Previewing Our Fall 2019 Courses

Tonight Bethel students will start registering for courses next fall. Here’s what’s History faculty will be teaching in FA19:

Class registration according to a cartoon in the Aug. 19, 1964 Bethel Clarion – Bethel Digital Library

HIS200L American Civilization (AnneMarie Kooistra)

HIS210U Minorities in America (Ruben Rivera)

HIS/GEO320K History and the Human Environment (Amy Poppinga)

HIS350 Modern America (Diana Magnuson)

HIS354 Modern Europe (Chris Gehrz)

HIS356 Modern Middle East (Poppinga)

DIG310 Advanced Digital Humanities (Charlie Goldberg)

GEO120 Intro to Geography (Magnuson)

GES130 Christianity and Western Culture (Gehrz, Goldberg, Poppinga, Annie Berglund, Sam Mulberry)

GES145 Humanities I: Greco-Roman through Middle Ages (Kooistra)

GES160 Inquiry Seminar (Berglund, Kooistra)


Modern Europe Journal: Collaboration and Resistance

Why did some Germans and other Europeans collaborate in the Holocaust, while others risked their lives to resist? Students in HIS354 Modern Europe asked this question last week, after having read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, watched the 2005 German movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (about the arrest and execution of the students in the White Rose, an anti-Nazi resistance movement) and visited an online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled “Some Were Neighbors.” One of the many excellent responses came from History major Elizabeth Hynes ’16, who was kind enough to share this revised version of her essay with us.

Browning, Ordinary MenStudying the events of the Holocaust truly pushes my limits of “imaginative understanding.” It is especially difficult for me to resonate personally with the millions of ordinary citizens in Germany and other occupied countries who seemingly stood by as Hitler and the Nazis carried out genocide on an alarming scale. The “final solution” was enacted with the precision of a well-oiled machine and required many civilians to tacitly aid in the disposal of thousands of Jews and other Nazi targets. Hitler’s success in implementing the final solution was contingent upon the fact that no one in Germany or other occupied territories would go to great lengths to stop him. In fact, scenes from Sophie Scholl: The Final Days almost seem to indicate that people may have been brainwashed into thinking that Hitler’s xenophobic vision wasn’t all that awful, or at the very least that his actions were a necessary evil: that Germany would never flourish without a bit of initial violence.  At any rate, a very large percentage of the population had to be complicit with Hitler’s actions in order for the Holocaust to happen.

It is almost impossible for me to put myself in these people’s shoes. I tend to look incredulously at people who seem to have so much hate in their hearts. I struggle to find common ground or empathize in any way with people who leaned out of a schoolhouse, cheering as hundreds of Jews marched by on the way to their deaths. As a Christian, I want to believe that people have the capacity to be good; I want to believe in the prospect of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). But I’m finding it really hard to maintain hope in a world where people can be so complicit in the maltreatment of others, a world where hate often seems to prevail.

In light of this, I find that it is ever important to constantly recognize and remind myself of how my own biases could be coming into play. It is easy for me to say that if I lived in Europe during the reign of Hitler that I would have been like Sophie Scholl — I would have stood up and done something. With hindsight bias, it’s easy to point fingers at people and call them bystanders to murder and say that they should have done more. It is easier to pass judgment on others and point out the ways in which their actions are flawed than to admit the commonalities between their attitudes and my own. In an event as gruesome as the Holocaust, the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” often seems so clear. However, after looking at the Some Were Neighbors online exhibit and reading Ordinary Men, I think that it’s entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that there was more going on than just blind hatred or laziness: factors other than some intrinsic heroism or superior moral scruples may have been at play and contributed to complicity in the Holocaust.

As we saw in Sophie Scholl, direct force was one of the main tactics used by Nazis to quell potential resistance. People who stood up to Nazism usually wound up dead. This fact alone probably provided enough deterrence to quell most dissent. Normal citizens could not reasonably go about their daily lives or maintain any semblance of peace of mind without conforming to Hitler’s vision for society. As we saw in Ordinary Men, people could also be forced to contribute more passively to Nazi violence through threats and coercion; people were probably more likely to submit to Nazi activities if they honestly believed that their jobs and livelihoods depended on it. No one wanted to return to the post-Versailles days of economic oppression or abandon their leadership in wartime. Additionally, Hitler may eventually have been able to rely on more insidious forms of power. By 1942, when Nazi violence began to escalate, Hitler had already been in power for nine years. By that time, people in Germany especially had grown accustomed to that way of life. In the face of extreme violence, the natural human response is often to go numb, especially if the violence has a certain air of inevitability. I think this certainly applies in this case. Although some German civilians and other Europeans openly expressed hatred toward Jews and others, many more may have passively accepted anti-Semitism as commonplace.

