Faculty Spotlight: Pillars of the History Faculty

by   |   kallweil@bju.edu   |  
Dr. Linda Hayner, Dr. Carl Abrams and Dr. John Matzko of the history faculty

The 2020 Vintage is dedicated to three professors who share a love for history and their students. All three have been listed in Who’s Who in America, and they have taught a combined 135 years as history faculty. The University is proud to honor Dr. Carl Abrams, Dr. Linda Hayner and Dr. John Matzko for their dedicated service.

Carl Abrams: Traveler, Author, Professor

Many of Dr. Carl Abram’s students might be surprised to learn the quiet history professor once burst a blood vessel in his eye cheering at an North Carolina State University basketball game. “Usually people just think I’m very introverted and very quiet,” said Abrams, who earned his master’s degree in history at N.C. State.

In addition to the master’s degree, Abrams has a bachelor of arts degree in history from Bob Jones University and a PhD in history from the University of Maryland, College Park. After completing his master’s degree, Abrams also completed a certificate program at the Sorbonne in Paris. “I decided on my own I was just going to go and enroll at the Sorbonne and study French history and French language and French civilization,” he said. “So, I just literally got on the train in Raleigh, rode to New York, got on the plane, and went to Paris and studied there.”

France, Africa, and back to France

Abrams’ time studying in France would be just the first of several trips abroad. He met his wife Linda while at the University of Maryland. She was a fellow teaching assistant studying French history. “She had actually grown up in France. Her father was an engineer, and their family had lived in France for a while. She actually went to a French elementary school,” Abrams reminisced.

The Abramses’ mutual love of France and its culture led them to seek ways to visit. Their interest in other cultures also gave them a love for missions. After Abrams returned to the BJU history faculty in 1981 after a leave of absence to complete his doctoral work, he and his wife prayed about ways they could minister as a family during summers. “We met some friends who were missionaries in Kenya,” remembered Abrams. These friends were mission board representatives who welcomed the idea of a family joining their mission. “I can’t imagine doing it now,” said Abrams, “but my wife and I and two young children, we just took off and went with some young people through the mission board first, and then for the next 16 years we took a total of nine teams.” At first, Abrams and his wife took the mission team on their own, but the University began sponsoring the team in 1991.

In May 2019, the Abrams took the first BJU study abroad team to Paris. “We had a very diverse group of American and international students that went to France with us last summer. That was very interesting because a lot of French people have these stereotypes of Americans. So, to bring a diverse group from America from an American university I thought was useful and interesting,” said Abrams. He loves bringing the students into the heart of Paris and giving them the opportunity to explore the culture firsthand. He said, “taking them to a French church on Sunday morning is very special” because of the many immigrants who bring their various cultures with them. “You get that mixture that you wouldn’t probably in other European cultures.”

Fundamentalism, Missionaries and Hollywood

Abrams has written three books. His first, Conservative Constraints: North Carolina and the New Deal, is a revision of his dissertation. His other books focus on Fundamentalism in the United States and came out of a summer seminar at Harvard Divinity School. “(The history of Fundamentalism) was a very rich, complicated subject, contrary to the way that we are stereotyped in the history books. There’s a great deal of variety, including the history of Bob Jones University and the Joneses,” said Abrams. Selling the Old Time Religion studies how early Fundamentalists used marketing channels to spread the Gospel. Abrams’ latest book, Old-Time Religion Embracing Modernist Culture, argues that Fundamentalists adapted and embraced more than historians have given them credit.

Currently, Abrams is working on a study of the treatment of missionaries in popular culture. Examples of films he’s analyzed are Chariots of Fire, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and The African Queen. “You get Ingrid Bergman playing Gladys Aylward (in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness), and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on here?’ … What’s been interesting is Hollywood, which is no friend of religion,” Abrams has found, “has been kinder to the image of missionaries than generally historians have been.”

A result of Abrams’ own writing is teaching his students to write, one of his favorite skills to teach. “We obviously believe the Bible is important, but if you think about it, the primary way that the Lord reveals Himself to us is through Scripture, through language, through words,” he said. “And so, obviously writing, it goes without saying, is very, very important. … I enjoy getting (students) to write and trying to help them as best I can to express themselves in written form.”

