Mark Metzler Sawin

Mark Metzler Sawin

Office Phone: (540) 432-4468


Main Campus, Harrisonburg

Office Location: RLN 316


History Dept


Honors Program

“It is my belief that Mennonites offer the world three important ideals:

  • Love & Compassion are more powerful than hatred & coercion
  • Happiness & Success come from healthy relationships, not from the accumulation of power or material goods
  • There is a third way—very few scenarios have only two sides

Teaching My Mennonite Ideals:
History is an explanation of the past, created and told by people in the present, in an effort to bring about their hoped-for future. History is made up of facts and figures that are “real,” but its primary role is narrative and explanatory—the story of what happened, why it happened, and what this means. In this sense, History is completely a human construction, an art-form that is remolded and manipulated by those telling the story. At EMU it is my job to tell the story of the history of the United States of America and I tell this story through the lens of my Anabaptist beliefs. I thus often hit upon Ideals #1 and #2 from above. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that what most directs my teaching is Ideal #3.

I have many text books that loudly advertise that they are designed to “teach both sides of the issues,” assuming that there are just two sides. I’ve read enough philosophy to know that I could use Hegel’s idea of the dialectic to show a thesis, its counter-thesis, and then to find a common synthesis, but that too doesn’t seem quite right because it assumes that there is a synthesis of opposite things. What I’ve come to believe and teach is the idea that things are complex, that there aren’t just two ways to see things. It’s easy to get Virginian students to wax poetic about Thomas Jefferson because they’ve been trained from kindergarten up to revere him. It’s also fairly easy to get them to completely change their minds and to view him as a foul villain because he owned slaves, had an affair with at least one of them, and boldly wrote his own version of the Bible that would suit him better. What’s difficult to do is to get them to reject both of these polar views and to view him as human—a conflicted, stumbling, brilliant, optimistic, confused, visionary human. Doing this with Martin Luther King Jr. is even more difficult. It’s near blasphemy to utter a word against this great man, yet the reality is he was just a man with feet of clay. Yes, he had many affairs. Yes, he plagiarized his dissertation. Yes, he got angry and frustrated and confused and scared. Students don’t want to hear this. They want to hold on to pure truth, pure goodness, pure purity. I want that too at times. But that’s not the way I believe history works. It’s not the way humanity works. And it’s not the way I believe Jesus walked through this world.

Jesus preached paradoxes. To be first you must be last. You should love your enemies. To gain your life you must lose it. Jesus the man suffered and died because he refused to see the world through the black and white constructs that the religious, political, and social leaders of his day clung to. He condemned the leaders of the church and forgave the prostitutes and tax collectors. He chose humble fishermen to be his disciples and embraced women as his best friends. He loved humanity though it deserved condemnation and he explained all the law and all the prophets by telling us to simply love God and to love each other.

As I teach history, I try to get students to do the same—to understand, empathize with, and even love those who have gone before us, not despite their faults, but because of them. If I can get students to understand that Jefferson was both and neither heroic and tyrannical; that he was human—faulty, fallible, but ultimately God’s creation, struggling to make it through the world—then perhaps they can understand the same about MLK, Malcolm X, Nixon, Bush, Obama, terrorists, immigrants, themselves, each other. And perhaps, just perhaps, they can come to love and understand even those who they find the most difficult to love and understand.

This third way methodology impacts not just what I teach in my courses, but how I teach them. As I work with lower-level students, my style is conversational but largely authoritarian. I lecture; they take notes. I assign readings; they take tests to prove to me that they’ve understood what I wanted them to understand. I am the teacher and they are the students. But as the semesters go by, these roles begin to shift. Students’ projects begin to take them down paths I’ve never explored, and when they return, they tell me what they’ve found. The dichotomy begins to break. The teacher is taught; the student directs the study. We learn together and a third way is found. This gets complicated at times. Authority wanes. Students become friends. This is not typical education. The authority of the teacher/student dichotomy weakens. We become fellow congregants in search of the past, of truth, of God. This third way process of education, I believe, is the core of my job as a professor of History at EMU."

