reached the halfway point of January Term here at Messiah College. It’s hard to believe that we have just seven in-class days until our intensive course is complete!
Anyway, this week my students covered a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively. On Monday, for instance, we traveled south just across the Pennsylvania border into Maryland for a field trip to the Ringgold Meeting House. On Tuesday, they took their first exam and we did some catch-up from the previous week’s class. (Like most professors, I try to cover too much material in too short a time — strange, or perhaps alarming, to think of three hours each day as “too short a time.”)
From Wednesday on, we started looking at what historian Carlton O. Wittlinger has called the “First Period of Transition” within the life and thought of the Brethren in Christ. During this 30-year period, the Brethren in Christ embraced a number of innovations from the larger Protestant world: revivalism, Sunday schools, higher education, cross-cultural missions, and Wesleyan Holiness theology (to mention only the topics we covered in class). I’ve been trying to show my students how these innovations originated within the broader Protestantism and therefore represented a challenge to the Brethren in Christ way of thinking about and practicing faith. We’ve also talked extensively about the ways in which accepting these innovations transformed Brethren in Christ life and thought — and paved the way for future transformations.
Friday was definitely the highlight of the week — for me, and I think for my students as well.
As I’ve mentioned before, my class meets in the Brethren in Christ HIstorical Library and Archives / Archives of Messiah College here on campus. So, to get students out of their seats and into some hands-on learning, on Friday I asked them to put together short, group-based presentations on the various periods of Messiah College history — using artifacts and documents from the archives to illustrate their points.
It was a great opportunity to teach them a bit about care for archival materials, as well as a chance for them to get their hands dirty (figuratively, not literally, since we keep the archives dust-free!) with some historical investigation.
Students uncovered some neat materials as we scoured the archival records. They were particularly fascinated by some of the rules and regulations that governed student conduct in earlier periods of Messiah College history. They enjoyed looking through yearbooks and at old images of Messiah College’s campus, particularly during periods of construction (say, in the 1940s and again in the 1970s and 1980s). These gave us a good opportunity to talk about the shifting nature of the student body population at Messiah College (i.e., moving from many Brethren in Christ students to a much smaller Brethren in Christ population) and about the physical evolution of Messiah’s campus, especially during the “boom years.”
Stay tuned for more updates as we continue class next week!