“How Do You Know That?”

I signed up for Professor Dan Kaiser’s Basic Issues in European History my first semester at Grinnell, fall of 1982. Dan’s class turned me into a historian. And all it took was the one question he brought out in every single class discussion: “How do you know that?” 

Every time someone propounded a theory of this or an interpretation of that, Dan’s rejoinder was always the same. “How do you know that?” It was all very well and good to throw your ideas out into the middle of ARH Room 33, but they were useless fluff unless we could back them up with specifics. We soon learned that even the specifics weren’t definitive enough without also questioning their intrinsic veracity, source, bias, and outside influences. Question everything. Take nothing at face value. Always, always ask WHY.

Whether it’s teaching a 6-year-old how to make change for her lemonade stand or mediating one of the dozen or so disputes that flares up every day, my companionship with “How do you know that?” continues to thrive, even 34 years later. Thank you, Dan!

John Wetterholt ’86
Tempe, Ariz.
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