Spring 2024 History Newsletter

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A Letter from the Chair – Mike Huner

Michael Huner picture

By Michael Huner, Chair, Department of History

For much of the past thirty years, Michelle Duram and David Stark enriched the History Department at Grand Valley State University. We lost both to cruel sicknesses this academic year. David departed us in October, Michelle in March. Hearts remain heavy among faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We mourn departures that came way too soon. But we also celebrate the spectacular lives that they led, which so happened to turn our corner of the university into a home for epic historical storytelling, fired imaginations, challenged minds, and many, many smiles. Please read the remembrances for both David and Michelle in this newsletter. They touched and transformed countless students’ lives who graced our halls and classrooms.

Loss is not the only verse, however, to be sung about the History Department this year. We welcomed a new staff person, Avis Merry, who has teamed with Elizabeth Elhers to make our department coordinator operations one of the best in the college, fulfilling a legacy left by Michelle. Next year we will welcome two new tenure-track faculty members into the department: Blair Stein and Yue Liang, both part of a college-level cluster hire tied to the theme of Technology, Environment, and Society. We will have much more to say about how Professors Stein and Liang will enrich our corner of the university when they indeed arrive. Suffice to say now that an already strong subfield within the department—that is, the History of Technology, Science, and Medicine—will soon count as another bastion of engaged teaching and scholarship.

All this accompanies curricular revisions to our major programs (History and Group Social Studies) that we completed this year as well so as to enhance the transformative experiences and sustain the rigor of our degrees. We also have launched initiatives to be more directly in touch with you, our alumni, especially to foster connections with current students. Please stay tuned for more on that front.

Finally, five faculty published books this year: Annie Whitlock, Tamara Shreiner, Louis Moore, Patrick Shan, and Jim Smither. An annual record like that demonstrates why the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences regularly highlights the scholarly production of our department as emblematic of the teacher-scholar ideal. We do not just talk the talk, but also pound the archives, run the studies, and fill pages with eloquent prose. We fulfill the ideal.   

Our losses this year hurt…a lot. Productive change, despite many ongoing headwinds, keeps us optimistic. The study of the past, and its teaching, are needed more than ever. We go to work each day—with the promise of brightening futures—to do the job. That is precisely what Michelle and David did for so long.     

Alumni Spotlight

History Graduates Excel in Rutgers-Camden History MA Program

Professor Andrew Shankman (Rutgers University-Camden)

Andrew Shankman

Matthew Grace (Class of 2017)

Matt Grace 2017

Ysabela Golden (Class of 2022)

Ysabela Golden (Class 2022)

Grand Valley history students get,” says Shankman, “Ysabela and Matt were two of the best prepared students we’ve had, and that’s a testament to them of course, but also to the history professors who taught them so well.”

Having completed coursework at the University of Virginia, Matt points out, “Rutgers-Camden's History graduate program is as, if not more, rigorous than any history graduate program out there.”  Professor Wendy Woloson introduced Matt to the social history of nineteenth-century capitalism in a way that revealed the impact large economic forces in day-to-day life.  Shankman , who designed the Rutgers-Camden program and led it through 2023 before becoming chair of the Rutgers History Department, taught American history through Reconstruction, “the bedrock on which I have built the rest of my American history.”  Of his former mentor, Matt commented, “His grasp of colonial and early American historiography is unmatched!

“I’m so pleased that Ysabela and Matt got into top ranked Ph.D. programs and with full funding,” Shankman said when asked to put into context the significance of the achievements of these GVSU alumni.

“These days,” Shankman explained, “the competition to be accepted and to get funding is fierce and you need to have a very strong writing sample that piques the interest of Ph.D. advisors at the very top of their fields.  Our program is built around guiding students to have what they need in their Ph.D. applications.  Given what Ysabela and Matt want to study, there are no better people and no better programs than OU and UVA.  Everybody at Rutgers is so proud of them and so glad they came to us after GVSU.” 

For his dissertation, Matt chose to focus on an aspect of slavery often overlooked—the exploitation of the labor of enslaved people in antebellum tobacco factories, salt manufacturing, and coal mining.  “Though small in number when compared to the proportion of enslaved people employed in agriculture, enslaved industrial workers played a significant, underappreciated role in the Virginia and wider U.S. economy,” Matt points out.  Virginia tobacco factories produced the most chewing tobacco in the country; its salt mines supplied the midwestern salt industry, which in turn was vital to meatpacking; and its bituminous coal powered gas lights and factories throughout the industrializing northeast. 

The workload in graduate school is heavy, with students needing to read multiple books every week, write papers, and often run undergraduate research sections and grade student papers.  All the same, Matt has relished the opportunities to “read scholarship on an array of historical topics” and discuss it with some of the “most knowledgeable historians in the world.”  “If you ask me, that is a pretty cool job,” he notes. 

His goal is to teach in a university, although he acknowledges the emphasis currently placed on disciplines in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields) rather than in the humanities. It may be more difficult to show in concrete terms the value of historical knowledge, but Matt argues that history, by teaching us about ourselves and our society, can lead us to think about and perhaps change our “core beliefs,” a healthy process. 

Historical “knowledge allows us to rethink how we see the world,” Matt believes.  “More importantly, it helps us better understand how and why societal problems, such as poverty and racism, came to be and have persisted. In my opinion, we cannot begin to solve our 

problems until we understand why these problems originated in the first place.”

Throughout his graduate study, Matt has taken the time to learn the history related to where he lives.  When earning his master’s degree at Rutgers, Matt lived in Philadelphia.  He recommends the museums there highly, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mütter Museum, and Museum of the American Revolution.  He currently lives in Fredericksburg, within range of many famous Civil War battlegrounds, including Fredericksburg but also Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Wilderness.  The campus of the University of Virginia itself, including the buildings of the old campus, is redolent of the past.  The areas where he lives are steeped in history; the museums and battlefields inspire his own passion to learn more about the past.  “I love both teaching and doing research. If I can find a job that allows me to do both those activities, I will be happy.” 


Alumni Teachers Speak to Undergraduates about Their Careers

Pictured on the left- from left to right:  Tim McKeeby (Class of 2019), Kenyatta Hill-Hall (Class of 2006), Marlena Gray (Class of 2023), and Caleigh Haskins (Class of 2014)


Alumni Social Studies Panel

Alumni Social Studies Panel Informs Future Teachers about Joys, Challenges of Profession

 A panel of four local educators—all graduates of the Social Studies Program at Grand Valley State—spoke about the teaching profession with current undergraduate students in a wide-ranging panel discussion held at the Alumni House on Monday, March 25, 2024.  Professors Annie Whitlock and Scott Stabler organized the panel for the Alumni Outreach Committee.

Tim McKeeby (Class of 2019), a teacher at Fruitport Middle School, Kenyatta Hill-Hall (Class of 2006), Principal of the Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy, Marlena Gray (Class of 2023), a teacher at Wyoming High School, and Caleigh (Christensen) Haskins (Class of 2014), a teacher at East Kentwood High School, shared advice on finding a job and conducting interviews, classroom management, and how to achieve a work/life balance in a profession that often demands involvement in the community and long hours as well as a lot of time spent with young people eager to know details about their teacher’s private life.       