Picture of Martin Niemoeller
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Image: Dutch National Archives)

The troubling truth still remains that not everyone was passive or complicit. A not insignificant amount of people in Germany and other European countries did stand up to Hitler, even in small ways. I cannot possibly make any judgment about why those people found the strength to do so, while so many others did not. If anything, I think the lessons that I can draw from this entire situation focus on something akin to Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” poem (see right). It is really easy to look at this situation and say that I would never be blind to such obvious evil or to passively accept such oppression of an entire people group. But, people at the time likely did not see themselves as conspirators to murder, and it may be unfair of me to look at them in that light.

However, though many were not intentionally taking part in the Holocaust, their thoughts and attitudes resulted in the necessary complicity for the Holocaust to happen. Sometimes society subtly tells us to think a certain way about a group of people and we absorb stereotypes and prejudices without even realizing it. People use all kinds of beliefs and social constructs to justify their judgments of other people and I think that the dangers of such thinking were just as prevalent in the 1940s as they are now. If society seems to be telling us to look skeptically at an entire people group, we should probably question why we are being pulled toward such thinking, even if there seems to be no immediate consequences for us in the quiet marginalization of others.

Lately on social media, there have been posts circulating that compare the refusal of many governors to welcome Syrian refugees to the refusal of the U.S. to welcome Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

This easy correlation is perhaps not entirely valid, but it is certainly something to think about. Too many people learned about the Holocaust in school and came away with the lesson that “Hitler was a bad man” but not much else. I think that we cannot lose sight of the fact the Holocaust shows us just how awful circumstances become when (for whatever reason) people lose sight of their common humanity with others. This timeless lesson is relevant both in the study of the past and in making sense of the present.

–  Elizabeth Hynes

Modern Europe Journal: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace

Last week in HIS354 Modern Europe, Prof. Gehrz’s students read and discussed Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, by popular historian Kate Summerscale. Set in Victorian England, the book tells the story of Isabella Robinson, an upper class woman who was sued for divorce by her husband Henry. While the book explores everything from gender roles to the history of science, students wrote their response papers on methodological and philosophical questions: Was Summerscale right to rely so heavily on Isabella Robinson’s diary? What are the problems and possibilities inherent in such a primary source? Among many other excellent essays, this one from History major and department teaching assistant Julia Muckenhirn ’17 stood out.

“A married woman in England has no legal existence…” (Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, p. 105)

Summerscale, Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceOften, when consulting the past on a particular subject, it is truly startling to hear the reply. During much of Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace this is exactly the case. If we’re a bit desensitized towards the strangeness of historical events, personal accounts such as a diary can re-kindle forgotten empathy and stir a sense of connection often left dormant. Private, personal, and un-monitored, diaries and other such personal documents provide a wonderful look into otherwise unreachable pieces of history. Emotions and thoughts, fears and intelligence are not easily extracted from the recesses of the past. While other literary sources such as legal documents or newspaper columns can construct rude, standardized skeletons, it is those of personal information that give color to the cheeks and voice to the throat. Additionally, primary sources such as this possess the unique advantage of allowing the less recognized side of humanity, such as women, children and slaves, a method of communication to later generations.

However, for all their value, utilizing a diary for historical analysis is burdened with its own set of difficulties: “…checked by no other perspective, the diary could conjure up a wished-for world, in which memories were colored with desire” (p. 42). In other words, because it is private and often emotionally saturated, diaries can easily manipulate actual circumstances to best suit the writer, and, as a consequence, the reader. As with all contemplation of historical information there is some element of “reading between the lines.” Seen throughout Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, the lack of specific details can cause assumptions and guesses to become the only option. Debate over the legitimacy of the diary as relevant and factual evidence against Isabella in the book (albeit for a variety of reasons) raises the same question today. Can personal stories become incriminating or liberating evidence of past lives, both individually and societally? Clearly Isabella Robinson’s loneliness, discouragement, guilt, sexual frustration, and under-appreciated mental capacity all led her to seek an outlet in her diary. The emotions conveyed in a private diary can certainly portray reality, however, this could also shed exaggerated light on particular subjects. She also may have hoped to have her frustrations read… if not in actual intent than subconscious yearning. She may have hoped that the perceived rebellion, sins, or intelligence she held within would find a way to the minds of society.

It is useful to maintain a certain perspective when dealing with primary source evidence such as a diary. First, temper the content of the diary with comparative studies of both personal and public status. Finding trends, patterns, and consistencies (or the reverse) can highlight norms of the era. Contextual analysis is also helpful in identifying reasons behind conceived emotions.  Realizing the status of women during Isabella’s day can anchor her writings with factual understanding. As an example, knowing the importance of “…law, religion and morality” (p. 33) can help the modern-day reader understand the pressures she felt as a woman, wife, mother, and even convicted adulteress. Lastly, the context of the source today is useful to consider. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, while valuable in and of itself, must be considered within the bounds of Kate Summerscale’s bookends. This second author certainly is attempting to convey a particular story and one that possibly lacks in scholarly or “academic” perspective.

Wonderfully informative and empathetically useful, diaries as a primary source are a fantastic addition to historical studies. However, there is little doubt that even literary treasures such as these are only a shadow of the past. We must realize that the present, as Isabella so poetically put it, is:  “…unable to gaze openly upon the man himself….[and must] dwell instead on a miniature portrait of him…” (p. 19).

