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.