The alumni stressed the collaborative nature of the education profession. They rely on colleagues

often for ideas on lesson plans and advice on dealing with challenging classroom situations.  They stressed the importance of networking and making connections, which students should start cultivating even as undergraduates.  GVSU graduates are known as the best teachers coming out of universities in the state, Caleigh Haskins declared, but Kenyatta Hill-Hall stressed that the job market is demanding, and school districts now expect teachers to be adaptable and have many skills.  Tim McKeeby urged the students to take advantage of professional development opportunities during the summer.  He has studied at Mount Vernon, among other historical sites.  Marlena Gray spoke of the difficulties of finding work/life balance and the need, particularly as a young teacher, to set expectations with students.  Above all, she said, “Love what you do.”  Work/life balance, Hill-Hall pointed out, often does not exist, which means teachers must learn to take time for themselves.  “Just as you value your kids, value yourself.”

The students were engaged, expressing appreciation for the practical advice from the panelists.  The alumni impressed students with their passion for education, their commitment to their students, and their honesty about the challenges of the teaching profession.   

Alumni Social Studies Panel

What Does the Study of History Mean to You?

Matthew Grace (Class of 2017) Is Completing a Dissertation on Slavery at the University of Virginia

I believe history's primary value comes from its ability to teach us about ourselves and our society. I'm not talking about learning the typical names, dates, and events we all had to memorize in middle school and high school. Instead, I am referring to how history has the power to make us question and reevaluate our core beliefs. We all have certain ideas about how the economy works, why some people have more wealth and power than others, and how and why our laws, government, and overall society developed the way they did. However, when people study history, they often find that many of the beliefs they had taken for granted are actually the result of antiquated ideologies that no longer hold weight in the 21st century or choices made by individuals in the past who were merely trying to further their own interests at the expense of someone else. This knowledge allows us to rethink how we see the world. More importantly, it helps us better understand how and why societal problems, such as poverty and racism, came to be and have persisted. In my opinion, we cannot begin to solve our problems until we understand why these problems originated in the first place. Many people like to criticize academics and historians because it seems all we like to do is criticize the U.S., and therefore, we must hate America. However, to quote James Baldwin: "I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." This is essentially what history means to me and why I believe historians have a lot to offer others.

2017 Alumni Matthew Grace

Book Recommendations by Matt Grace Class of 2017

- Matthew Grace Class of 2017 (pictured in center)

Alumni Spotlight: Thomn Bell (Class of 2004)

Thomn Bell (2004)

Thomas Bell is the Director of Inclusion and Equity at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

He graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Social Studies in 2004.  While at GVSU, he served as student body president from 2002 to 2003.  After graduating from Grand Valley, Thomn earned an M.S. in Higher Education and Student Affairs and a Ph.D. in Education and Human Services at Colorado State University.  He studied whiteness in the context of critical theories of race and became interested in how to disrupt its effects in education and to promote diversity and inclusion in higher education.  Thomn has worked for the Michigan Department of Education, he has taught at universities, and he has led efforts to promote diversity and address racial injustice in non-profits and higher education.  As such, he has been a leader on these matters and on the front lines of emerging cultural conflicts in our state and nation.

After a career in education as a consultant and higher education administrator, what stands out to you about your undergraduate experience as a social studies major at GVSU?  What do you value about your experience?

My experience as a social studies major gave me the ability to think critically, analyze situations for context, examine primary documents, and provided for me the capacity to navigate and understand complex political dynamics.  All of this being said, it was not only foundational for me as a practitioner and a scholar in my areas of research, but it also allowed for me to understand how we ended up where we are today.  In my work, and in life in general it is my goal to challenge inequity, and, doing that, you have to be able to disentangle complex systemic practices/behaviors/beliefs, and the Social Studies foundation gave me a jumping off point as to how to understand the legacies we have inherited that have led to problematic ways of being. 

You intended to become a teacher.  Why did you change your mind?  How have you used your Social Studies degree in your career?

The initial answer is, I did not think I was smart enough to teach, which is meant to be humorous and a little bit of self-deprecation.  The real answer is, the market did not look great for getting a job, and I really loved the possibilities of higher education and what college could be for people.  So, I decided to focus my energy on better understanding the academy and how I could make it more accessible for people, because part of me still believes that along with other things education attainment and knowledge is not only great for liberation but also aids in enhancing equitable opportunities. 

What perspective on undergraduate life did your year as the Student Senate President provide?  What do most remember about it?

It really helped me understand the complexity of higher education from beyond a student perspective, and the complex balance of faculty governance and the administrative decision-making function.  The year was a lot of fun for me, because I was also a multicultural assistant, which was my start in formal DEI work.  I think the thing I remember most about that time is that the student government was becoming a more “progressive” body, and we had a groundswell of activity on human rights, student rights, and racial justice that became part of our actions that year.  It really aided in my approach to advocacy not only on an interpersonal level but also from a systems perspective. 

Critical Race Studies has become immensely controversial in the last five to ten years.  How did you come to the topic of whiteness in education while pursuing graduate studies at Colorado State?  Did you sense its explosive political implications at the time?

My journey with Critical Race Studies began right after I left Grand Valley.  I was researching texts on activism and civil disobedience (how fitting for today), and I came across an author/scholar I learned a little about during my time at Grand Valley, Howard Zinn.  I picked up his book You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train:  A Personal History, and it really resonated with me.  In particular, as I began to examine my experience as a white person and my antiracist work, I realized that neutrality was always in favor of those in power.  I mentioned the Zinn book in a paper and a professor mentioned I should read Derrick Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of a Well:  The Permanence of Racism.  At the same time I was reading a book by bell hooks called Teaching to Transgress:  Education as the Practice of Freedom.  I was gifted the book by my mentor, Dr. Susan Mendoza, when I graduated from GVSU.  The book is about liberation and educational praxis, and in one of the chapters bell hooks discusses author/scholar Paulo Freire.  Freire was the former Secretary of Education in Brazil.  So the hooks book led me to Freire, one of the architects of Critical Race Pedagogy, and Zinn’s work led me to author scholar Derrick Bell, one of the founders of Critical Race Theory (CRT).  The rest is history (see what I did there).  These four authors started my journey in understanding the interconnectedness of our systems and structures, and the consequences of racialized society in all aspects. The framework I started to develop around my own understanding of life began to take shape, and I used the critical framework in my approach in teaching and in the way I thought about how to disrupt systems. 

Fast forward several years while I was working on my Ph.D., and my advisor suggested that I focus on the construct of whiteness.  So, I began to unpack the intersection between CRT and Critical whiteness Studies and used both frameworks to guide my research and practice.  I think as it relates to the explosiveness: I knew my research and the work was not something that was acceptable to some.  I have received some interesting “fan mail” over the years, but I never really thought CRT or DEI would become a focal point of political propaganda.  With that being said, if you look at the four authors that I mentioned and their work over time, they all basically shared the belief that the system will do what it needs to do to protect itself and uphold the status quo.  Thus, it should have not been surprising that once we started to get some national movements on anti-racist work, there would be a push to uphold the status quo. 

That is what we are seeing today, and in my opinion the attacks on DEI and CRT are rooted in our preservation of whiteness, and intended to maintain the current system and structure which is inequitable and problematic.

