I worked for the Obama for America Campaign in the national headquarters. I was what we call a research associate. The research department, I along with my colleagues, looked at the strengths and weaknesses of our candidate’s historical/legislative record. We pushed out, through the more eloquent communications shop, our strengths and responded to attacks against our perceived weaknesses. We used the historical record to shore up our campaign’s narrative and shape the future trajectory of the campaign.
Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?
I chose to major in history at Calvin because I felt it was a way to study the trends in a whole range of issue and interest areas, including politics, economics, religion, sociology, etc. History allowed me to study how people reacted to and interacted with their environment throughout history. I hope that having studied history, I might be able to see a little more clearly how people will act today. History has always been a bit of an experiment for me; I believe history should inform us about our day and age.
How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?
In hearing this question, my favorite story is from 2004 Kerry-Edwards Campaign. I was in Washington, DC watching one of the debates at the national headquarters. President Bush was asked about Supreme Court Justice nominees, and he commented that he would never nominate a judge who would uphold or write a Dred Scott-like opinion. Had I not had Professor Bratt’s class, I would have completely missed the implication of such a statement. He was saying that slavery based upon property rights was analogous to abortion based on privacy rights. I had the opportunity to explain that to several of my confused colleagues. That is one example, but history very much informs how people act and interact to this day. I have spent now 17 months on the Obama campaign. and what a person says, how they say it, and where they say it all interact to connect with people in sometimes very surprising ways. But at the core, people want to know that you connect or that you can understand where they are coming from. This is their history and it is our future.
What are some of your memories of the Calvin History Department?
The most surprising and rewarding aspect of my Calvin education was the reintroduction of religion into my discourse. I had read about the European Wars of Religion before I came to college, and the lesson that I had taken away from that was that religious institutions were more often than not a force of destruction. My inclination therefore was to view religion in history with deep skepticism. Calvin showed me that though religion has been abused in history, it has also been a force of good. Ignoring religion and spiritual yearnings is to leave one with an incomplete picture of what is human and can prevent you from finding solutions to contemporary problems. I am very grateful to Calvin for balancing my perspective.
Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?
Be curious and ask questions. You may not realize it now, but Calvin professors are a great resource, and unlike at many other schools, they will take the time to explore your questions with you, even if they don't know the answers off the top of their heads.