– Julia Muckenhirn

Wednesday’s Webisode: Christian History, Part I

On this week’s episode of Past & Presence, Profs. AnneMarie Kooistra and Chris Gehrz begin a two-part conversation about how Christians approach the discipline of history. In today’s half of that conversation, they take up historian George Marsden’s argument that Christians can and should “play by the rules” of the secular academy — that, in many respects, thinking historically about the past and thinking Christianly about it are identical.

Also in episode 8:

  • Chris visits the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and civil rights memorials on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol — a different way of getting at the interplay between the secular and the sacred.
  • We interview History majors Kelly Van Wyk ’15 and Jacob Manning ’15, about how they chose that major and what it’s like to be a teaching assistant in the department.
  • And we get previews of two of our Fall 2015 courses: HIS356 Modern Middle East and HIS354 Modern Europe. You can see many more course previews at our YouTube channel.

One History Major’s Reflections on History and the (Model) United Nations

Today we’re happy to welcome back to AC 2nd junior History/Social Studies Education major Kelly Van Wyk (’15), who last month joined other members of Bethel’s Model United Nations team at a national conference in Chicago. Assigned to represent the country of Austria in the same semester in which she is taking HIS354 Modern Europe, Kelly wrote this reflection on the importance of historical context to diplomacy.



“Armenia votes yes.”

The dais was progressing toward our direction in the roll call vote. We would have to make a decision soon.



“Australia abstains from the order.”

We were next. I looked toward my teammate and she nodded. For some reason, the imaginary slogan “What Would Austria Do?” flashed through my head.

“Austria. Austria?”

There was no going back. “Yes!” I declared loudly.

Kelly Van Wyk at American Model UN 2013
Kelly Van Wyk (r.) representing Bethel and the Republik Österreich at the 2013 American Model UN in Chicago

“Austria votes yes.” The dais recorded our vote and continued through the roll of First Committee. After each country had recorded their vote and the total was tallied, the dais announced that the current resolution for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East had passed. Sheraton Conference Room IV filled with applause as the First Committee breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had managed to build consensus and actually pass something on the topic. This was one of the high points of my first experience at a Model United Nations event.

In Model United Nations, students must pretend they are delegates sent to represent a country that serves on various United Nations committees. In order to prepare for such a meeting, students must research the issues that their committee will debate with a focus on their own country’s particular interests and policies. Participants are encouraged to remain in character and work through the issues at hand with the purpose of the United Nations as a consensus building body kept in mind.

In the American Model United Nations, our delegation was one of approximately 140 other colleges and universities from across the United States to attend the AMUN conference in downtown Chicago. Over the course of four days, our Bethel team of thirteen student-delegates and one advisor worked in various committees to represent the nation of Austria’s interests as best as we could. In First Committee, the one that I was working with, our group would be debating two disarmament and international security issues: (1) the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East and (2) problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus. Needless to say, our work was cut out for us.

When all was said and done, our committee presented two passed resolutions to the General Plenary where one was passed and the other was tabled — a seemingly small reward for the twenty-five hours we had spent in session. However, over the long weekend I learned that the process of building and reaching political consensus is indeed challenging, but not impossible. With all of the nations represented in our committee, it was an arduous task to understand, let alone collaborate with 140-odd nations with different cultural backgrounds and foreign policy goals. Because of this diversity, I gained a new insight into the role that history and context play in diplomacy.

To prepare for the conference, I had to familiarize myself with the national history of Austria and found myself researching Austria’s permanent neutrality, membership in the European Union, and self-establishment of a completely nuclear-free nation. It was in rooting these recent decisions in the context of modern European history that I began to get a feeling of what it means to be Austria. Yes, knowing Austria’s past informed and guided the decisions of the present, but there was more to the connection between past and present. History lays a foundation for diplomacy in a way that I did not fully understand until I put it in the context of model UN.

Kelly and the rest of the Bethel Model UN team
Kelly (far-right, back row) and the rest of the Bethel Model UN team, which also includes History major Paul Flowers (3rd from right, back)

I have recently been reading John Fea’s book Why Study History?, in which he quotes Wilfred M. McClay on a concept called “collective memory”:

In the end, communities and nation-states are constituted and sustained by shared memories — by stories of foundation, conflict, and perseverance. The leap of imagination and faith, from the thinness and unreliability of our individual memory to the richness of collective memory, that is the leap of civilized life. (from McClay’s 1995 lecture, “The Mystic Chords of Memory“)

This idea of collective memory reminded me of the concept of Volksgeist, a German term from my Modern Europe history course which translates to “spirit of the people.” The notion of Volksgeist was used to make history a rallying point of common identity for a nationalist group. To this day, history is still used as principle of unification for nations. However, I saw at model United Nations that where history has the power to unify, it also has the ability to produce the opposite effect. A nation’s history builds the framework for future relationships and sometimes the past leaves a nation with a very poor foundation.