For a while you worked for the Michigan Department of Education, dealing with accreditation, assessment, and state standards in K-12 education.  What did you learn from this work?  Did it shape your perspective on the relationship between students, teachers, parents, and the broader public?

It was fascinating to be able to see an idea move from a thought to something that had the possibility to transform the structure and the systems of education.  It was also a very good learning opportunity about how the best intention could lead to disasters in terms of implementation.  For example, I was working at MDE during the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program, and to watch many states completely upend their entire systems to meet the initiatives outlined in the competitive grant process was scary and fascinating.

Many states, including Michigan, did not have the infrastructure to do what was asked, and yet there were movements to change anyway.  When Michigan did not get the funding, as a state we had to make shifts in practice without funding to meet our new policies, laws, and practices.  The consequences of that system are still felt today, although finally some of the not-so-great aspects of those consequences (like teacher performance being tied to standardized testing) are being undone by our current Governor and Legislature.

Nonetheless, I think the thing that stuck with me the most was that there has always been an intention to try to do better and be innovative, which I know some people do not believe government work is innovative.  The people I have worked with cared about the education system, the teachers, the kids, the communities, the families, and the welfare of the state, and that was and is impressive.  I think that while the care was in the right place, some of the ideas fell short in meeting what was trying to be accomplished, because again the system is hard to change, and public education is amazing and underfunded, and without the adequate resources, increased level of pay for educators, and an equity approach to how our districts and schools are funded, it is going to be problematic.  At the end of the day, we should be putting more resources into our schools and paying educators not just competitive wages, but they should be earning more than a business professor (if you want to know what that is, the mean salary for a Tenured Business Professor at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor is over 200K a year). 

How did the Urban Institute for Racial, Economic, and Environmental Justice at University of Michigan-Flint come about?  What role does such an institution play?

When I started working at Flint, I had a vision for creating a way to link the community to the University through research, but in a way that the community drove the research and had agency for the work.  If you look at UM-Flint and the Flint community, there are so many stories and things to be learned and shared from the Flint community (they should own the stories and the narratives) on issues of racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice that those concepts seemed to be natural for the institute.  It just made sense to me.  I sat on the idea for several years, trying to build the right coalition to make it happen. To be fair, I know, after having several conversations in the early stages, that similar ideas had been floated over the years but there was a lack of traction to get anything moving.  For the institute to happen the way it did, it took a series of lucky moments and timing. I along with my colleagues that pitched the initial idea knew we had the right time and the right concept, and we moved really quickly to make it happen.  The Urban Institute is still in its infancy, and I think the potential is still there to be an amazing opportunity for the university to walk with the community and build agency around the Flint story.  It is so disappointing that the community has been historically used for research or outsiders come in and voyeuristically take from the community but do not hand the megaphone over to the actual members of the community to own their story.  When I think of the national attention on Flint, it is often told from an outsiders’ perspective.  We wanted to do it differently, and build capacity for the city, because it really is an amazing place.  The whole point behind the Institute was to put the power and the resources of the University in the hands of the community so they could drive the research.  I think that ought to be the way a University works with its local communities, especially around research and narratives.  The University, especially a public institution, should be building with the community and making sure the community is driving.   For example, just think if the University of Michigan system were to think of itself as part of a larger P-20 educational system and, even further, as part of the fabric of the state and invest in the infrastructure of education, innovation for the state, and reframing its role in the way it functioned.  A lot of great things could happen.  There is a lot you could do with a $17.9 billion dollar endowment to do some good for this state and the world.

It is not just UM, I think all institutions of higher education should view themselves as part of the system and find ways to lead in that system of education with the other entities.  I have the fortunate opportunity to teach a class called Foundations of Education, and in that we study the history of education in the U.S., and what we have inherited today is a system that acts like a bunch of independent entities that are disconnected.  If we could reframe how we function and think of the connection between early education (think birth through age 4) and how that relates to higher education and see how the institutions of higher education could better support and build agency throughout our system, I think it would move us in a better direction.  We (institutions of higher education) have become obsessed with what we have been given, which is this capitalist framework of competition and survival through enrollment (which I understand is important), that we I think forgot that access to education ought to be a fundamental right.  There should be choice and options, but the core of what we do and what we are as institutions is to offer opportunity.  Instead, we create gatekeeping practices and rely on historic practices that are academic hazing (sit and get testing, the way we have structured the tenure process, subjective grading, grading curves and the list goes on and on).  We ought to be better and focus less on ranking and “being elite”, and doing more of what our communities need.

You have hosted a podcast entitled “Whiteness in America.”  Why did you start it?  What have you learned from it?

I started whiteness in America as a side project while I was waiting for my research proposal to be approved by the Institutional Review Board process.  I was meeting with a Principal in the Flint area, and while driving home, I started to think about how to provide information, build understanding, and develop opportunities to disrupt whiteness through a dialogic process.  I wanted to make research on race and racism consumable for more people, while also honoring the scholars that came before me.  Initially I was going to take a Studs Terkel approach and interview people and share their stories on how they came to understand whiteness and its impact on their lives.  Then I would take that and start to develop and enact opportunities to dismantle and disrupt whiteness and anti-Blackness.  As things generally happen, the ideas evolved over time, and the podcast became the main feature of the project.  I really love talking with people and hearing their stories.  You could say that the work was somewhat of a first-person exploration of an individual's experience of race.  Documenting their experiences as historians do.  I learned a lot about how to interview people, and talk about what people think are difficult topics, but really are just life experiences and often come with pain and trauma.  I have learned that through dialogue we can heal, understand, and begin to build our humanity back.  I think the major learning from me came from one of our frequent guests and someone I really admire, Dr. Joyce Piert (aka Dr. P).  Dr. P shared a lot about being human and being present together as humans.  I think the more we begin to understand that oppression exists because we have built systems, structures, policies, practices, beliefs, and values that actively dehumanize certain individuals because of their identity and we actively work to restore the human element and humanize one another, the more we can get to a better place. 

How has history informed your work on disrupting whiteness in education and in diversity and inclusion at the University of Michigan and elsewhere?

I approach my understanding of race and racism as a social construct through a historical perspective.  While racism is real and present in life today, the roots are traceable, and I utilize my understanding of history and how to frame things from a historical point of view to make meaning out of the present.  There are lessons we can learn from social activist historians like Howard Zinn or education professors like bell hooks and how they documented their experiences, ideas, and thoughts on society, and we can build off of that for how we start to break down the systems that uphold racist practices.  From my perspective when I approach a situation, I always have to understand the context, or the history, because that helps me gain a better perspective on both how things came to be, but how to possibly unravel it as well. 

Conservatives have argued that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs are divisive, advance progressive ideology on campus, and limit the free speech of students and faculty.  Five states passed bills hostile to DEI last year and the Chronicle of Higher Education has identified nineteen bills proposed in state legislatures this year that would either close DEI offices, bar the solicitation of diversity statements from faculty and staff, mandate diversity training, or use identity-based preferences in hiring and admissions (see the Chronicle’s DEI legislation tracker).  How has this backlash against DEI affected your work?  What is of most concern to you regarding the attack on DEI initiatives at colleges and universities?

