Gift Benefits History Projects, Honors Emeriti Professors

Emeriti History Professors John Wickstrom, David Barclay and David Strauss
Emeriti History Professors John Wickstrom, David Barclay and David Strauss

Thanks to a lead anonymous gift, and the philanthropy of other donors, a new endowed fund is now supporting exemplary seniors and their Senior Integrated Projects (SIPs) in the Department of History while honoring two of the department’s emeriti professors, David Strauss and John Wickstrom.

Professors Strauss and Wickstrom earned respect as teachers and active scholars while shaping many students, with one measure of that being the significant number of SIPs produced under their direction over four decades. The Dr. David Strauss and Dr. John Wickstrom Senior Integrated Project Endowed Fund will continue that legacy. The current chair of the department, Wen Chao Chen Professor of East Asian Social Sciences Dennis Frost, summed up the significance of this endowment to history majors.

“The history department faculty are excited about the opportunities that this new funding will open up for our students,” Frost said. “Many of our students propose exciting and ambitious projects that require both time and access to archival materials; many essential sources can be quite a distance from Kalamazoo. It’s been challenging for us to support more extensive summer research of this sort. Thanks to the generous support from the donors who established this fund, a variety of new SIP research options will be available for our majors now.”

During the past two years, Strauss and Wickstrom led the initiative to establish an endowed scholarship in Professor Emeritus David Barclay’s name. Hearing of this project, an anonymous donor—who also is a history alum—decided to honor Strauss and Wickstrom in a similar fashion: by making a gift to establish the David Strauss and John Wickstrom SIP Endowed Fund. Other history alumni, faculty, staff and friends subsequently contributed to the fund.

Strauss earned a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and a master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University before joining Kalamazoo College in 1974. After training under historian Richard Hofstadter, Strauss opened new perspectives on U.S. history to generations of students throughout his years at K. True to the College’s international vision in his teaching and research, Strauss emphasized the global, comparative and interdisciplinary dimensions of U.S. history, from anti-Americanism in France to the cultural history of Japanese-American relations and the internationalization of American cuisine in the 20th century. His students learned about the social, cultural and intellectual contexts of U.S. history and many have followed his example by pursuing careers in teaching or public history.

“History is a complex, fascinating enterprise. In order to write good histories, students must first learn the trade,” Strauss said. “During the first two years at K, history students must acquire basic knowledge which is communicated by reading appropriate textbooks and engaging in conversations with instructors and fellow students. Supported by this information, juniors and seniors will be prepared to find topics of interest, search for relevant material which will be useful for the topic at hand, and then organize the material so as to present a conclusive statement on the topic chosen. Since K students wish to take advantage of their experiences abroad, often more expensive than in Kalamazoo, it’s important to help those who have developed viable topics to explore opportunities in other parts of the world.”

Wickstrom earned a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University and a master’s degree and doctorate from Yale University before joining K in 1966. For more than four decades, K students learned from him about centuries from roughly 700 BCE to 1500 CE. Originally trained in late medieval English legal history, Wickstrom turned increasingly to the study of early medieval monasticism, culminating in pathbreaking research on the sixth-century French monastic, Saint Maurus, including a 2022 book titled Fiction, Memory, and Identity in the Cult of St. Maurus, 830-1270. For many years, Wickstrom took advantage of the Kalamazoo-based International Congress on Medieval Studies, the world’s largest conference of its kind, to introduce students to hands-on historical research and many of the world’s eminent scholars. He also arranged for K students to present papers, usually based on their SIP research, in the undergraduate sessions of the conference.

“At its best, the SIP experience can be transformative,” Wickstrom said. “It is the point at which a student of history moves from reading history written by others to acquiring a unique and authoritative voice in the ancient and ongoing debate over the meanings of the past. This is accomplished primarily by an unfettered examination of all the evidence for a particular historical problem. Only by such an exercise can a historian appreciate the limits of what can and cannot be known about the past; and thereby begin to understand the deeper question of its connection to truth. The aspiring historian must gain as much exposure as possible to the sources that inform the problem/question of his or her SIP. I still recall my Ph.D. advisor saying that the chief value of my work was my analysis of manuscripts that I had discovered in the archives of the Public Records Office in London. I was only able to access that evidence through a grant from the university that allowed me to travel to that archive. So, I am especially grateful to the generosity of the donors to the Strauss/Wickstrom SIP fund in History. The fund will allow students to access sometimes remote repositories of historical material that alone will give their work credibility. Hopefully, this exercise will also open their minds and those of their readers to the depths and, ultimately, to the mystery of our connection with the past.”

If you would like to support K history students and give in honor of Strauss and Wickstrom, please make a gift online or contact Nicki Poer, associate director of special initiatives and athletics giving, at 269.337.7281 or A generous challenge by John ’80 and Laura Laurenson Foster ’82 will match up to $30,000 in donations for the fund. Also, a virtual K-Talk, offered through the Office of Alumni Engagement, will provide a virtual event marking the scholarship’s launch at 6 p.m. June 14. Register for the event through K’s website.