History. Hmm. What Are You Going To Do With That?

Question: So, history major, what are you going to do with that?

Answer: I’m going to work hard and be curious. How we support ourselves is quite a different thing than who we are as people and what we do with our limited time on earth.

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan is a fascinating intersection of old and new worlds. Of course, we spent two days walking around Old San Juan and touring the forts, El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal. In this post, I’ll share a few of the old and new world connections that I found to be interesting. I’ll also illustrate what history majors do with their education.

In the background of the photo above, you can see El Morro. In the foreground, you can see an obelisk commemorating the Spanish victory over Dutch privateers in 1625. At that time, the Dutch were able to sail past the fort and into the bay. The Dutch proceeded through the town and laid siege to the fort. The Spanish garrison with help from local militia fought back and eventually forced the Dutch to abandon the siege and return to their ships. The Dutch force suffered a loss of fifty percent.

You may remember that the United Provinces were fighting for their independence in 1625. You may also remember that the United Provinces achieved that independence in 1648 at Westphalia.

San Juan was a relatively established place by 1625. In comparison, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620. While the Pilgrims were fighting for survival, you have established settlements in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola that were over 100 years old.

In terms of religious history, 1625 is less than 10 years removed from the great Synod of Dort, which confirmed the classic Reformed doctrines and rejected the theological positions of the Remonstrants/Arminians. The Dutch-Spanish battles in the Caribbean, and around the world, were matters of greed, trade, conquest, and religion.

The old and new world connections continue at Casa Blanca, which is just outside of El Morro. Casa Blanca was built according to the order of Charles V for the family of Juan Ponce de León in the 1520s. Think about this. While Emperor Charles V is facing the recalcitrant Lutherans in Germany and the Ottomans in the east, he is expanding Spanish influence in the new world. Chuck had a lot on his mind!

The last old and new world historical connection that I’ll mention here is the striking World War II era lookout shelter that was added to Castillo San Cristobal. The reinforced bunker looks like what you would expect to see on the beaches of Normandy, not Puerto Rico. The same fort was used to spot pirate ships and German U-boats. That’s pretty nuts.

I fully admit that one does not need to major in history or attend a liberal arts university to appreciate these historical connections, but such a course of study does give one a background to know what to look for and what to read. World history is too large of a topic to glean the highlights by accident. As a matter of Christian living, the study of history also reveals God’s providence and his holy and wise governing of all his creatures and all their actions.

Life in the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries was often nasty, brutish, and short. There you will find the enslaving of island tribes and Africans, indentured servitude, 14 hour days working in gold mines or on sugar plantations, rampant disease, encounters with cannibalistic Carib peoples, monopolistic trade, risky business ventures that can be seized by storm or monarch, wars, pirates, and more. Thanks be to God for modern medicine, upgraded modes of transportation, and constitutional rights.

So, history major, what are you going to do with that? I’m going to appreciate my most recent trip to Puerto Rico. I’m going to pick up Frank Moya Pons’s book, History of the Caribbean, at a local book store and read it while sipping a mojito on the beach. I’m going to enjoy reviewing my pictures and sharing some interesting historical connections with you.

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