I often ask people who use the term DEI as negative to unpack the acronym itself.  Let’s start with diversity.  We know, through research, that diversity is a positive all around.  The more diverse a team, classroom, etc., the better the outcomes.  In fact, we know that diversity has not only positive outcomes of experience, but it makes teams, executives, and others more innovative and has a positive impact on the bottom line.  Most of the people that I speak with who are “anti-DEI” agree that diversification and diversity in an organization is a good thing, and we should work toward making places more “diverse.”  Now you can’t truly make places more diverse without the E, equity.  When I ask people to share what is about equity they dislike, very few can put together a logical statement.  Again, even the biggest detractors of DEI think the people should have a fair shot.  Equity provides the lens to examine how people are not getting a fair shot.  To put it simply, equity allows for us to understand the differential treatment people have either in accessing something or in the experience and the disparate impact/outcome of the experience.  When we use an equity lens, we can start to identify the systems and structures that create the differential treatment or allow for disparate impact/outcome to occur.  Finally, we cannot achieve diverse teams, etc., without building a space of inclusion and belonging.  Again, most people that have issues with DEI cannot argue logically against creating space for people to feel like they matter or belong.  At the end of the day, DEI is a target because it upends the status quo and pushes against societal norms that are comforting to people in positions of power or for those that see change as a zero-sum thing.  For example, if we build inclusive bathrooms, “I lose something.”  These things get exacerbated by fear, and then we end up where we are, because the system is designed to stay the way it is, and the only way to make change is to build what Derrick Bell called “interest convergence.”  This is where we as leaders in the “DEI” space have failed.  We have failed to make a compelling case because we have focused our work historically at the interpersonal level.  Thus people have concluded that if I am just a nice person I am good.  What we need to do is focus the work on the system level and remove the notion of zero-sum, so folks can understand that these changes really do benefit everyone.  Our collective liberation/freedom are dependent on each other, and the more we can start to see that we are connected as humans, the better off we all will be. 

You and your wife have three children.  What are your five favorite places to take kids in Michigan?

We love the beach, so anywhere there is water.  Right now, our favorite places to visit in Michigan are Grand Haven and Traverse City.  My kids absolutely love Great Wolf Lodge (and so do I…I am a sucker for water parks).  The kids also really enjoy going to Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. 


Thom Bell Podcast Cover Whiteness in America

What are your five must-read books on questions of whiteness and diversity in the U.S?

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968; English translation, 1970)

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress:  Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994)

Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train:  A Personal History (2002)

Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well:  The Permanence of Racism (1992)

George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (2006)

Seven Students from National History Day Regional Competition Move on to National Competition

National History Day celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year, and the Grand Valley History Department hosted the Region Four competition in the Kirkhof Center on March 16, 2024. Twenty-six students from elementary through high school presented their research in multiple forms—papers, posters, performances, documentaries, and websites.
The theme for this year’s competition is “Turning Points in History,” and students presented on varied topics, including the U.S. civil rights movement, Grace Hopper’s contributions to the evolution of computing, the All-American Girls Baseball League, the Interstate Highway System, the World War II-era Enigma cipher machine, and Barbie.
Professor Sean O’Neill organized the conference and served as a judge at the state competition at Central Michigan University on April 20. Nearly four hundred students from across the state competed at the state competition. Seven of the winners from the Region Four contest won at the state level and will now compete in the national finals to be held at the University of Maryland in College Park, June 9-13, including three sisters from Whitehall Middle and High Schools—Beth, Katelynn, and Megan LeaTrea.
The twelve judges at the regional competition included faculty and staff from GVSU. They provided the students with feedback on their projects for the state competition.

For more information on how your classroom or student can compete please go to MHD District 4 or reach out to Sean O'Neill at [email protected].


Pictured on the right (from left to right): Junior Individual Performance- Beth LeaTrea- "Pitching In: From Home Maker to Home Plate, The All- American Girls Professional Baseball League is a Win For Women in the Workforce".  From Whitehall Middle School with Professor Sean O'Neill.

History Day winner Beth LetaTrea 2024 with Sean O'Neill

Undergrad News

History Capstone Students Present Research in Showcase

Jesus Rangel HST 495 2023
Hailey Mawhinney HST 495 2023
Nicholas Kehrig HST 495 2023
Daisy Soos HST 495 2023

In Fall 2023 Professor Alice Chapman offered a revised version of HST 495:  History Capstone:  Adventures in History in which students complete an independent research project. “The idea is for history majors to pull together the skills they have gained throughout their undergraduate career and put them into practice by creating a real-world example of historical research,” Professor Chapman observed.  “In effect, this class asks our students to be Junior Historians by developing a voice (a specific thesis) that is original and contributes to the discipline of history.”

At the end of the semester, the Capstone students presented posters about their research to faculty members and peers.  


  • Jesus Rangel- “Mexica [“Aztec”] Education and Bernardino de Sahagún’s Legacy” (pictured top left)
  • Hailey Mawhinney-“Analysis of the Disability Rights Movement” (pictured top middle)
  • Nicholas Kerhig- “Relating the Effects of Michigan’s Natural Resources on its Development in the Nineteenth Century” (pictured top right)
  • Daisy Soos- “Nursing and Second Wave Feminism” (pictured bottom left)
  • Drew Johnson- “The Second Ku Klux Klan:  ‘Ideals’ vs. Reality, 1914-1940s” (pictured bottom right)
Drew Johnson

Phi Alpha Theta Inductees

Phi alpha Theta symbol
Phi Alpha theta inductions 2024 and Award Winners 2024 ceremony

New Members of Phi Alpha Theta

  •  Abigail Brown
  • Joshua M DeWolfe
  • Jill Ely
  •  Katelyn Fletcher
  • Jason Hiegel
  • Hannah Mae Kaye
  • Mikaela Joanne Martin
  • Carolyn E. Mast
  • Hannah N. McBride
  • Anna Theune
  • Nathan Wietrzkowski
Phi Alpha Theta Inductions 2024

Back to Inside this Edition

Back to Inside this Edition

History and Social Studies Undergraduate Awards

Award Ceremony
Award Ceremony
Award Ceremony
Award Ceremony

Scholarship Recipients


  • Jo Ellyn Clarey Women's History Scholarship: Hannah McBride
  • Quirinus Prize Breen Scholarship: Elizabeth Kieliszewski
  • Glenn A. and Betty J. Niemeyer History Scholarship: Sabrina White & Ashlynn Scafidi
  • Frances Anne Kelleher Memorial Scholarship: Mya Dever
  • Richard L. Cooley-Chester Huff Distinguished Social Studies Award: Jill Ely
  • 2024 Outstanding Major in History: Hannah Krebs
  • 2024 Outstanding Major in Social Studies:Jill Ely
  • 2024 History Major High Merit: Joshua Kuiper & Daisy Soos
  • Social Studies High Merit Award: Nathan Wietrzykowski
Award Ceremony

History Majors Help Bring Grand Rapids History to the World

Hannah Krebs 2024 alum

Hannah Krebs, Class of 2024 (pictured on the left)


Katelyn Fletcher, Senior (pictured on the right)

Katelyn Fletcher

Two Seniors Use Their Digital Skills to Update Local Historical Websites

Senior Katelyn Fletcher loves to research, and she is good at it.  “I like to organize,” she points out.  A research project is “like a big puzzle.”  She is not alone.  Her fellow senior Hannah Krebs has a similar passion for research, having completed two major digital history projects in the last year.