For example, American diplomat Ian Kelly was the keynote speaker at the UN conference, and an audience member asked him what was one of the biggest influences on his work with the Russian Federation. Ambassador Kelly answered “Russian political history. It really has shaped how nations view Russian diplomatic relations of the present.” The ambassador’s statement served to me as a reminder that history binds us all together, but our ties to history should be remembered for what they are and not cast in a light that paints them in a way fits present purposes. History is not something that I manipulate to shape my present; it simply is a part of who I am.

Knowing what I know about Austrian history, I think that Austria and its people probably understand this truth more than most. Gaining this insight from my participation in Model UN was a valuable contribution to my understanding of history at work. At Model UN, though I was a history major in a political science major’s world and often felt like a minnow among sharks, the experience confirmed for me the importance of the study of history and the role that I want to play in teaching it.

– Kelly Van Wyk

Read more from Kelly in a recent post on her experience as a History major active in intercollegiate athletics.

A Dickensian Christmas Dinner

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

One of my favorite primary sources to use in European history classes is Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Written by Isabella Beeton and published in 1861 (after first appearing as supplements to several issues of a women’s magazine), Mrs Beeton’s Book sought to provide the young, middle-class housewife advice on how to manage servants, pay bills, and treat childhood illness, and generally provides great insight into the Victorian ideal of “domesticity.”

And, of course, it has pages and pages of recipes. So I’ve taken to offering five points of extra credit to any student in HIS354 Modern Europe who takes the time to research a recipe, cook it, and present the results to class with a bit of explanation. We had three students take me up on that offer this year, but while they all chose desserts of some sort, the approach of Christmas reminds me that Mrs. Beeton’s repertoire went far beyond sweets.

So if you’re the kind of person who would read, say, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and think to yourself, “I wonder what the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner tasted like?”, then this post is for you!

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course; and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up, and bring it in. (Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” ch. 3)

Now, if you wanted to imitate a Christmas dinner from higher up the Victorian social hierarchy, you might begin with raw oysters and turtle soup. But to keep things simple (and, in the case of the oysters, less likely to cause food poisoning), here’s the Cratchits’ menu with the relevant recipes in Mrs Beeton’s Book:

Your shopping list for the whole meal:

  • 1 goose
  • 8 oz. lean beef
  • 12 oz. suet
  • 4 large onions (though the Victorian “large” is probably more like our “medium”)
  • 1 shallot
  • 6 “good sized” apples
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 3 lbs. potatoes
  • Arrowroot (or cornstarch or flour as thickener for gravy)
  • 1 lb. bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 lbs. raisins
  • 8 oz. currants
  • 12 oz. candied peel (orange, lemon, or citron)
  • Brandy
  • Harvey’s sauce or mushroom ketchup
  • Sugar
  • Salt, pepper, and allspice
  • 5 oz. Butter
  • Milk
  • 9 eggs

And your total cost according to Mrs. Beeton’s estimate… 8 shillings, 6 pence… Or about $2.12 in 1861 dollars… Which is approximately $53 today.


– Chris Gehrz

Cross-posted at The Pietist Schoolman

Modern Europe Journal: The Paris Commune of 1871

Our last Modern Europe Journal entry for the semester comes from Tom Keefe, one of our History/Social Studies Education majors. (See his earlier post on family history and immigration.) Here he takes us through his process in researching the influence of the Paris Commune of 1871 on 20th century Communist revolutionaries like V.I. Lenin and Mao Zedong.

For my final research project, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Paris Commune of 1871: How a Brief and Ambiguous Political Event Became a Source of Motivation and Hope for Communists in the 20th Century.” The Paris Commune of 1871 was a political movement that took place in the French capital in the spring of 1871. It is often viewed of as a continuation of another type of “Commune” government that briefly took power during the French Revolution from 1789-1797.

Adolphe Thiers, the leader of the Nationalist, provisional government.
Adolphe Thiers, the leader of the Nationalist, provisional government.

In this case, though, the Communards gained power due the continued influence and respect for revolutionary ideals in France, the failure of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the ineptitude of the provisional nationalist government that was put in place, led by Adolphe Thiers. Thus, now with control of the capital in France, the Communards began to make preliminary changes to alter Paris, at least temporarily. After seventy-two days of limited social and political reform, the French military entered Paris and brutally ended the uprising through what became known as “Bloody Week.”

When this history of the Commune was first briefly mentioned during a lecture, I was incredibly intrigued by the story. I guess the American revolutionary ancestry deep inside of me still roots for a disillusioned group rising up against “oppressors,” but due to time constraints in class we were unable to delve into the event in any significant way. The only point that was mentioned in detail was the aforementioned “Bloody Week.” Upon the arrival of the French military in Paris, 20,000 Communards were killed and relative “order” restored as the 5th French Republic took over following the fall of this temporary government.

A depiction of executions that took place during "Bloody Week," May 1871.
A depiction of executions that took place during “Bloody Week,” May 1871.