Curiosity, Success and Legacy

Abrams also enjoys encouraging his students’ curiosity. While he loves all his classes, he especially relishes the smaller, upper-level ones where they can discuss what interests the students. “With larger classes you have to stay with the syllabus and stay with whatever is assigned for that day because the test is going to be next week, but in the smaller upper-level classes where they were more informal we could just chat informally on whatever they really were curious about without really getting off the subject,” he said.

Abrams’ true reward, though, is seeing his students succeed. “What’s been very gratifying to me and I think it’s not me but collectively the history department, we (have) a pretty good representation of history graduates who have gone on to grad schools, very good grad schools and gotten graduate degrees who are now professors in some pretty good colleges. And just playing a very, very small role in helping them achieve that, I think, has been very, very special.

“I can look out there, and sometimes I see their names in journals where they have written books or they have reviewed books, and you think, ‘yes, you had a little bit perhaps to do (with) that.’ And then some of them have gone on to be lawyers and businesspeople, and we stay in touch with many of them and have taught their children or their grandchildren. So that’s very special, the personal relationships and seeing them after they graduate.”

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Linda Hayner: Teaching, Writing and Weaving

“(Historians are) nosy people, I guess,” said Dr. Linda Hayner said in a previous interview with BJUtoday. “History tells us who and what we are. If we don’t know our antecedents, we don’t know who we are.” And Hayner possibly ranks among the nosiest of them all.

Hayner earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Michigan University and her PhD at Vanderbilt University. She has also spent time studying at St. Anne’s College, Oxford in England and at the University of Wales at Cardiff.

Coming to BJU

When offered a position in BJU’s history department in 1971, Hayner had never visited the University and didn’t have a good opinion of it, either. However, her brother had attended for two years, “and he hadn’t come back with one eye grown in the middle of his forehead or anything else too strange,” she quipped in an interview for BJU Review. Hayner remembered clearly feeling God’s call to teach at BJU and accepted the position — “even though I had quite a time adjusting to Southern accents.”

She has never regretted her choice. “One aspect of teaching history at this University is very special: you have the chance to give the students the direction they need. That’s something you can’t do at most places,” Hayner said.

After serving as a graduate teaching fellow at Western Michigan University and as a teaching fellow at Vanderbilt University, Hayner wasn’t used to the liberty of sharing God’s truth with her students. “Here (at BJU), all our teaching is a matter of getting to the truth. The students need criteria to judge their own ideas and every other idea against what is right. Whether it’s human character or philosophy, what does God say about it? With that sort of freedom to teach, we’re able to give our students a much broader and more accurate picture of history.”

Going Beyond the Dissertation

As Hayner was researching in England for her dissertation, she came across stories of infants and toddlers abandoned by their parents to the care of the church. The care of orphans and foundlings, specifically in 17th century London, became the focus of her research. But she didn’t limit herself to her dissertation.

“I just thought I had a good story,” she said. She turned her research into a young adult historical novel, The Foundling, about a little boy named Willy who is left at the door of St. Pancras Church. Hayner’s second young adult historical novel, Ellanor’s Exchange, tells the story of Ellanor Fitzhugh whose introduction into London society is tainted by political intrigue.

Hayner’s love of writing started in high school when her writing teacher, Mrs. Shirk, would have the class write creative assignments such as, “Write two descriptive paragraphs without using passive voice.” Hayner discovered “I really liked manipulating words.” Though it took her four years to write The Foundling, her love has yet to diminish.

Weaving More than Words

Hayner’s students may be surprised to learn she is not only a weaver of words but also a weaver of thread. She enjoys crafting “anything that involves thread of some kind,” she said, including knitting, quilting, embroidery, tatting, and, yes, spinning and weaving.

Hayner’s favorite piece she’s created is a quilt she and her great-grandmother made together. Her great-grandfather had sketched scenes from their farm, and she and her great-grandmother embroidered those scenes into the quilt.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of folk art,” Hayner said. “That’s my favorite, but there are others — and there are more things I’m working on or wanting to work on. I’m always interested in something different!”