Katelyn worked for the Grand Rapids Historical Commission (GRHC), which needed to update its website, much of which is no longer searchable due to changes in web-based search technologies.  Katelyn signed on as a [paid?] intern in May 2023.  She learned of the opportunity from her advisor, History Professor Matthew Daley, who is a member of the Commission.

Katelyn worked on one of the GRHC website’s most popular features, “Furniture City History”.  Her responsibilities included the painstaking migration of data from the old to the new website.  This included copying individual photos and company histories, entering the existing metadata, and often conducting her own research to find additional information about particular photographs.  She now finds herself ducking under furniture at local antique stores, desperate to know whether Haney School Furniture or American Seating built a particular school desk.

Katelyn honed her skills through her work at the University Archives in Seidman House.  There she mastered Dublin Core, the standard format for metadata in archival work.  Metadata, or “data about other data,” are the identifiers librarians use to track an item through a digital reference system (author, title, location, etc.).  Her mentors there include Robert Beasecker, Curator of Rare Books and Distinguished Collections, and Leigh Rupinski, Archivist for Public Services and Community Engagement and History Subject Area Specialist.  “Katelyn is capable of mastering any project I throw at her in the archives,” Rupinski pointed out.  Her responsibilities include accessioning new acquisitions, rehousing items, processing collections, installing exhibits, and creating social media contact in addition to welcoming patrons.  Katelyn conceived of creating “This, That, or the “Other,” a series of interactive exhibitions about Grand Valley history that ask patrons to vote on what most resonates with them.  “She’s never afraid of taking on a new challenge or proposing her own ideas,” Rupinski noted.

Hannah has also worked with Leigh Rupinski.  In the summer of 2023, Hannah created a beginner’s research guide to archival collections in Michigan.  She created entries for over seventy archives, ranging from the Archdiocese of Detroit to the Leelanau Historical Society to the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, all conveniently arranged with information about the collection, hours, location, and how to arrange a visit.  “I was so impressed,” Rupinski observed, “with the way she thought about how students, how people with little formal research experience, want to know what to expect when they use an archive.”  Her details to the “logistics” of working in an archive, from where to park to what to bring, prompted archivists around the state to think in new ways about the content of their websites and are designed to “ease that first time anxiety” of new researchers, according to Rupinski.  “It’s an amazing project!”  Hannah’s website is now linked to the Special Collections and University Archives Subject Guide on the GVSU library website. 

In Fall 2023, Hannah began a paid internship with the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State and the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Center (GGRWHC) with the assignment to analyze the latter organization’s website and reorganize it.  Working with her supervisor, Ruth Stevens, Hannah found that the GGRWHC website had a wealth of information but much of it was scattered throughout the website’s pages and difficult to find. 

The Biography page contained links for eighteen women.  Hannah went to work.  She combed through oral history interviews on the site, old GGRWHC newsletters, and biographies taken from Women’s Lifestyle Magazine.  Working with Stevens and Julie Tabberer at the Grand Rapids Public Library, she extracted biographical information, summarized information from the introductions to oral histories, tracked down photos either at the public library or online, verified birth and death dates, and created tags to help people find the biographies in online searches.  Hannah eventually revamped the Biography page, creating over one hundred additional biographies of noteworthy women in Grand Rapids history, for a total of 120.  She found many fascinating women in her research, including Eleanor Girodat (1877-1968), 


Michigan’s first licensed female embalmer and owner of the successful St. Francis Mortuary on Bridge Street.  Troubled by the treatment of deceased women, Girodat enrolled in the Barnes School of Embalming in Chicago in 1906.  “A dead body appeals to me as pleadingly as a poor helpless infant in a cradle,” she declared to the Grand Rapids Press.    

Katelyn and Hannah both sharpened their skills at Grand Valley State.  Invaluable to Katelyn has been the Digital Studies Minor she began in 2019 at the suggestion of Professor Daley.  She worked closely with Laurence José, Associate Professor of Writing and Director of the Digital Studies Minor.  By developing her technical skills and teaching her to write for the web and non-academic audiences, the Digital Studies Minor complemented her history degree.  Katelyn recommends it highly.  “I love my history degree, but it really doesn’t give you a lot of digital skills.”  For her senior capstone project, Katelyn taught herself how to create a podcast—learning the software, how to edit it, and adding visuals.  She completed her own short podcast about her journey through the Digital Studies Minor.

Hannah credits HST 290:  Research Methods in History with developing some of the skills she has used in her digital work.  HST 290, which she took with Professor Abigail Gautreau, was the “most useful class I’ve taken.”

Katelyn is currently working on a history of the library system at Grand Valley State.  The library started in the “Pink House,” one of many houses on what is now the Allendale campus in the 1960s, moving eventually to one of the original “Lake” buildings until the university built Zumberge Library in the late 1960s.  She has also visited classes with Rupinski and helps student with their research papers.  Hannah is currently writing a senior thesis on conservative Reformed denominations and the LGBTQ community in Grand Rapids.  Katelyn is planning to earn a graduate degree in library science; Hannah hopes to pursue graduate work in museum studies, aiming to specialize in curatorial work or exhibit design.

In Memoriam

Professor David Stark, Latin American Specialist, Former Coordinator of Latin American and Latino/a Studies, Honored by Colleagues

David Stark and Family
Professor David Stark, Chicago, 2022
David and his wife

David Stark- Professor Emeritus

David Stark

David Stark Remembered as Dedicated Mentor and Accomplished Scholar of Colonial Puerto Rico

By Michael Huner and Paul Murphy

Professor David M. Stark passed away on the morning of October 19, 2023, in his home. He died after a nearly four-year battle with brain cancer.  David leaves a profound legacy with the Grand Valley State University History Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as GVSU’s Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and the field of Latin American History at large. He began his teaching career at GVSU as an adjunct professor with the History Department in 1999. He so impressed students and colleagues that he was brought onto the faculty as a visiting professor and later a tenure-track professor teaching Latin American and world history. Throughout his career, he was a larger-than-life teacher. Students adored him. He was also an inspiring mentor to many faculty. And he soon made field-changing contributions in his scholarship to the study of slavery in Puerto Rico. 

David is one of the most widely published scholars in this field and was a leading national expert. His record boasts twenty peer-reviewed articles and book chapters based on his original research in the archives of Puerto Rico and Spain. Many of these publications appeared in signature journals in the fields of Latin American and Caribbean history. Much of his early research also culminated in the 2015 publication of his book: Slave Families and the Hato Economy in Eighteenth-century Puerto Rico (University Press of Florida). It is now a staple work in the field of the history of Caribbean slave societies. His publications are the product of meticulous social science historical research that provides essential empirical foundations to demonstrate that enslaved peoples in Caribbean slave societies forged life-preserving and life-enriching kinship networks amid the crushing violence and human degradation of the system they labored under. In short, David mastered the craft of writing history that centered the actions and humanity of enslaved peoples. He shed light on lives that earlier historians had relegated to the background. 