Mark Metzler Sawin grew up in Hesston, a small, Mennonite town in rural Kansas. He attended Goshen College (Indiana) and then the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his MA and PhD in American Studies. Before coming to Eastern Mennonite University in 2001, Mark apprenticed as a chef, wrote for a culinary magazine, and managed a coffee shop, experiences that continue to color his teaching which is marked by an interdisciplinary hodgepodge of cultural studies, popular culture, literature and history. At EMU he currently serves as professor of U.S. History and as the director of the Honors program. In the larger academic world, Mark serves as a member of the Regional Chapters Committee of the American Studies Association and chaired that committee from 2011-13. He has also served as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Zagreb, Croatia (2008-09) and as the President of the Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association (2006-08). His scholarship focuses largely on the religious, literary, and popular culture of antebellum America (1850s); his book Raising Kane addresses Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane who authored two “best-selling” books about his travels while masterfully manipulating the popular media to enhance his celebrity status. Mark is currently launching a new project, editing a collection of stories by the notorious antebellum pop-fiction author and political rabble-rouser, Ned Buntline.
Mark is married to Erika Metzler Sawin, a nursing professor at James Madison University, and has two children, Cora and Isaac.


Ph.D., American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 2001
MA, American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1997
BA, English & Political Science, Goshen College, 1993

