Archive for the ‘Discussion’ category

Guest Post: History That Matters by Daniel Cooley

October 30, 2012

Daniel Cooley is a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He was kind enough to accept the invitation to reflect on CFH President R. Tracy Mckenzie’s Presidential Address from the conference at Gordon College.  Please take a moment to view his family’s adoption page.

History that Matters

Recently, I learned that some members of my church were concerned about the growing balance of our benevolence fund, which is devoted to assisting members in financial distress. It seemed as though the rate of distribution of these funds was slowing. I spoke to a former member of the committee that is responsible for distributing the money, and she shared something revealing. She told me that
no one with a legitimate need was ever turned away; however, the definition of legitimate need had changed. It had narrowed. This former committee member felt that the process was designed to protect the church against being taken advantage of rather than for increasing access to these funds. As I reflected on Tracy McKenzie’s address from our recent CFH meeting, I wondered if Christian historians might sometimes be guilty of an analogous practice. I wonder if we historians who posses a wealth of knowledge are sometimes guilty of a similar practice of narrowing the definition of need?

Through the course of the professionalization of history writing, the definition of what a historian can legitimately say has narrowed. So the sort of history that finds at least part its raison d’être in moral example is no longer a “legitimate need.” A famous example would be Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which suggests that superstition and religious belief are dangerous to society. It brought down Rome, and it can bring down Enlightenment rationalism too.

This professionalization, of course, has afforded tremendous advances in the field, but this has also changed the definition of “legitimate need.” What I mean by this is that the sort of projects which are deemed significant, useful, and helpful has changed. Up until the modern period, it seems that historians were more likely to view their task in relation to their own real world context rather than an academic ghetto. Their task was to help their community to make sense of their identity, origins, purpose, and morality. At the same time, I suspect that nearly every professional historian working today would agree that they too want to make sense of questions related to identity, origins, purpose, and morality. If that is so, why does it seem that “public intellectuals” rather than professional historians are answering these historically minded questions for the general public?

To take this one step further, exactly how am I supposed to write history that matters? Who decides what is significant, useful or helpful? As I reflect on the conference this past week, these questions have been circulating in my mind. In the last few weeks, I obtained approval from my committee to begin writing my dissertation, and so these questions take on a new urgency for me. When I began to form my proposal, I did not sit down and think about these questions. My immediate concern was to write a dissertation that would satisfy my committee. My next concern was to write a dissertation that could get published. As I think back on this, I am not sure this was the best start in writing something that mattered. What do you think? How do we determine which projects are significant, useful, and helpful?

I think this question ought to compel us how we might “advance the field,” but I also think that it moves us beyond the world of the academy and into the realm of the world and the realm of the Church.


*The End of History*

April 10, 2011

This link, provided by Cali McCullough, offers some insight into the connection between Orthodox faith and history.

Comments and discussion appreciated.

TEACH: The Uncoverage Debate Continues

March 15, 2011

We CFH graduate students are, if nothing else, students. Many of us are also teaching, or aspiring to teach. With a gusto beyond that of many ordinary instructors, we want to teach well.

One of the marquee debates of our time, something that will be talked about a century after this era, is that of coverage v. uncoverage. In other words, are we here to teach CONTENT, or is it more important that we cover key ideas, thoughts, and processes? Do my students need to know the facts of Thomas Jefferson, or is it more fruitful to debate the underlying ideologies of Jefferson’s penned “Declaration” compared with his own slave holding? If I spend a day in class on the debate, what do I cut? For heaven’s sake we can’t skip the XYZ affair…… or can we?

For more on the debate, including a link to the CFH’s own board member Professor Lendol Calder’s original article, click here.

What are you learning?

March 10, 2011

Allow this post to be an open invitation for submissions from CFH grad members to post thoughts/reflections/ideas that you’re learning.

Sure it’s a busy time of the semester… sure you have a million things to do… but really, how much time would it take to write up 250-500 words on something that’s tugging at your heart?

If there’s anything I’m learning from *Confessing History* it’s that I need to spend more time reflecting on my own learning. Let’s hear what you are observing.

Submit ideas or entries to care of the graduate student representative, Greg Jones.

DISCUSSION: Why are you in the CFH?

March 4, 2011

Here’s a simple question: Why are you in the Conference on Faith and History?

I promised a series of questions to get us thinking a bit more deeply about calling, faith, and vocation.  This is, admittedly, not the deepest of topics, but it might get the ball rolling.

If anyone has any blog content ready for posting, please contact me at  Blog content may include book reviews, personal reflections, reaction papers, anecdotes, and other writing mildly connected to the purpose of the CFH, which is the integration of faith and the work of historians.