Mel Brooks and Teaching European History

I dearly love Mel Brooks as a comedian, but I do have some quarrels with him as a historian. In explaining that remark, I’ll return to the point I made recently about teaching European history to Americans, and some of the basic and quite counter-intuitive ideas you need to get across at a very early [Read More…]

The Problems of Writing Biography (Part 3 – Evidence and Imagination)

Why historians and biographers must often tell stories imaginatively, on the basis of relatively little evidence. [Read more…]

A Different World: Teaching Americans about European History

I have often taught courses focused on Europe, or in which Europe plays a substantial role (for instance, about the Second World War). Through the years, I have identified common themes where students need some help and additional explanation, and I usually introduce these in my first couple of sessions. I offer some of the [Read More…]

The Saint as Marriage Counselor

One of the greatest Celtic saints was Colmcille, or Columba, who lived from c.521-597. About a century after his death, the scholar Adomnán of Iona composed a Life of the great saint, which is a treasury of information about the society and religious life of the time. Here, I want to explore one particular story, [Read More…]

You Might Be a Mennonite If…

Ervin Beck, a folklorist at Goshen College, recalls growing up in a Mennonite congregation where his bishop once said from the pulpit, “People ask me why I never smile. The Bible never says that Jesus smiled. It says that ‘Jesus wept.’” Given the decidedly unfunny persecution narratives that have characterized Mennonite history in the last [Read More…]

The Christmas Truce of 1914: Myth and History

On December 24-25, 1914, soldiers on both sides of World War I put down their weapons and celebrated the birth of Christ. But as moving as the story is, the Christmas Truce actually exemplifies that “history is impossible but necessary.” [Read more…]

The Problems of Writing Biography (Part 2 – Who’s Significant?)

Why are most biographies about men with political and military power? How do we decide whose lives are significant enough to warrant such attention? [Read more…]

Churches, Chapels, and Desirable Residences

At a recent Sunday service, my church sang the hymn “Come thou fount of every blessing,” with its line “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I come.” This is a classic example of a line that made wonderful sense to a Biblically-literate audience, who knew that Ebenezer was a “stone of help” [Read More…]

The Crisis of Corporate Evangelicalism (Part 7 – a glimpse at the future?)

What does the future hold for corporate evangelicalism? [Read more…]

Bringing the Spirit of (Medieval) Santa Back to Christmas

Every Christmas in the yard of a house not far from us stands a manger scene. The Christ Child rocks gently in his small white wooden manger; his halo glowing from the spotlight. Instead of Mary and Joseph gazing at their holy infant, or even angels surrounding the yard with praise, an unlikely figure stands next [Read More…]