I was hooked, and became even more intrigued when preliminary research seemed to indicate that many influential men in history seemed to look to this event as an inspiration of sorts. It appeared as if Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, both incredibly influential communist leaders during their times in power, had looked to the Paris Commune as an example of what they desired their governments to be.

From here, I derived a research question and embarked on my journey of deciphering the extent of a connection with the Paris Commune of 1871 and with significant communist movements of the 20th century. Within the first portion of my formal exploration though, I ran into some major conflicts which did not seem to support my a strong connection between the two events. The first issue was that the Commune was by no means a “communist” government. Although the Communards did rise up against their oppressors, many of the revolutionaries were not members of what Karl Marx would call the “proletariat.”

A depiction of Parisians rebelling against the Nationalist Government in March 1871.
A depiction of Parisians rebelling against the Nationalist Government in March 1871.

In addition, the government did not necessarily achieve any “communist”-type reforms. Rather, their social reform seemed to be instilled with liberal ideals, rather than strictly Marxist ones. Furthermore, I was discouraged by the fact that some historians I encountered did not put any stake in the connection between the Paris Commune and the rise of communism in the 20th century. Needless to say, I was relatively demoralized, and ready to completely alter my research.

Then, I encountered historian Stewart Edwards, whose comments helped to shape and focus my analysis of the impact of the Commune on the rise of Communism in the 20th century.

The seventy-two days from 18 March to 28 May 1871…though too short to carry out any permanent measures of social reform, were long enough to create the myth, the legend, of the Commune as the first great workers revolt…which was to inspire communists in the period up to, and even after, the Russian Revolution of 1917. (Stewart Edwards, The Communards of Paris, 9).

This statement allowed me to see the influence of the events in Paris in a whole new light. I later encountered rhetoric from both Lenin and Mao (paragraph 9) who made explicit references to the Commune early in their political careers. They both desired that in some way, the governments they led would come to resemble those seventy two days in Paris. At this point, I was encouraged by the potential connection, but also extremely confused. Why would these men aspire to a government whose reign lasted less than three months, and ended in the death of thousands?

A portrait of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
A portrait of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

Something clicked as I began to again look through the perceived “failures” of the Commune. Despite its un-Communist nature, 20th century communists could still look into those seventy two days in Paris and dream. Despite the obvious truth that the government was not a communist one, many factors added to this desire. The brief time of the government, the limited geographical influence (it never got outside of Paris), and the brutal, (and in the minds of communists) unjustified end to the Commune created a mystique surrounding the Commune. This, in accordance with aspects of the government such as anti-clericalism and voting practices, which communists saw a a good model, produced a sentiment which elevated the influence of this brief government in France.

A portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.
A portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

Although the government did not necessarily accomplish anything politically or socially significant, within this mystique of the Commune lies its historical significance. It was by no means the sole primary reason or motivation for Lenin and Mao rising to power in their nations. Yet, through their fondness of the event, the Commune needs to be a recognized factor in the rise of the influence of communism in the 20th century.

Therefore, through the careful investigation of many historians and historical figures, it is evident that there exists a connection between the brief and ambiguous nature of the Commune and arguably the most influential political movement of the 20th century. The Paris Commune of 1871 did have an impact on communist movements in the 20th century. Although it was not as significant as I had initially hoped or imagined, the tantalizing effect of the Commune persisted into the 20th century, making it a time  to be remembered in history. This brief time in Paris helped to inspire a dream that would be pervasive and significant in the world in the 1900’s.

– Tom Keefe


Stewart Edwards, ed. The Communards of Paris, 1871, (London: Thames and Hudson LTD, 1973), 9.

<<Read the previous entry in this series

Modern Europe Journal: Russian Nationalism Post-Communism

The second Modern Europe research project to be presented via a blog post comes from History/English Lit double-major Jenna Kaliszewski (’12).

In 1996 Boris Yeltsin created a commission to find a new Russian national identity.[1]  The question that faced Russians, and what I wanted to research was how would that identity be constructed? What would post-communist Russian identity look like?

the Tri-Color flag of Russia
Tri-Color Flag of Russia – Russiapedia

Broadly, “Nationalism locates the source of individual identity within a ‘people,’ which is seen as the central object of loyalty and the basis of a collective solidarity. The ‘people’ is the mass of a population whose boundaries and nature are defined in various ways…”[2]

It was this definition that Russia was trying to find after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the search for a Post-Soviet identity began in the late 1980s, during the thaws that occurred under Gorbachev and eventually the dissolution under Yeltsin.[3]

Historically under imperial Russia, “the Russian national idea consisted in the following: First, the nation was defined as a collective individual; second, it was formed by racial, primordial factors such as blood and soil; and third, it was characterized by the enigmatic soul or spirit.”[4]

Flag of the Soviet Union
Flag of the Soviet Union – Wikipedia

Then with the Bolshevik Revolution and under Soviet rule that identity was changed. The Russian Orthodox Church, and religion in general, was forced from public life in the Soviet Union and the state was declared atheistic.[5] Under Soviet control Russians were persuaded to identify with the empire as a whole, rather than create a national solidarity based on ethnicity. Ultimately there was no specifically Russian identity, but a Soviet identity, which made the fall of the Soviet Union a pivotal moment in the construction of Russian identity. [6]

In the ideological vacuum opened after the Soviet fall, multiple theories emerged about how Russian identity should be characterized. In theory both Yeltsin and Putin supported the civic definition of Russian nationalism, which became the official version of Russian identity.

