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Raphael Hopstone joined the History graduate program at Cal State East Bay in January 2020. Born and raised in Walnut Creek, Raphael earned his BA in History and Single Subject credential in Social Science from Cal State Northridge. Now back in the Bay Area, Raphael absolutely loves his work as a teacher, and he can’t imagine himself in any other line of work, given his passionate commitment to disciplined and careful historical study.
Approaching his fifth year at Montera Middle School, Raphael decided to pursue an MA to “really dive into that process of history,” and to answer foundational questions: “What is history? What is the process of history? Can our understanding of history change over time?” He also wanted to attend a university in the Bay Area, to be able to better “understand this community, the people who live here, and the history of this area” while teaching at Montera, Raphael explains. Though the pandemic took us out of our physical classrooms just two months into his program of study, Raphael was still able to gain “first hand experience” in serious historical research at Cal State East Bay. Spending hours upon hours examining early California newspapers for his Research Seminar course in Spring 2020, Raphael completed a significant work of scholarship entitled “By this Barbarous Practice: California’s Press and Rationalizing Genocide,” in May, amid our pandemic.
A year into our MA program, Raphael has relished the opportunity “to study history in a way that is honest and rigorous” at Cal State East Bay, where he has worked with “knowledgeable and wonderful” faculty, he observes. With Professor Jason Daniels, Raphael has examined early Atlantic World history in its fullest breadth, bringing together the regions and peoples of Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Surinam, Brazil, the Caribbean, and Canada. Among his favorite books in the class has been Andrew Lipman’s The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015), which places Native seafaring at the center of an emerging Atlantic World in the seventeenth century.
According to Raphael, his courses with Prof. Daniels and Prof. Casey Sullivan invite “thinking critically about academic works of history,” while encouraging students to see “so much nuance” in the study and craft of historical interpretation. With fellow students in our seminars, Raphael has given careful thought to sources and methods, allowing him to become “more of an authority” in advanced historical study. “These connections” with faculty and students (although forged in synchronous Zoom meetings) have been “invaluable,” Raphael explains, in moving away from “accepted ways of teaching history” that are not serving students very well right now.
As a consequence, the work Raphael is doing in the MA program at Cal State East Bay circles back into his teaching at Montera Middle School, where he works incredibly hard with students to introduce the concepts of historical inquiry and investigation, which have become “central to how he teaches.” In online synchronous classes this Fall, Montera Middle School’s students work in teams to investigate historical sourcing and corroboration. As just one example, Montera students seek to validate Wikipedia history entries by making sure that original sources match claims in articles. It’s the kind of imperative work we need now in history classrooms: Making judicious use of evidence to warrant our claims. Hardly remote or detached from the real world, such significant evidentiary (and historical!) work has the capacity to save lives, as we’ve been painfully reminded in 2020. Thank you so much, Raphael, for joining us in this profoundly important work. We are so thrilled to have you in our classes, thinking so deeply and carefully with us about the past and its significance today.