  • Article “Making Contact!: William Carlos Williams’ American Literary Aesthetic.” Umjetnost Riječi (The Art of Words: A Croatian/English Journal of Literary, Theatre and Film Studies), forthcoming.
  • Mennonites in Encyclopedia of American Studies (Online Edition), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.
  • Essay “Pickups, The History of a Love Story,” in Howard Zehr, Pickups: A Love Story, Intercourse, PA; GoodBooks, 2013.
  • Book Raising Kane: Dr. Kane and the Culture of Fame in Antebellum America, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2008.
  • Review Article Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity, by David Chapin; The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox by Nancy Rubin Stuart; and Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism, by Barbara Weisberg. Journal of the Early Republic, (Winter, 2005): 668-74.
  • Cover Article “U.S. History through American Studies.” American Studies Newsletter (Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association) 17, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 1.
  • Book Review Desert Patriarchy: Mormon and Mennonite Communities in the Chihuahua Valley by Janet Bennion. BYU Studies 4, no.2 (Fall 2005): 177-180.
  • Book Review The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Conference by John Landis Ruth. Mennonite Quarterly Review, October, 2002 76:4.
  • Article “Heroic Ambition: The Early Life of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane.” American Philosophical Society Library Bulletin, Fall, 2001, n.s. 1:2. Online
  • Article “Moving Stubbornly Toward the Kingdom of God: Mennonite Identity in the Twenty-First Century.” Mennonite Quarterly Review, January, 2001 75:1 89-98.
  • Short Story “Jed Said No.” What Mennonites Are Thinking, 1999. Good Books, 1999.
  • Article “A Sentinel for the Saints: Thomas Leiper Kane and the Mormon Migration.” Nauvoo Journal, Spring, 1998, 10:1 17-27.
  • Thesis Article “Raising Kane: The Making of a Hero, the Marketing of a Celebrity.” Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society, 1997. Online
  • Article “Mennonites & Amish.” Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America. Salem Press, 1997.
Scholarly Presentations and Abstracts
  • Presentation “There’s Somethin’ ‘bout a Truck: America’s Love Affair with the Pickup Truck.” Eastern American Studies Association, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA (March 2013)
  • Panelist “ASA Students’ Committee: Roundtable on the Results from the ASA Students Survey.” American Studies Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico (Nov. 2012)
  • Presentation “Sensation, Science & Scandal: The Popular Press in Antebellum America.” Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, Dayton, VA (May 2012, invited)
  • Moderator “Cultural Change through Popular Media.” Eastern American Studies Association, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (March 2012)
  • Presentation “Damsels, Demons, & the Sensationalized South: Ned Buntline’s Civil War.” American Studies Association, Baltimore (Oct. 2011)
  • “The Prolific Profligate: Ned Buntline & His Literary World.” Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association, Pennsylvania State Capitol, Harrisburg PA (April 2011)
  • “Scoundrels! Secession! Sensation!: Ned Buntline, the Civil War, and the Demon of Fire.” Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association, La Salle University, Philadelphia (April 2010).
  • “Hope in Hard Times: Obama, FDR & the Construction of Hope in American Politics.” Klub Studenta Anglistike, Zagreb, Croatia (March, 2009).
  • “Rock n Roll in Black & White: Cultural Creation in the US Since the 1950s.” American Corner, Zagreb, Croatia (Nov, 2008 & March 2009); School of Economics, Vukovar, Croatia (Jan, 2009); American Corner, Zadar, Croatia (Feb, 2009); Turkish-American University, Istanbul, Turkey (Feb, 2009); University of Sarajevo, Bosnia (Feb, 2009); University Dzemal Bijedic, Mostar, Herzegovina (Feb, 2009).
  • with Dr. Iva Polak “Grave New World: The Early History of North America & Australia.” University of Sarajevo, Bosnia (Feb, 2009); University Dzemal Bijedic, Mostar, Herzegovina (Feb. 2009).
  • “Playing with the Spirits: Séances in Antebellum America.” Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association, Rochester, NY (April 2008)
  • Presidential Address “The American Studies Scholar: An Emersonian Perspective.” Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association, Baltimore, MD (March, 2007)
  • “When Caliban Impressed Prospero: Rethinking 19th-Century Exploration & Race Narratives.” Organization of American Historians, Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC (April, 2006)
  • “Teaching the Violent Edge of Non-Violent Reform.” Faith in Action Conference, Samford University, Birmingham, AL (Jan. 2006)
  • “Traveling Together: The Intertwined Ambitions of Elisha & Thomas Kane.” Kane Masonic Lodge / Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society, New York, NY (Jan. 2006, invited)
Exhibits, Performances and Productions
  • Public Interview with Civil Rights leader Dr. Vincent Harding Eastern Mennonite University (Feb. 27, 2014)
  • Chapel Take the First Step in Faith: A History of Change Toward Inclusion at Eastern Mennonite Eastern Mennonite University (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • TV Appearance Survey Questions How Challenging College Has Become. WHSV TV Harrisonburg, VA (May 2012)
  • Baccalaureate Address: Wisdom & Vanity: A Teacher’s Parting Words. Eastern Mennonite University (April 2012)
  • Chapel Faith This Far: African American History and Eastern Mennonite (EMHS March 2011, EMU Feb. 2011)
  • “The Histories We Tell Ourselves” Melva Kauffman Annual Lecturer (3 part series). Hesston College (Sept. 2010, invited)
  • “A Croatian Fulbright Sabbatical” EMU Tuesday Lunch series (April 2010)
  • Book Opening “Raising Kane: My 13-Year Obsession with a Dead Ex-Hero” American Corner, Zagreb, Croatia (April 2009)
  • “The Times They Are a Changin’: American Student Movements in the 1960-1970s.” Student Symposium during the Faculty of Philosophy Student Strike, University of Zagreb, Croatia (April, 2009)
  • “The First Thanksgiving: Cultural History & Cultural Construction” Gornjogradska Gimnazija, Zagreb, Croatia (Nov. 2008)
  • Chapel “Colleges, Christ & the Construction of Belief, or, How to Make a Mennonite” (EMU Feb, 2007; Hesston College Jan, 2007)
  • Baccalaureate Address “Wandering Wondering: An Eclectic Guide to ‘Walking Humbly with your God.’” Eastern Mennonite University (April, 2006)
  • Radio Appearance “Touring Virginia’s Black History.” by Martha Woodroof. Morning Edition & All Things Considered, Virginia Public Radio (Feb. 2, 2006).
  • Radio Appearance “Exploring Zenda.” by Martha Woodroof. Morning Edition & All Things Considered, Virginia Public Radio (Jan. 3, 2006).
Church, Community and Professional Service
  • Article Referee, Arctic: The Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America (2014)
    Community & Professional Service
  • Conference Coordinator, Eastern American Studies Association 2013 conference E Pluribus Unum?: Unity, Division & the Making of American Identity Organized and executed this 2-day event that included over 60 scholars and 100 participants from dozens of universities (March 2013)
  • Eastern American Studies Association Executive Committee (2004-present)
  • Breneman-Turner Mill Committee, Rockingham County, VA (2010-present)
  • Chair, Regional Chapters Committee of the American Studies Association (2011-2013)
  • Fulbright Scholar, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zabreb, Croatia (2008-09)
  • Consultant for undergraduate and masters American Studies programs and for the Humanities PhD program, University of Zagreb, Croatia (2008-09)
  • Review Editor for the journal Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrebiensia Zagreb, Croatia (2008-09)
  • President, Eastern American Studies Association (2006-08)
  • Article Referee, Journal of the Early Republic (2007-08)
  • Book Manuscript Referee, American Philosophical Society (2007)
  • Board Member, Virginia Quatra-centennial Jamestown Celebration Committee for Harrisonburg & Rockingham County (2003-07)
  • Consultant for Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery on Elisha Kent Kane images (2006)