David also served with high distinction as program coordinator for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program for six years (2015-2021). The lectures  and conferences that he organized as program director are still the talk of area studies lore. No one could fill the room like he could with the public lectures that he organized. 


David also proved a beloved faculty mentor for scores of Laker Familia students. Even while ill, he continued to meet with Laker Familia mentees, and many of those students continued to express their admiration for Professor Stark and asked about his well-being frequently. Through the McNair Scholars Program, he mentored numerous students of color. Two are now distinguished scholars at top institutions in the field of history: Erika Edwards (Class of 2004) at the University of Texas El Paso and Delia Fernández (Class of 2010) at Michigan State University.

Professor Stark was born in Florida on July 28, 1965, and grew up in Anderson, Indiana, where he graduated from Highland High School. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1987.  He went on to earn master’s degrees in Spanish literature and Latin American history and, in 1999, completed his dissertation on the demographic history of slavery in Puerto Rico, earning his Ph.D.  

David Stark was memorialized by his wife, Gladysín Huerta-Stark and friends and family at a funeral mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Grand Rapids on October 27, 2023.  He traveled through Central and South America and Europe with Gladysín.  His friends and family can attest that he was an adventurous traveler.  He also loved good food and music, even making detailed musical playlists for his dear cousins Grace and Susan.  At the funeral mass, David’s best  friend from childhood, Jatinder-Bir “Jay” (Laddi) Sandhu, an immigrant from India, recalled meeting David.  New 

to Anderson, he was teased on his first day at Highland High School.  Later that day, David approached and said, “Not everyone thinks like that.”  Their lifelong friendship was sealed that day.  Colleagues remembered his passionate devotion to historical scholarship, teaching, basketball, and good coffee.  Many students and colleagues affectionately called him Tío (uncle), boss and chief.  His students became like family to him.

Gladysín has established the David M. Stark Endowed Scholarship in Latin American History in his honor.  Those interested in donating to the scholarship may give online or mail a check made out to “Grand Valley State University” to:  University Development, Grand Valley State University, c/o Andrew Bixel, L.V. Eberhard Center, PO Box 1945, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-1945. □

See a video memorial to David Stark from his colleagues at the Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogía

We have $10,000 to raise to reach our goal!

Donate here

We would love to compile any stories you have about Professor Stark to archive and connect to his scholarship. Please email those to us at [email protected]

Faculty and Staff Mourn “Heart and Soul” of the History Department

Long-Time Department Coordinator Helped Thousands of Students Over Thirty-Four-Year Career at GVSU

By Paul Murphy

Faculty, staff, and former students mourned former Department Coordinator Michelle Duram, who died on March 26, 2024, from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.  Professor Dennis Devlin hired Michelle as the coordinator for the History Department in 1990—“one of my very best hires,” he stated.  Before her retirement in 2020, Michelle became the “heart and soul” of the department, in the words of Professor Carolyn Shapiro-Shapin.  Her ebullient personality, her care and generosity, and her ability to solve most any problem made her beloved by faculty, staff members, student workers, and the thousands of GVSU students she worked with over the years.  Michelle was, as Professor Jason Crouthamel noted, “a cornerstone of our department.”

One of the History Department’s most important goals, Michelle suggested in 2012, was “to ensure every GVSU student, administrator, faculty member, or visitor who walks through our office doors seeking assistance is given the best advice we can offer.”  Many benefited from her advice over the years.  Former History Department Chair Bill Morison recalled that staff from around the college would on an almost weekly basis seek Michelle’s advice in handling a challenging situation.  Reda DeYoung, who worked in the History Department office with Michelle for almost thirteen years remembered that she would “straighten collars, give advice, mend hems (usually with scotch tape or a stapler).” 

As Department Coordinator, Michelle had a hand in almost every function of the department:  scheduling, budgeting, requisitions, communicating with faculty, hiring student workers, welcoming job candidates, coordinating with other departments, planning department events, and helping to coordinate the Great Lakes History Conference and West Michigan National History Day.  She was peerless in her ability to manage these tasks, the “model of graciousness and efficiency,” one colleague noted.  She was not unlike the character “Radar” O’Reilly from M*A*S*H, former chair Jim Smither noted:  “She often knew what I wanted or what needed doing before I did.”

For over twenty-five years, Michelle worked with Professor Sean O’Neill to plan the regional National History Conference, which sometimes featured up to three hundred middle and high school contestants.  She reserved rooms (sometimes years in advance), prepared the schedule, communicated with teachers, and, most impressively, quickly and efficiently collated hundreds of completed judges’ scoring and feedback sheets on the day of the competition in order to announce the results and provide feedback to students.  Michelle was the “key to the growth and success of that contest,” Professor O’Neill noted; without her “Michigan History Day would not be what it became.”

It was her caring and large-hearted concern for others that most colleagues remembered, from mentoring student workers to showing up at a faculty member’s home to care for a newborn in a time of crisis.  In 2012, Michelle won the inaugural Unsung Hero Award for “an individual who goes above and beyond to improve the lives of faculty, staff, and students” from the GVSU Women’s Commission.  Michelle displayed a particular concern for the work-study students in the office, Professor Shapiro-Shapin noted in nominating Michelle for the award.  “She has coached them for job interviews, taught them how to run an office, improved their style of interaction on the phone and in person, listened to their troubles, and generally improved their confidence levels.”  She was an early advocate for students from traditionally underrepresented groups, looking to hire students from the Upward Bound program and mentoring them.  She was known to provide winter coats, interview outfits, and graduation gowns for those who needed them.  “Michelle has helped me get through the hardships of being a first-generation student and personally. I see her give the same love and support to stranger that she gives her children,” one former student worker recalled.  As one colleague noted in 2012, Michelle “makes actions that are quite generous and selfless seem ordinary and to be expected.”

Michelle considered the History Department a family.  “I have been on campus for over 25 years and cannot express how much GVSU means to me,” Michelle declared at the Unsung Hero Award Ceremony.  

The History Department was, she felt, “a close-knit family of professors, office staff, and fantastic student workers.”  It was the bond as a family that allowed the department to weather challenging times.  

Michelle was also long active in the professional staff union at the university, originally COTA and later the Alliance of Professional Support Staff (AAPS), serving as a building representative for many years.  “Dependable, intelligent, positive and always smiling are only a few traits that describe Michelle,” recalled Cheryl Fisher, former Chief Alliance Steward for APSS. 

Michelle was also incredibly funny, and fun, whether impersonating Marilyn Monroe to serenade former President Don Lubbers at a retirement party or conferring with her good friend Doriana Gould, longtime coordinator in Modern Languages and Literatures.  Michelle welcomed faculty children to the office, taking it as her task to be their companion and playmate, relishing the role of Aunt Michelle, as Professor Smither observed.  “She always had a twinkle in her eye,” recalled Michelle Holstege, current secretary of APSS.  Cheryl Fisher recalled Michelle stopping by after retirement.  The best part of retirement, she said, was the ability to have a breakfast mimosa with her neighbors whenever she desired. 

Reda DeYoung and Michelle worked in the History Department office together for over thirteen years.  “She was always positive,” Reda remembered.  “Always gracious. Always helpful.”  She remembered that Miichelle “was so good about making everyone feel welcomed

and appreciated.”  “I think she made everyone feel like they were just the person she wanted to see that day,”  

Professor Abigail Gautreau observed.  She was, Professor Tammy Schreiner stated, “a delightful person and a ray of sunshine.”