This concept recognized the citizens of the Russian Federation as Russian, and “defines Russian identity around democratic institutions, the rule of law (constitutionalism), and the populist-democratic uprising against the Soviet Union.”[7]

Mikhail Perfilov, Russia's National Symbol: the Double-Headed Eagle
Russia’s National Symbol: the Double-Headed Eagle – Mikhail Perfilov

Indeed, Yeltsin attempted to commemorate events surrounding the fall of the USSR, but these found little popular support and success. Popular opinion did not identify with the events founding the Russian Federation, instead the belief in Russia after the initial excitement in 1991 was that Russia did not gain independence but lost power and prestige in the world.[8] The acts of Yeltsin that were popular included the restoration of the imperial tricolor flag and two-headed eagle, and in 1995 the Soviet flag was recognized as a state symbol.[9]

While Yeltsin was in office it became apparent that anti-communism was not a popular stance, and Putin favored communists a little more. He combined tsarist and Soviet Union symbols, trying to create a multi-ethnic identity based on the positive elements from the imperialistic and Soviet traditions.[10]

Under both Yeltsin and Putin it was recognized that a completely new Russian identity could not be created. Popular opinion did not support nationalist identification with events associated with the fall of the Soviet Union, but related back to both the imperial and Soviet history of Russia. This created an interesting blend of the two with the democratic trimmings that were brought in after the collapse of the USSR.

The Lenin Mausoleum
“Lenin’s Mausoleum” – Wikipedia

The physical manifestations of this reveal the complicated creation of a new Russian identity in association with both the imperial and Soviet past. Post-soviet Russia was more successful in figuring out what to do with old monuments rather than creating new national symbols. In Moscow the names of streets did not retain the names of Soviet leaders and famous people, but were restored to their old names, those they had under imperial control.[11] Yet the Lenin Mausoleum, despite its controversial symbolism, was never destroyed.[12]

Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill
Artist: Arthur Lookyanov, Victory Park

Sites relating to the Great Patriotic War have been glorified as a Russian victory maintaining their significance.[13] Also popular are Tsarist-era sites that connect back to Russia’s spiritual and cultural heritage. The rebuilding of Russian Orthodox churches, like the Kazan Cathedral, is significant because these were torn down by the Soviets.[14] With the Soviet Great Patriotic War monuments and Tsarist-era cites the new Russian identity was formed. For example resumed construction of Victory Park, a Soviet vision for a memorial of the War, included religious elements from the Tsarist history in the post-Soviet vision.[15]

Victory Park is a perfect example of the new Russian identity being shaped in this time period, consisting of a little bit of old and recent history. Instead of constructing a national identity, from the events surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union and turning to a civic-democratic ideal and symbolism, the new post-Soviet Russian identity was constructed from the past, both imperial and Soviet.[16]

– Jenna Kaliszewski

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[1] Peter J. S. Duncan, “Contemporary Russian Identity Between East and West,” The Historical Journal 48 (March 2005): 286-7.

[2] Liah Greenfeld, “The Formation of the Russian National Identity: The Role of Status Insecurity and Ressentiment,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32 (July 1990): 549.

[3] Alexander Agadjanian, “Public Religion and the Quest for National Ideology: Russia’s Media Discourse,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (September 2001): 353.

[4] Greenfeld, “Formation of Russian National Identity,” 590.

[5] Alexey D. Krindatch, “Changing Relationships Between Religion, the State, and Society in Russia,” GeoJournal 67 (2006): 271.

[6] Benjamin Forest and Juliet Johnson, “Unraveling the Threads of History: Soviet-era Monuments and Post-Soviet National Identity in Moscow,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92 (September 2002): 527.

[7] Forest and Johnson. “Unraveling the Threads,” 328; Duncan,“Contemporary Russian Identity,” 286.

[8] Duncan,“Contemporary Russian Identity,” 286; Forest and Johnson, ”Unraveling the Threads,” 538.

[9] Duncan,“Contemporary Russian Identity,”  286.

[10] Ibid.,  287.

[11] Olga Gritsai and Herman van der Wusten, “Moscow and St. Petersburg, a Sequence of Capitals, a Tale of Two Cities,” GeoJournal 51 (2000): 40-41.

[12] Forest and Johnson, ”Unraveling the Threads,” 532-4.

[13] Ibid., 531.

[14] Gritsai and Wusten. “Moscow and St. Petersburg,” 40-41.

