Siloam Springs, Ark (February 22, 1996) - War fascinates Dr. Ed Ericson, assistant professor of history at John Brown University, and former resident of Grand Rapids, Mich. His recent study of the German-Soviet economic relations in early World War II earned him a doctor of philosophy in history degree from Indiana University in Bloomington in December 1995. His dissertation, "Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Aid to Nazi Germany 1933-41," focused on the diplomatic aspect of this war, and gave him insight into not only economics, but also politics, the military and social issues.
During his two years at JBU, Ericson instilled his students with a love for history through war board games. Instead of computer games that involve only one person or long-winded lectures, Ericson prefers board games that cultivate student interaction with history. Playing board games allows students to learn about history, have fun and interact with other students. Through interaction during the game, students not only solve problems, but also experience the importance of roles in history. Ericson's western civilization class of over 50 students plays Diplomacy each semester. Students play power politics as they lead European countries around the turn of the century.
The American studies class plays Across Five Aprils to simulate the Gettysburg and Pea Ridge battles of the Civil War. Along with playing the game in two Saturday sessions, students watch the Gettysburg movie and read Shaara's book The Killer Angels. Ericson also offers several other games each semester for student activity logs.
According to Ericson, too many professors in academia are hyper-specialized with the idea that all research aids teaching. Conversely, he believes that more than specific knowledge and expertise, professors need to teach students how to approach issues and think in an educated fashion. In addition to the specialized knowledge he gained, Ericson learned how to ask historical questions during the doctoral process.
When he first came to JBU, Ericson assumed all students would share his interest in history, therefore, he would simply enlighten them with new knowledge. Now, however, in his general education history classes, Ericson now sees himself as an advocate for history. "I try to infect the students with my joy and interest in the subject and show them that it can be fun exciting and worthwhile," said Ericson.
With his upper division students Ericson's main purpose is not necessarily to get students to think historically, but simply to get students to think. He hopes to see students question and be able to come to educated conclusions through the time they spend studying in his class.
"I enjoy being here--there's a sense of joy here, an excitement about life and what you are doing," Ericson said of JBU.
Since receiving his doctorate, the Journal of War in History has invited Ericson to write an article on Karl Schnurre, Germany economic negotiator and key figure in Ericson's examination of Nazi Germany. He also hopes to work on publishing his dissertation as a book. Ericson's next projects include books on war gaming in Germany history and war gaming in World War II. War gaming includes the pre-campaign battle planning, an art Germany perfected.