Doing It All for the Students

Hayner’s love for her students is obvious from the warm welcome she gives in her classroom to the time she devotes to helping them complete their capstone projects. Hayner said, “It’s the students that keep me in the classroom. They are hilarious! The things they say. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”

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John Matzko: Making History Come Alive

“You don’t do this. This isn’t your real job, is it?” Dr. John Matzko remembers a lady visiting Arlington House asking him this question after he finished a costumed presentation.

Though he has interpreted history at many U.S. National Park sites in addition to Arlington House, Matzko has been a member of BJU’s history faculty since 1971, with a brief leave of absence to work on his doctorate. The lady wasn’t surprised to hear he was a teacher because he made history come alive.

Matzko received a bachelor of arts in history from BJU before working on a master’s degree in history from the University of Cincinnati. In spite of being drafted into the U.S. Army a few weeks into his master’s program, he graduated with the degree in 1972. He earned his PhD in history from the University of Virginia in 1984.

Returning and Loving It

Before graduating from BJU, Matzko was approached by Dean of Administration Dr. James Edwards and asked to stay on as history faculty. He declined because he wanted to move forward in a history program, and BJU didn’t have the program at the time. Edwards asked Matzko to think about it and to keep BJU in mind when he finished his master’s program. “That really was the beginning of my just thinking through what it would mean if I came back and taught, and I was willing,” he remembers.

Matzko wrote to BJU after graduating from the University of Cincinnati. “I didn’t have any idea how they hired people,” he said. “So I just wrote and said, ‘Well, I’m done. Are you interested?’ ” Having been on a ministry team helped Matzko’s case as people at BJU knew him. He was hired straight out of his master’s program.

“I enjoy really being in the classroom,” said Matzko. “I get wound up.” He takes a few minutes after class to check email while he calms down from the high of being in front of students. “I do enjoy the public part of standing up in front of a class, and getting the feedback from their looking at me, watching me,” he said. He summed up his love for teaching with the old adage: “I teach for free, but you have to pay me to grade.”

One area in which Matzko likes to challenge his students is that of reading. “It’s harder to get students to read because they’re so used to reading what you can see on the screen,” he said. He sets the example for students by reading hefty books. “But it’s hard to convince students that they should be reading very long books because they’re just not used to doing that.”

Writing Challenges

In addition to reading books, Matzko also writes books. His latest, Best Men of the Bar, is a rewrite of his doctoral dissertation. He tackled a little recorded and little investigated topic and crafted a unique history of the early years of the American Bar Association.

See Also: Behind the Scenes of ‘Best Men of the Bar’

Matzko’s first book stemmed from his time spent with the National Park Service. He was serving at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site in North Dakota. (If you’ve visited, let him know. To this day, he’s not met anyone at BJU who has.) A site 25 miles away from the closest town, “you’ve got to want to go there,” Matzko said. After touring the site and hearing the story from the park superintendent, Matzko decided the story needed to be told. He reminisced, “I actually wrote in my diary, I found this story, and I want to tell it. And I did.”

Preserving Historic Legacies

In addition to writing about Fort Union, Matzko has spent many summers serving with the National Park Service. From performing in costume at Arlington House to leading tours at Ash Lawn to filling the roles of park ranger and historian at Homestead National Monument, there is not much Matzko hasn’t done.

Having the experience of up to 10 repeat performances equipped him for his future History of Civ. discussion classes. “At one point, I actually did 15 (classes) in the same week,” he said. “And the things you do if you’re teaching the same thing 15 times is you’ve got to get into a routine so you know what you’re doing. Well, the same kind of thing is true if you’re doing a tour or providing information.”

He has also helped to preserve the history of BJU. For three summers, Matzko recorded the personal histories of BJU retirees. “One of the things about the recordings,” he remembers, “is you met the people who were tremendously influential in the school system. And you walk out saying, I’ve just talked to one of God’s great servants.”

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Krystal Allweil

Krystal Allweil is the content marketing specialist for BJU’s marketing department and is the managing editor for BJUtoday.