[15] Forest and Johnson, ”Unraveling the Threads,” 531-2.

[16] Ibid., 543.

Modern Europe Journal: “Trummerfilme” and Postwar German Memory

As final entries in the Modern Europe Journal series, we’ll be sharing three blog posts written by students on the basis of their research projects…

For that assignment, students got to choose both their topic and how to go about presenting their findings. (Each option required some kind of written paper or essay and some other kind of communication.) Six students chose to teach twenty-minute class sessions; five others proposed new works of public history (e.g., museum exhibits, living history, memorials). The remaining eight opted for the more traditional research paper, then some of those students — for the public presentation of their findings — agreed to write a 750-1000 word blog post in place of doing a poster session.

Here’s our first entry, from History and Social Studies Education double-major Annie Berglund, who commenced this series by reflecting on ideological bias in historiography. She chose to investigate an interesting subgenre of German film after World War II, the “Rubble Films,” and what they revealed about a society struggling to come to grips with its recent history.

Broken after the death of loved ones, struck by a loss of identity and the imposition of Allied occupying forces in their former nation, and facing the task of rebuilding a ruined environment, German citizens also bore the guilt of six years of European warfare. The German genre of “Rubble Film,” or Trummerfilme, created during the immediate postwar years of 1946-1948, allows 21st century audiences to view how the war was remembered collectively by German citizens and the way this impacted their understanding of history under Nazi rule. Most Trummerfilme contain some common themes that depict life in the wake of the horrors of war:

    • Backdrop of rubble: Films feature destruction of German cities, showing the prevalence of warfare’s effect on civilians. This backdrop depicts that everything is in shambles and needs to be built up again.
    • Returning soldiers: Another major theme encompasses the issues facing returning soldiers. Many characters are veterans constantly re-experiencing horrific scenes of war in dreams, but also haunted by their waking memories. These characters also bring dialogue about what justice should be served for those who were lost by the hands of soldiers, especially the suitable punishment for Holocaust involvement.
    • Collective guilt: Trummerfilme characters also illustrate the responsibility of much of Germany for the atrocities of World War II. No one was completely innocent, and these films convict the nation with guilt, showing how everyone was aware of the progression of National Socialism and its disturbing programs.
    • Hope for the future: Even when remembering the events of German war involvement that resulted in a multitude of innocent deaths, these films also explained the importance of moving on. Correctly remembering what took place brings hope for subsequent generations, since they will learn from the suffering of earlier times. Many times, characters in Trummerfilme face the daunting but valuable task of leaving behind their hurt and shame to pursue new lives in work, at home, and in their community.

An example of this is found in this movie clip from Die Mörder sind unter uns, or The Murderers are Among Us by prominent Rubble Film producer Wolfgang Staudte. The presence of rubble is made obvious within the first scene, as the main character Hans walks through the street. The former urban landscape is riddled with debris. Bombed out buildings and apartments are no longer stable or usable, while children play on the side of the road in the dirt. The only sign of carefree life is inside a cabaret hall, which men and women enjoy as a form of escapism. Even an old Nazi propaganda poster with an image of a beautiful, hopeful, and promising “Deutschland” is ironic as wounded passersby glance at its message.

The future of veterans and deportees is also a major theme in The Murderers are Among Us. Hans had recently come back to war, succumbing to a continual state of drunkenness to forget his visions of the liquidation of Jews on Christmas day. These images haunt him throughout the film, exposing his guilt and responsibility until he can move on with the help of his love Susanne. However, this film, and specifically this clip, also show the hope for the future. Susanne, the main female protagonist, returns from deportation to a concentration camp. Though she explains that she was “afraid of freedom…Afraid of people…Afraid to return here”, she is willing to start life over again, even amidst lasting memories and rubble.

Photo from The Murderers are Among Us

Image from The Murderers are Among Us


Trummerfilme would come to an end soon after it began, largely due to the encroaching presence of Cold War tensions and the use of film as propaganda for the USSR and their opposing western democratic powers.Despite being short-lived, Though historians can not measure how an individual in the audience responded, whether they simply watched the film without being moved by its deeper meaning or viewed its scenes in a morally and psychologically transforming situation, it still illustrates the concerns and values of the collective postwar German experience.

– Annie Berglund

For further reading related to Trummerfilme:

  1. Baker, Mark. “”Trümmerfilme:” Postwar German Cinema, 1946-1948.” Film Criticism 20 (1995): 88-101.
  2. Shandley, Robert R.. Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the Third Reich. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001.

Resources about German cinema in general:

  1. Brockmann, Stephen. A Critical History of German Film. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2010.
  2. Niven, Bill. “On the use of ‘Collective Memory’.” German History 26 (2008): 427-36.
  3. Wollenberg, Hans H. Fifty Years of German Film,. New York: Arno Press, 1972.