Church Service

  • Co-Coordinator, Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center’s annual Harvest Day (Sept. 2014)
  • Board Member, Events Committee of Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center (2010-present)
  • Board Member, Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center (2010-2013)
  • Usher, Community Mennonite Church (2011-present)
  • Youth Mentor, Community Mennonite Church (2006-2013)
  • Community Mennonite Church 40th Anniversary Committee (2011-2012)
  • Presenter, “Changes in Church & Society: WWII to Present” at the Leading a Changing Church in a Changing World Conference, Eastern Mennonite University (Oct. 2007)
  • Judge for the Mennonite Archives (Goshen, IN) John Horsch Mennonite Historical Essay Contest (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)
  • Honors, Awards and Grants
    • Fulbright Scholar, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, Croatia (2008-09)
    • Summer Teaching Grant. Eastern Mennonite University (2002, 2004, 2006, 2011)
    • Lilly Faculty Pilot Project Grant. “Reaching Out, Teaching In: EMU & Harrisonburg’s African-American Community. (2005)
    • Summer Research Grant. Eastern Mennonite University (2002, 2003, 2004)
    • Quality Service Award. Eastern Mennonite University (Fall, 2002)
    • Grundy Resident Research Fellowship at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA (1999)
    • University of Texas’ 2000-2001 Dissertation Fellowship (2000)
    Professional Memberships
    • American Studies Association (1996-2014)
    • Eastern American Studies Association (2001-present)
    Professional Conferences Attended
    • Eastern American Studies Association (Philadelphia, PA, March 2014)
    • Eastern American Studies Association (EMU, Harrisonburg, VA, March 2013)
    • American Studies Association (San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 2012)
    • Eastern American Studies Association (Rutgers University, NJ, March 2012)
    • American Studies Association (Baltimore, MD, Oct. 2011)
    • Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association (Harrisburg, PA, April 2011)
    • American Studies Association (San Antonio, TX, Oct. 2010)
    • Mid-Atlantic American Studies Association (Philadelphia, PA, April 2010)
    New Courses Taught


    • HONRS 111 Ruling Ideas
    • HIST 121 Introduction to History & Methods
    • HIST 131 American History to 1865
    • HIST 142 American History 1865 to the Present
    • HIST 222 African American History
    • HIST 312 History of Nineteenth-Century America, 1789-1865
    • HIST 321 Modernizing America, 1865-1940
    • HIST 411 History of Recent America, 1941-Present
    • HIST 422 History Tutorial (changes topic each semester)
    • HIST 452 Seminar in History
    • History & Culture of Ireland & Northern Ireland (Cross Cultural)
    • GVC 221 Cities
    • HONRS 311 Honors Colloquia: The History We Tell Ourselves
    • “Religion in American Literature & Culture” (University of Zagreb, Fall 2008)
    • “America Since WWII: A Cultural & Literary History” (University of Zagreb, MA course, Fall 2008,)
    • “Recent America, a Thematic Study” (University of Zagreb PhD course, Fall 2008)
    • “American Literature: A Post-WWII Cultural Study” (University of Zagreb, Spring 2009)
    • “American Literature: The Black Experience 1900-Now” (University of Zagreb, MA course, Spring 2009)
    EMU Service
    • Director, University Honors Program (2011-present)
    • Chair, Honors Council and Committee (2011-present)
    • Undergraduate Council (2003-04, 2009-present)
    • Academic Review Committee (2012-present)
    • Washington Community Scholars’ Center Advisory Board (2009-present)
    • Centennial Book Advisory Committee (2011-present)
    • Honors Mentor (2002-present)
    • Chair, History Department (2003-2004, 2009-2012)
    • Admissions Committee (2009-2012)
    • Intellectual Life Committee (2010-2012)
    • Chair, Search Committee for Political Studies position (2009-2011)
    • Gen-Ed Core/Undergraduate Council Executive Committee (2009-2011)
    • Co-Leader of Summer Cross-Cultural to Ireland/Northern Ireland (2010)