Asking a historian what history is may result in many different responses: it's a process, a narrative, a responsibility of global citizenship, the story of how the past - which was once the present - became the now. "We have a phrase: 'understanding is better than remembering'," says Dr. William Feis, professor of history. "Studying history involves more critical thinking than memorization. Texts are always evolving because people's interpretations of them change. History - in a sense - is always changing."
The history program emphasizes the development of critical thinking and research skills to study the stories of nations and people, both famous and little-known. It is committed to helping students work with the most current texts, thoughts, and perspectives in the field. "We teach history from differing perspectives," says Dr. Dixee Bartholomew-Feis, professor of history, who specializes in Asian history and Holocaust studies. "When our classes study World War II, for example, I teach the history from both American and Japanese perspectives. When speakers with different life experiences come in - for example, Vietnam veterans and Holocaust survivors - students experience parts of history vividly in multiple ways."
Classes are immersive and interactive experiences in which professors use lectures to build a dialogue with students. "When I talk about Andrew Jackson, I re-enact a duel in class to help reinforce the fact that Andrew Jackson had a reputation that was forged through dueling," says Feis, who specializes in American history and has a collection of Civil War uniforms, weaponry and artifacts he often brings to the classroom.
The history program provides strong academic experiences for students seeking a history endorsement for teaching high school, students who want to go on to graduate school, and students from outside the major interested in further exploring history. The skills the program develops - thinking historically, knowing where to look for evidence, learning to ask the right questions and how to go where your research takes you - are applicable to a wide range of careers.
"History doesn't necessarily have a defined research methodology," says Feis. "Grounding our program in the humanities, we use other disciplines' methodologies when they can help us. For example, a student studying presidential decision making might mesh political science with history."
Research projects completed through the history program provide students with strong preparation for graduate school. The program especially encourages students to utilize digital databases and archive Web sites and to explore primary source documents - such as letters and diaries - to gain personal perspectives on the past. BVU history majors' research projects earned at least one of the top honors each year at the University of South Dakota Student History Conference in 2006 through 2009 .
Once every several years students and faculty at BVU examine the Holocaust through a special emphasis in courses, off-campus experiences and visiting speakers. In addition to looking at the history of the Holocaust, cross-disciplinary classes examine topics across the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities. Visiting speakers have included Holocaust survivors, children of survivors and children of concentration camp guards. Students also have opportunities to participate in service projects related to the year at area middle schools.
The Holocaust Year of Studies also offers a travel course that follows the history of the Holocaust from the Warsaw ghetto to Nazi concentration and death camps. In the past, trip participants have visited the concentration camp Theresienstadt (Terezín), the Warsaw ghetto, and the extermination camps Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz. Countries visited have included Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel.
BVU offers the Year of Holocaust Studies at least once every four years. It has previously been offered in academic years beginning in 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2009.
History, like human beings, is complex. It involves development, promises and progress. People can do great things and they can make things an unbelievable mess. In the historical narrative, people made choices, and part of the excitement of studying history is understanding how these choices affected how we got to be where we are today.
The outcomes of the Holocaust are tangible. To better understand that terrible time in history, students and faculty participated in BVU's fifth Year of Holocaust Studies. Through travel, research and firsthand accounts, they built memories they will never forget. Read more...