The Value of Understanding

Her Oklahoma roots go some one hundred years back just after the infamous land-run. Her grandmother was born in 1890 to a newly established Edmond farming family. But in 1921, an emphasis on education became evident when “Grandmother Thompson” and her new husband “moved into town” to afford their young boy a good education. “The commitment to education goes at least that far back on my father’s side,” says Sherri Raney, assistant professor of history and political science.

“My grandmother taught in a one school house,” Sherri continues, “and I still remember her willingness to do whatever it takes to educate, the only person I really knew who did not believe any barriers existed for women to succeed.” Viola Thompson died in 1986. A similar story is rooted in Sherri through her mother, the daughter of sharecroppers. “Her mom was determined to get out of the cotton patch,” she says. “My mom had to raise and sell turkeys to make it through college and become an instrumental teacher at Choctow Elementary School.” Sherri’s mother recently passed away. She had also engrained upon her the importance of learning and value of developing one’s understanding. “When I went to college I thought about going into law or politics,” she says, “but I had this love of learning that made academia more appealing than any of the other paths. It seemed like this might be more important than adding another politician or lawyer to the mix.”

Her chosen field of study, nonetheless, included her interests in law and politics, especially as it relates to Russian history, a love that she traces to a senior project in high school. “I had to write a paper on the Communist manifesto,” she says. “Because of the political tension of the 1970s I was especially intrigued with the question, ‘Who are these people?’” Her dissertation title reflects how her interest grew. It’s entitled “A Worthy Friend of Tomiris: The Life of Princess Catherine Dashkova, 1744-1810.”

Sherri came to OBU in 1994 after teaching at several public institutions. Sherri has found a similar stress on learning that her grandmother and mother instilled upon her because the environment at OBU engages the whole person. “I have felt most free to explore history and look at all the issues and spiritual ramifications,” she says. “I don’t want to return to that presumptuous time when Elizabeth declared that the Spanish Armada was sunk by a Protestant wind. When Christian historians talk in terms of God causing things in history, it discredits their efforts. However, when we can look at people for who they are, for what they believe, and be open about their motivations, that is when we have freedom as historians. We can take faith stories seriously at OBU and that matters.”