As I reported in an earlier post, this past Monday I participated in an event called “What Young Historians Are Thinking.” The event was co-sponsored by the Sider Institute at Messiah College and by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, and held at Lancaster Brethren in Christ Church. It featured short presentations by three young historians writing about Historic Peace Church traditions (specifically, Mennonite Church, Brethren in Christ Church, and Religious Society of Friends/Quakers). I served as the moderator for the evening gathering.
Here’s a quick recap of the night.
We had about 50-60 people turn out for the event, including folks from all of the church traditions represented. Those in attendance were treated to three really interesting (and very different!) presentations.
Readers of the blog will likely recognize the name of the first presenter: Brooke Strayer. (We’ve written about Brooke’s research here, here, and here.) For the fourth time this year, Brooke delivered a presentation on her research on the history of the Brethren in Christ peace position between World War I and the present. In her presentation, Brooke argues that adherence to the peace position has declined among church members, even as leaders continue to stress the position. She points to confusion on the principle of peace as well as greater acculturation as the sources of this declining adherence. As I listened to Brooke’s talk yet again, I was struck once more by how her work embodies what we might call “historical activism”: using the past to encourage change in the future. Of course, we could debate whether or not this is a responsible use of historical research, but one thing is clear: Brooke is very, very passionate about Christian peacemaking.
The evening’s second presentation came from Moira Mackay, a recent graduate of Juniata College and a current graduate student at Simmons College studying history and archives management. Moira’s presentation focused on the life and work for 19th century British Quaker Anne Knight, an early feminist and tireless advocate for abolition. Mackay showed how Knight, though relatively unknown, networked and collaborated with leading suffragists and abolitionists in both Britain and the U.S., including Lucretia Mott. The most interesting aspect of her presentation, in my mind, was her encouragement to historians to pay attention to those voices that are not often included in the historical narrative, including the voices of women.
The third presentation came from Ted Maust, a graduate of Goshen College who currently works for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Ted’s paper focused on the work of 19th century Mennonite John F. Funk, who launched a denominational newspaper — Herald of Truth — at a time when Mennonites were “the quiet in the land” and largely resistant to activities that threatened to draw the church into the “world.” Ted highlighted the fact that Funk left the bosom of the Mennonite Church — eastern Pennsylvania — and moved to the city of Chicago (a perceived hotbed of “worldliness”), where he launched his paper. Funk’s pilgrimage away from the Mennonites and into the city ultimately compelled him to start the paper, and by the end of his life he had returned to the Mennonite fold. I saw Ted’s paper helping us to understand how the past is often a “foreign country,” a landscape that challenges our simple stereotypes about how things were “back then.” Funk’s journey away from and then back to the Mennonite Church challenges the way we think about a communally-oriented and sectarian society like the 19th century Mennonites.
After the three presentations, we had some good Q&A with the audience. People seemed very engaged with the material, and excited about the work of these young historians.
I had such a good time with these young scholars, and I’m looking forward to next year’s gathering already! Stay tuned to the blog for updates.