Michelle Duram was born in Muskegon, Michigan, on September 27, 1956.  She attended Muskegon Catholic Central High School, graduating in 1974, and Muskegon Community College, earning her degree in 1976.  In 1977, she married her high school sweetheart, David Duram, a long-time history teacher and football coach at Hudsonville High School and part-time history instructor at Grand Valley State.  She is survived by Dave as well as her children Jason and Cami (Moll) Duram, Julie (Duram) and Jason Misner, and Josh and Kate (Mills) Duram as well as six grandchildren. 

Her children, graduates of Grand Valley State University, have made careers in education and nursing.  Her sons are graduates of the Social Studies Program.  Jason Duram (Class of 2003) teaches at Grand Haven High School.  Josh Duram (Class of 2012) teaches at Coopersville High School.  Both earned M.Ed. degrees from Grand Valley.  Julie (Duram) Misner (Class of 2005) works as a nurse.


Michelle loved to travel the world with her family, often taking cruises.  She was, by all accounts, an exuberant supporter of the Hudsonville High School football team, which Dave coached.  She loved gardening, hosting her children and grandchildren at her backyard pool, and caring for her mother, Lorenella Foucher, who survives her.  Michelle was remembered by family and friends at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Jenison, Michigan.

Friends and colleagues on campus remember Michelle as unique.  As one colleague noted in 2012, “I have come to believe that Michelle is the primary reason that we have a collegial department. She is the center through which nearly everyone passes on a daily basis and because she radiates such a positive spirit, I believe that even those who are unhappy and frustrated cannot be unaffected by Michelle’s warmth and compassion.” Or, as Professor Morison noted in her Unsung Hero

Award citation, “Sometimes we focus on the heroism of the moment, but in Michelle's case I would say that her

heroism rests in two-and-one-half decades of devoted service that has made countless lives the better and an entire department much stronger and happier.”  Upon her retirement in July 2020, Michelle e-mailed the department thanking them for the gifts she received.  “We had so many wonderful times together and the laughs and giggles will always be with me!  Please remember you are always welcome to our home and please don't forget me!”  Nobody who knew Michelle will ever forget her. 

Michelle Duram Obituary photo
Michelle speaking

Nomination of Michelle Duram for Unsung Hero Award, 2012

Compiled and composed by Carolyn Shapiro-Shapin

Michelle Duram is, quite simply, the exemplar of the unsung hero. For more than two decades she has been the heart of the History Department. For its 45 faculty members, hundreds of students, office staff and student workers, she is an esteemed colleague, mentor, and friend.         

In her official role as office coordinator she is, as one colleague noted, the “model of graciousness and efficiency,” who sets the standard for an exceptional work ethic and remaining calm under pressure, and is “always two steps ahead of solving any problem that comes across her desk.” History faculty and students benefit from Michelle’s proactive efforts to understand and implement evolving university policies. She has provided immeasurable support and assistance to all five department chairs she has worked with.  One former unit head noted, “Colleagues know that they can count on Michelle to help them understand how to navigate university culture and policies.” Remarked another former unit head, “She was my sounding board, eyes and ears, and guide to all the ins and outs of the administration. I was a much better chair for having her as my office coordinator, and I expect that those who have occupied that position before and after I did would agree.” For example, when a colleague fell and shattered her leg, requiring surgery just before the beginning of term, Michelle not only assisted with preparing an alternative schedule—including the nearly miraculous feat of moving her Tuesday/Thursday classes to rooms closer to her office in MAK, but also worked with public safety to obtain a permit for handicapped parking.

As both the friendly face at the desk and invisible engine behind the Great Lakes History Conference and National History Day, the History Department’s two major public outreach events, Michelle Duram has worked tirelessly to secure the conference venues, assured lodging for out of town visitors, participated in the “lick and stick” for each conference mailing (in the pre-email days), coordinated with local historical organizations, answered countless phone calls from visiting scholars, handled all of the accounting work, and greeted two decades worth of conference visitors and National History Day participants with a welcoming smile. Visiting scholars returning to the conference thank her for support she quietly provided. Area middle and high school teachers remark on the seamless flow of National History Day events, no easy task considering that each year, hundreds of students participate. Michelle has trained generations of faculty conference coordinators, and passed on her knowledge to the department secretary and student workers who are now charged with supporting the conference.

Many members of our department have been involved over the years with the various area studies programs; these have included African-African American Studies, Latin American Studies, East Asian Studies and Middle East Studies.  Back in the days when these programs had no assigned support staff, Michelle was often called on for assistance, and she willingly did whatever she could to support history faculty even though these efforts were clearly beyond her job description.  She gave of her time and energy year after year to help those programs succeed. 

Michelle Duram has mentored generations of work study students. Many of these students began as shy and unsure of themselves. She has coached them for job interviews, taught them how to run an office, improved their style of interaction on the phone and in person, listened to their troubles, and generally improved their confidence levels.  As one colleague noted, “The best kind of mentoring is the kind that makes the mentee feel better about themselves, and Michelle manages to teach work related skills in such a positive way that the students come out of the interaction feeling better about who they are and what they can do.” Many of these work study students have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. To foster their success at GVSU and beyond, Michelle has also provided all kinds of material support -- everything from warm winter coats to interview clothes and graduation gowns. After leaving GVSU, these students have transitioned successfully into the workplace. They still keep in touch with Michelle, sharing their successes. And, she is still there for them, encouraging them onward. As one former work study student noted, “Michelle has helped me get through the hardships of being a first generation student and personally. I see her give the same love and support to stranger that she gives her children.”

Years before the university had inclusion and equity embedded in its mission, Michelle was an advocate for assuring that underrepresented students had an equal chance at success.  For several summers, she found a place in the department for high school students who were part of GVSU’s Upward Bound Program, providing them training and helping them develop skills.  Several of those students found work in the department when they became GVSU students and those who worked in other areas on campus remained in contact.  Her recommendation meant a great deal to them.

The times that Michelle has led us in response to the crises and milestones of our colleagues’ lives are too many to number. She is the one who, quietly and behind the scenes, makes our social gatherings happen and sees to it that our most senior colleagues are properly celebrated as they move into retirement. She is at the heart of planning for gifts and meals and support, whether we are celebrating a birth or marriage or dealing with illness, death, or family crises. Noted one faculty member, “she makes actions that are quite generous and selfless seem ordinary and to be expected. I guess this is a form of hospitality – a way of making people feel comfortable accepting others’ help.” In addition, it is always Michelle who heads up and supports any general drive the department does to support the campus and local community whether it's supporting food drives or warm clothes drives or local ministries of any kind, including the United Way.  

Michelle has always been part of the GVSU crisis management team. In the 1990s, she was called upon as critical staff to keep the university running during the worst of storms. She actively pursues opportunities to support the campus community. She completed the two-day Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Basic Group Crisis Intervention course that was sponsored by the Counseling Center in July of 2008. This training helps non-mental health professionals learn to assist mental health professionals in times of crisis and disasters. Trained individuals like Michelle provide help in identifying and referring students who may be struggling and/or that would benefit from campus mental health services. The team members are valuable resources that complement the crisis services that are provided to the campus. Michelle, the program coordinator noted, has volunteered her time during several moments of crisis at the university.

