When Dr. Cody Strecker, assistant professor of theology, met Dr. James Strasburg on their first day of their master’s program at Duke University, he was struck by his big smile and genuine personality.
“My wife, at the time we were students, said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you and James worked at the same college?’ and I said, ‘Mary, that’s impossible,’” Strecker said. “But, you know, one of the great wonders and joys of the past few years is the chance to return to that friendship.”
Last Thursday, during fall convocation, Strasburg, an assistant professor of history, was awarded the Daugherty Award for Teaching Excellence.
Strasburg specializes in 20th century U.S. History. In addition to his work at Hillsdale College during the last two years, he also recently published his first book, “God’s Marshall Plan.”
Strasburg credits his inspiration to become a teacher to his history professors during both high school and college.
“They really just made the past come alive, and showed how history can be a source of moral wisdom, how we should live today in the present,” he said. “That’s when I first started to catch the vision of what education can be in terms of forming human beings.”
After earning his undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University, he took a year off to live in Germany.
“I did some research in Germany on German history and church history, and then wound up doing a master’s degree in Theology at Duke, and then ended up at Notre Dame to pursue my Ph.D. in history.”
While at Duke University, Strasburg and Strecker became close friends.
“He told me a lot about the liberal arts vision and the mission of the college. That’s something I’ve always really valued, studying the humanities, and allowing the liberal arts to form us,” Strasburg said.
When he graduated in 2018, Hillsdale College began hiring for a position in modern U.S. History, specifically focused on the Cold War; Strecker encouraged Strasburg to apply.
“The more I learned about it, the more it just seemed like a lovely place to be. What really sealed the deal was coming on campus and seeing how collegial the faculty is and how motivated and dedicated and curious the students are,” Strasburg said.
In class, Strasburg conveys to students the debt they owe to the great figures of the past for the great truths that have come to define Western culture.
“I really want to convey to students that we are heirs and trustees of this tradition and we have a responsibility now to carry the torch forward,” he said. “Ideas like the Imago Dei, that all human beings are made in the image of God, that all human beings have equal standing, ideas like natural rights and republicanism.”
However, Strasburg also does not hesitate to confront the difficult truths of the past and the way in which we can learn from them.
“We have these really pressing realities, like slavery and the Jim Crow regime, where these truths weren’t being honored; they are a part of the American story,” he said. “We have to figure out how it was possible that we Americans deviated, and perhaps learn from those deviations, to try to avoid them in the present and in the future.”
Strecker and Strasburg taught a one-credit seminar in the spring that united 20th century theology with 20th century history.
“I’d never experienced that perspective of him, and he brings such energy and passion to the topics, but with a kind of seriousness of purpose,” Strecker said. “His historical attentiveness is a means of love of neighbor.”
For senior Eliana Kernodle, Strasburg’s approach to difficult events in history allows students to learn to balance their own political beliefs with historical truths.
“I think he does a really good job of trying to navigate that,” she said. “I think he does it in such a way that he allows us to engage with it and have discussions about it, and to think about it. It’s not an attack on Americans or our heritage, but it’s a way of honestly engaging with the truth.”
Strasburg also serves as the faculty advisor of the history honorary, Phi Alpha Theta. Kernodle, who is currently the president, said she has appreciated his guidance during the last year.
“The history department is a great department, and we want people to get to know each other,” she said. “He’s very on board with that vision. He’s just been really helpful in making sure that everything comes together, whether it’s a cookout or any other kind of event.”
When Strasburg received the award, Strecker said he was not surprised.
“He is eminently worthy of that honor and has committed himself wholeheartedly to the vocation of teaching here at Hillsdale, and the fruits of that in the impact he has on students here is obvious,” he said.