Women’s History Month: Renberg’s Innovative Approach to Learning History Inspires
History isn’t just about the past—it continues to speak to us. Dr. Lynneth Renberg, assistant professor of history in the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences, shows students how to connect with history in engaging, thought-provoking ways.
“I think history has a lot in common with mysteries and with detective stories. You've got these fragments, these pieces of knowledge, and you have a kind of puzzle, so as much as possible I try to create spaces for students to do that themselves in my classroom,” she said. “This often looks a lot like interactive activities. This can look like using primary sources to put together the narrative on their own. This can look like using games that ask students to put themselves in the shoes of historical figures and try to understand motivations, worldviews from that.
I lecture for as much of my classes as I need to to give the context, to allow students to then do that detective work themselves, because I think that's what makes history exciting. It allows for that exploration and for that kind of personalization of questions in a way that can be really fulfilling even if you don't think you're interested in history.”
Pursuing a lifelong interest
Dr. Renberg has always loved history, but was unsure of how exactly to incorporate that interest into a career.
“It wasn't the first thing I went to to think about as a career, but once I started putting these pieces together of all the different things I loved, it became pretty clear teaching history was a good fit for me and my interests,” she said.
Dr. Renberg’s primary areas of research have focused on Europe in the Middle Ages and the early modern era. She spent a year in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews studying modern European history; specifically nineteenth-century life, ranging from the Victorian monarchy to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, before doing her Ph.D. in medieval history.
She has also published and contributed to scholarly articles about medieval history.
In addition to history, dance has also been a big part of Dr. Renberg’s life.
“I had grown up as a dancer, and the fact that I could incorporate my love for dance with my love for history was really fun, so through working on dance halls, 1880 to 1920, I stumbled upon what became my Ph.D. topic and then my first book topic, which is dance and religion in medieval and early modern England,” she said.
Dr. Renberg has explored the complexity of dance, even as it has related to the church over the ages:
“How did we see this shift from where dance is something that the Psalmist calls for, that's incorporated into Christian practice, Christian life and Christian worship towards the view a lot of us are more familiar with, that you see in movies… where dances are a bad thing for Christians to do?”
Beyond Anderson University, Dr. Renberg has teamed up with colleagues on an international scale. In fact, over spring break, she attended a collaborative conference symposium with academics, artists and activists in Oslo, Norway. They were working together to consider medieval understandings of religion, race, identity and belonging through the writings of 12th Century cleric Gerald of Wales. Participants included scholars and artists from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Germany, the UK, Australia and Canada.
“It’s been a really great opportunity to get to be involved! I think the most rewarding part so far has been the chance to get to know and collaborate with such a diverse international group. Hearing their perspectives has been incredibly enriching,” she said.
Dr. Renberg feels blessed to have played an important role in the ongoing development of Anderson University’s history program to provide more opportunities that benefit students.
“I am really proud of the ways in which the history department as a whole, including Professor Roger Flynn, Dr. Ryan Butler, and Dr. Lindsay Privette has worked to expand the campus's kind of engagement with history and its various aspects and facets. There has been a lot of growth in what our students have the opportunity to do through things like Phi Alpha Theta and through the Liberty Cap Society. That's been really exciting to be a part of.”
In 2022, a group of Dr. Renberg’s students published the first edition of a new journal, Res Historica. This publication, put together by student editors and writers, showcases various facets of history that are relatively unknown. Dr. Renberg is excited about the possibilities as the publication reaches audiences beyond the classroom walls.
“Our first issue had eight articles. This time we have 11 articles, eight book reviews and a reflection piece, and we have two student editors who have been working with me,” she said. Dr. Renberg noted that the next edition of Res Historica is expected to come out this April.
“It's really gratifying to watch students discover their gifts and their calling and who they are, and then go out and pursue that, and it's exciting to see where that takes them,” she said.
Dr. Renberg wants her students (and the rest of us) to know that history has a lot to communicate in today’s world.
“History gives a chance to know God better through studying the past, through seeking out what has happened in the past, kind of changes, the story of humanity and then, in learning that story of humanity, a chance to love our neighbors, to understand ourselves better, understand the ways in which we fit into the world better and then the ways in which we can seek out and love those who are separated from us, either chronologically or geographically or culturally.”