Her indefatigable cheeriness and willingness to help others (faculty, students, and really anyone who stops by the department) is nonpareil. Students benefit from Michelle’s presence in so many ways: those who are feeling lost in their academic careers often end up first at her desk where they are sure to find a sympathetic ear and good advice about where to go next for information and guidance. One faculty member described her as the “vital force humanizing the university bureaucracy.” She refers students to supportive faculty with similar interests. Students who Michelle knows from the wider community stop by regularly in their careers at GV to share news and get pep talks at critical times. She has become an unofficial ambassador for studying abroad, encouraging students to make plans for travel they had never dreamed possible. Colleagues from across campus check in for news and a cheering conversation. Even President Emeritus Lubbers has been known to make sure that his path through Allendale passes by her desk.

As one colleague noted, “I have come to believe that Michelle is the primary reason that we have a collegial department. She is the center through which nearly everyone passes on a daily basis and because she radiates such a positive spirit, I believe that even those who are unhappy and frustrated cannot be unaffected by Michelle’s warmth and compassion.” She has provided a needle and thread to mend a job applicant’s torn skirt, welcomed new faculty with open arms, provided helpful advice (and impromptu childcare) for junior faculty juggling families and careers, and offered a listening ear for veteran faculty. As the current History unit head remarked, “Now that my office is next to hers, I witness on a daily basis the literally dozens of daily kindnesses that she gives to those who come in the door. Sometimes we focus on the heroism of the moment, but in Michelle's case I would say that her heroism rests in two-and-one-half decades of devoted service that has made countless lives the better and an entire department much stronger and happier.”

Faculty News

Steeve Buckridge

Steeve Buckridge served as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Namibia in 2022 and 2023.


Jason Crouthamel was a guest professor at the University of Copenhagen's Centre for the Study of Culture and the Mind in Fall 2023.


Jason Crouthamel
Matthew Daley

Mathew Daley chaired the local planning committee for the Fifty-First Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Archeology held in Grand Rapids from June7-11, 2023.  The conference featured seven organized tours of sites in Grand Rapids and throughout West and mid-Michigan, including walking tours of industrial sites and historical neighborhoods downtown Grand Rapids and Heritage Hill.


Louis Moore Book The Great Black Hope

Louis Moore will publish The Great Black Hope:  Doug Williams, Vince Evans, and the Making of the Black Quarterback with PublicAffairs in September 2024.


louis moore

Patrick Pospisek chaired the presentations committee and led a tour for the Fifty-First Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Archeology held in Grand Rapids from June 7-11, 2023. 


Patrick Popisek
Nora Salas

Nora Salas is serving as Director of the Kutsche Office of Local History.


Teaching Data Literacy for Civic Competence

Tamara Shreiner is Director of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences PK-12 Initiatives and has published “Teaching Data Literacy for Civic Competence: The Social Studies Teacher's Crucial RoleSocial Education (87:4, 2023) and “Uncovering the Discipline-Specific Value of Data Visualizations in World Historical Writing,” World History Connected (20:1, 2023).


Tamara Shreiner
Patrick Shan

Patrick Shan published Li Dazhao:  China’s First Communist with SUNY Press.


Li Dazhao by Patrick Shan
annie whitlock
Social Studies Education

Annie Whitlock has published Hollywood or History? An Inquiry-Based Strategy for Using The Simpsons to Teach Social Studies with Information Age Publishing and Place-Based Social Studies Education: Learning from Flint with Teachers College Press.  She has also published “An inquiry into Reproductive Rights: Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights” in Exploring History through Young Adult Literature, edited by Paula Greathouse, Melanie Hundley, and Andrew L. Hostetler.  She will be President of the Michigan Council for Social Studies in 2024-2025.


Hollwood or History Annie Whitlock

David Zwart was the interim co-director of the Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Elementary Teaching (PCKET) program at Grand Valley State in Fall 2023.


david zwart

Supporting History and Social Studies Students at Grand Valley State University

If you are interested in supporting current Grand Valley State University undergraduates, consider making a donation to one of the following funds established to honor past history faculty or advance current historical work.  Contact the History Department with any questions (616-331-3298) or the University Development Office (https://www.gvsu.edu/giving/).

Quirinus Breen Prize Scholarship Benefits students regularly enrolled in any history course.

Frances Ann Kelleher Endowed Memorial Scholarship History or Social Studies students studying abroad.

James F. and Virginia L. Goode Global Programs Endowed Scholarship Need-based scholarship for students planning to study abroad.

Glenn A. and Betty J. Niemeyer History Scholarship Endowment Benefits deserving junior or senior history majors.

David M. Stark Endowed Scholarship in Latin American History Benefit s History and Latin American Studies majors.

Veterans History Project Endowment Funds oral history interviews, documentaries, educational materials, and live presentations by U.S. veterans.

Kathleen Underwood Endowed S3 Fellowship Assists students in the Student Summer Scholars (S3) Program and who are conducting research on social inequality in women and gender studies and/or history.

History Department Upcoming Events:

The conference will include papers on psychoactive substances used in a variety of wars in different times asking in what way, to what extent, and at whose costs pharmacological substances were consumed.  The focus is on the numerous forms of drug usage and their multidirectional causes, aims and effects, including enhancement, stimulation, control, remedy, cover-up, escape, or numbing the side effects of perpetration or experience of violence. full details

Keynote speakers:

Prof. Edward Westermann (Texas A&M University, San Antonio)

Prof. Dessa K. Bergen-Cico (Syracuse University)

Prof. Peter Andreas (Brown University)

  • Nov 2, 2024- Homecoming
  • March 15, 2025- Michigan History Day -District 4

The contest with be hosted at GVSU by the History Department, led by Professor Sean O’Neill, has hosted the regional competition for many years, inviting elementary, middle, and high-school students. For more information on how your classroom or student can compete please go to MHD District 4 or reach out to Sean O'Neill at [email protected].

Hosted at GVSU Eberhard Center, Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Please send us Alumni News!

E-mail and tell us about what is new in your life — what you are doing, where you are working, professional and personal milestones, awards and honors received, or just memories of GVSU. We are eager to share the news.
Send a photo along as well!
Contact Paul Murphy at murphyp@gvsu.

Grand Valley State University Department of History

The craft of history interprets the past. History examines the lives of people, the consequences of ideas, and the products of human ingenuity. Historians engage in deep inquiry and persuasive debate. They craft narratives about the past based in evidence. The skills students gain through the study of history allow them to analyze and interpret evidence and evaluate how human societies change over time.


History Highlights

Grand Valley State History Department Alumni Newsletter

Vol. 4, No. 1 (April 2024)


The History Department Alumni Newsletter is published by the Alumni  Outreach Committee:

Steeve Buckridge

Michael Huner

Avis Merry (Digital Newsletter Editor) 

Paul Murphy (Chair, Newsletter Editor)

Scott Stabler

Questions, comments, or if you have news for future editions:

please contact Paul Murphy ([email protected]).

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Page last modified May 3, 2024