Books & Culture magazine (Sept./Oct. 2016) did an interview with noted Christian historian Mark Noll, which is available online this month. As we think about true Christian scholarship this week and the importance of history today (history/archives day), it is worth listening to what this Christian scholar and historian has to say.
Below is the opening paragraph introducing Noll and then follows a few paragraphs from the interview. To read the rest of this it, follow the link at the end of this post. And don’t forget to note the influence of the library and books and reading in his early life. 🙂
Perhaps no living Christian intellectual defies the standard measures of one’s legacy more than Mark Noll, who retired last spring as Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Noll began his career at Trinity College (Deerfield, Illinois) in 1975, leaving three years later for his alma mater, Wheaton College, where he would spend the next 27 years. In 2006, Noll left Wheaton for Notre Dame.
At what point did you realize you possessed an abiding interest in history?
I read history from the time I started to read and then probably read as much history during my career as an English major in college as I did English. But I’m old enough now that when I studied English, the task of setting literary works in historical context was a central task—that was before the new historicism, and before deconstruction. My interest in literature, reading, and writing was both literary and historical. As long as I have been able to read I have been interested in what happened in the past.
Is there a particular figure (or event) from your childhood that you can remember reading about who you found more captivating than others?
I remember going to the library in probably the second, third, or fourth grade, and reading all the sports books I could find. But then reading about Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, or Ty Cobb seamlessly transitioned into reading about D-Day, Abraham Lincoln, the founding of the United States, World War I, and World War II. I really can’t remember a time when reading like that was not just something that I did.
At what point did you realize history was your life’s calling?
Certainly at some stage I knew I wanted to make my living dealing with words. Lecturing and writing articles and books thus came along pretty naturally. I applied to do literary studies in graduate school and was accepted at some graduate programs. I went on to study comparative literature at the University of Iowa, but it became clearer as my own sense of Christian faith developed that I was most interested in things that the Protestant Reformers did and most interested in the historical context of literary questions. When I finished the MA in comparative literature at Iowa, I thought I should study church history. I wanted to understand the faith, and it seemed like history was the obvious way to help me do that. And then you can get into graduate school and, lo and behold, you find out you can get paid for work on such material. I’m sure I could have changed at some point if doors had closed, but by following inertia I ended up being a historian.
By the way, one of Noll’s classic Christian history books is Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Baker, 2001).