Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Careers in History: International Relations

Austin Knuppe ('08)

Transatlantic fellowship program participant, Berlin, Germany

Austin Knuppe with wife AmyI graduated from Calvin in spring 2008 with majors in history and political science. After graduating, I completed a Master's degree with concentrations in international security and political economy at the University of Chicago. I am currently working in Berlin as a participant in the Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Fellowship Program. Next year I'll return to the States for a doctoral program in International Relations at the Ohio State University.

Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?

At the time I had an interest in the intersection of international history and political science. The coursework in the department dovetailed nicely with my poli sci work, especially Doug Howard's Middle East history courses and Bruce Berglund's courses on war and society. The History Department's interim trip to Vietnam and Cambodia was also at the top of my list.

How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

During my time at Calvin I received a great liberal arts education that challenged me to think seriously about what it means to be a Christian in academia. By the time I left to do my MA at University of Chicago, I felt well-equipped to take on many of the challenges of graduate life. Most importantly, Calvin taught me that one need not "check their brain at the door" to be a faithful Christian.

One of the best decisions I made was to travel to Uganda, Greece, and Vietnam during interim and enroll in the Washington, D.C. semester. I also benefited from the independent study that led to my honors senior thesis. The process of writing a senior thesis gave me a better idea that I was interested in pursuing graduate school. Finally, Calvin provided me with an environment where I could build mentoring relationships with different professors. These relationships were vital in giving me advice about career and graduate school.

What are some of your memories of the Calvin History department?

Some of the best memories I have from the Calvin History Department involve my interim trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with Professor Van Vugt in January 2008. In particular, our meeting with several former NVA generals gave us a sense of the Vietnamese perspective of the US war in Vietnam. While on campus I enjoyed my course work in Middle East studies with Professor Howard, my study of war and society with Professor Berglund, and courses on American religious history with Professor Bratt. The oral defense of my BA thesis was also a great experience.

Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?

Here's a good challenge for current history majors: try and out-dress Bruce Berglund (especially with fancy vests and hip glasses). Other than that, take advantage of the interim and semester abroad programs, and try to combine your history major with studying a foreign language. I would also encourage students to to take courses outside of their field of interest. Finally, I would encourage students to build mentoring relationships with faculty and not be afraid to get to know them outside of the classroom.

Derek Kramer ('06)

Graduate student, Seoul, Korea

Derek KramerIn 2006, the Calvin History department sent me shooting off on a trajectory that would take me from language study programs in both Beijing and Seoul to graduate level studies on both sides on the Pacific. Currently I am in the middle of a Master’s program in history at the Korea University (KU) in Seoul. Here at KU I study the Japanese colonial era as well as post-war East Asian history. In other words, I spend a great deal of time sitting in the library, sitting in seminars, and sitting in front of my computer. The good news is that research has a way of piling up and coming back around when you are in need. So I suspect the research I am doing now will serve me well once I start work on my PhD next year.

Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?

I was advised to take a wide array of classes during my first semester at Calvin and to just take more of whatever I found to be interesting. Professor Miller’s survey class on modern world history got me hooked, and so I continued to pursue my studies within the department.

How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

Now that I am in a department that is almost exclusively oriented to studies that are framed by the nation, I have a new-found appreciation for the broad approach to the field history that was offered during my time at Calvin. I really think that entering into the often ambiguous territory of “world history” provided me with the wider context I needed for doing advanced regional studies.

What are some of your memories of the Calvin History department?

This could easily get sappy. I was often deeply moved and challenged by the professors in Calvin’s History department. Every semester, I would be introduced to new ideas that changed the way I saw the world. Okay, it’s already gotten sappy, but it’s true. Professor Berglund’s East European history class, with its focus on the creation of national narratives, is a prime example. It was nothing but Benedict Anderson and nationalist narratives for weeks in that class. These lessons were exciting, and they felt important. As I have advanced in my studies, I have only become more convinced of vitality of the type of analytical-based studies that I was fortunate enough to find at Calvin.

Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?

Students new to the department should keep in mind that this field is very different from what most assume it to be. Leave your fond memories of afternoons watching the “History Channel” behind. Do not worry yourself too much with memorizing those oceans of names and dates. Just get ready to think, be prepared to accidentally say stupid things, and be mature enough to accept it when you are wrong. This field will introduce you to questions that you will have never considered before. It is not easy going, but it can be a lot of fun.

Current students would do well to complete their philosophy and theology core classes as early as possible. An additional survey class in either field will serve you well in terms of both your writing and your thinking skills. Students should avoid taking 200-level classes when there is a comparable 300-level class to be had. In my experience, the 300-level classes were really top notch, and I wish I had taken more. Finally, students should take advantage of the History department’s student association.

Graduate school

Many Calvin History graduates go on for advanced degrees. Here are some of the schools that recent History graduates have attended.

Boston College
Calvin Theological Seminary
Clemson University
Cornell University Law School
Davenport University
Fuller Theological Seminary
Grand Valley State University
Johns Hopkins University
Marquette University
Michigan State University
Ohio State University
Pepperdine University
Purdue University
SUNY College at Binghamton
Thomas M. Cooley Law School
University of Cincinnati
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
University of Wales
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
University of Western Ontario
Wayne State University
Western Michigan University
Western Theological Seminary
Wheaton College – Illinois
Yale University