For further viewing – a sample of immediate postwar German films:

  1. Käutner, Helmut. Seven Journeys. Occupied Germany: DEFA, 1947.
  2. Maetzig, Kurt. Council of the Gods. East Germany: DEFA, 1950.
  3. Maetzig, Kurt. Marriage in the Shadows. Occupied Germany: DEFA, 1847.
  4. Staudte, Wolfgang. The Murderers Are Among Us. Occupied Germany: DEFA, 1946.
  5. Staudte, Wolfgang. Rotation. East Germany: DEFA, 1949.

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Modern Europe Journal: Ordinary Men

Browning, Ordinary MenLast week students in Prof. Chris Gehrz’s Modern Europe course read Christopher Browning’s book Ordinary Men, the acclaimed history of a reserve military police unit in the German Army that in 1942-1943 took part in the slaughter and deportation of thousands of Jews in Poland. On Wednesday, class consisted of a mock trial of three of the “ordinary men,” with students playing the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and jurors. The “lawyers” wrote “briefs” ahead of time for their journal entries, then after the scenario was completed, “jurors” were asked to vote on verdicts (and, if guilty, appropriate punishments) for each defendant and to write a 250-word reflection on the hardest decision they faced.

Here are the three cases, the verdicts, and (with student permission) some of the arguments that the jurors agonized over.

The People v. First Sergeant Artur Kammer

Charge: Crimes against humanity

Summary: The highest-ranking non-commissioned officer in Reserve Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei, Kammer helped implement the ordered execution of over 1500 Jews in and around the village of Jozefow, on July 13, 1942. He also (as far as Browning could discern) readily excused soldiers who begged out of this particular duty. (The unit’s commander had earlier extended such an offer to his men before the killings began.)

Verdict: Guilty (9-2), with five Guilty votes opting for capital punishment (death penalty or life in prison) and four for a lesser sentence [in reality, Kammer spent three years in a Polish prison]

Juror Comments:

[from a student voting Guilty and recommending life imprisonment] We talked in class about the question of where does the line of guilt end within the chain of command. The reason I ended up finding Kammer guilty was because I compared his case to that of Private Niehaus. It is the difference between following orders and being the one giving orders that sets apart the guilty from the not guilty. The decision on Kammer was also difficult for me because the situation was during a time of war. While the casualties of the Holocaust are more numerous than those of other wars, it is important to realize that in times like that, we cannot punish every single person who was involved. The reason Kammer is guilty is because he was partially in charge of the events in Jozefow. He could have called off the orders and taken the punishment for that rather than allowing a mass killing of Jews. Kammer was fully aware of the implications of the orders he was handing out. I had to find him guilty because of that. My decision of what his sentence should be was not difficult because while I believe that his crime was great, I do not think that he should have to die because of it. In looking at crimes during a war, it is difficult to make sentences because so many people would then have to be found guilty.

The People v. Private Walter Niehaus

Charge: Premeditated murder

Summary: A former cigarette salesman who is standing in for the other enlisted men in the battalion, Niehaus (not his real name, but the one used by Browning) shot one person and then asked to be relieved of duty.

Verdict: Not Guilty (6 of 11 votes for Guilty, but by the rules of this tribunal, a two-thirds supermajority was necessary for conviction)

Juror Comments:

[Guilty, but with a light sentence] On one hand, he shot a woman, from an order. Taking his comrades into consideration, he could have done a lot more damage.  However, taking some of his other comrades into consideration, he could have stepped away from the situation all together. A tough aspect of being a historian is empathy, and the attempt to reach into the minds of those who were faced with a certain decision. As a female student, living in 21st century (safe) America, I have absolutely no clue what it means to partake in warfare or violence. Furthermore, I have no valuable perspective into the minds of soldiers, who dealt with the pressure of comradeship. Although other soldiers were known to walk away from the shootings, I would imagine there was pressure to follow the orders and be “a man about it”. Moreover, he shot one person. Now, I am not degrading the value of an individual’s life, particularly one that was entirely innocent and vulnerable, but Niehaus drew the line at one, which in some ways is much better than those who chose to repeatedly kill. But the principle of the matter is that he chose to carry out the order. Sure, someone else would have done it, regardless if he chose to or not, but he was nonetheless given the option. Because this was controversial, I granted him a small sentence. He performed the deed, yet there were many external influences and reasons to believe that this was not entirely his responsibility.

[Guilty, but with a lesser sentence] Although the realities of conformity and peer pressure were pervasive in men like Niehaus, they still do not justify any killing of any sort. In spite of, in my mind, his obvious guilt, his sentencing was a little more difficult. In comparison to his peers, Niehaus did everything he could to avoid the killing of innocent Jews following his initial murder. He realized his mistake, and turned from these actions and asked to partake in different activities. Should he be rewarded for recognizing the injustice of the situation and avoiding more shooting as best as he could? Or is comparison obsolete in assessing and judging those involved in the Holocaust? Again, these questions are multifaceted and complex, which made the case of Niehaus more difficult than the others. It was my inclination to believe that Niehaus may have been less guilty because of the heinous actions of his peers, but at the same time, some men did not even participate in the initial shooting, and Niehaus did not take advantage of this opportunity.