Interview with John Connelly--April 6, 2018

Interview with John Connelly, Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. The interview was conducted at Berkeley on April 6, 2018. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Connelly completed his BSFS at Georgetown and his MA and PhD at Harvard. He is the author of three books: Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education, 1945-1956 (2000), which won the George L. Beer Prize of the American Historical Association in 2001From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965 (2012), which won the John Gilmary Shea Book Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association in 2013; and most recently From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe (2020).

Special thanks to Cindy Zeng (Brown University, class of 2020) for preparing an inventory of the interview.

Interview Themes

0:00: Introduction

1:10: Connelly's attraction to Central Europe

2:10: Experiences and cultural interests in West Germany, the Soviet Union, and Poland

3:30: Anecdotes and conversations with people living in East Germany, complications with speaking publicly about the regimes and people’s internalized expectations about their behavior

5:05: Border changes over time and states' control over citizens

6:35: Differences between Germany and Poland in attitudes toward the state and beliefs about the state

7:35: Customs authority as politicized vs. not politicized position in Germany vs. Poland

8:00: Different attitudes toward the past; existence of a unified German state vs. unified Polish state

8:30: Differences in material conditions of Poland/East Germany

9:00: Infrastructure that made it possible for him to live in Germany/Poland

10:20: Grad school in the US and summers researching in Europe

11:00: People who influenced Connelly's intellectual development in 70s and 80s, relevant courses

13:25: Center for European Studies

13:50: Lessons learned from mentors--a critical approach to German history, a mental map of the East European past, accurate and painstaking approach to source criticism

16:00: Linguistic skills of other scholars, most East European scholars know at least Slavic languages

16:30: People with multiple languages

18:20: Shifts in historiography toward intellectual preoccupations (i.e. nationalism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism)

19:10: Shift away from totalitarian theory especially after 1989 in Germany and Central Europe

20:20: Nationalism studies since the 70s/80s

21:30: Shatter zones

22:10: Critical attitude to Yugoslavia 

23:00: Nationalism constructed

24:00: Herderian influences in Europe

24:50: Development of ideas of nationalism

25:30: How historiography feeds off trends

26:00: Nationalism as the history of ideas, social history

27:00: Earlier writings of nationalism and subsequent corrections

27:40: Historical events as red herring or fruitful reevaluation

28:00: Wars in Yugoslavia and their impact on views of extreme nationalism

29:20: Historical work, the emergence of populism, the 1920s assumption that democracy would take root naturally

31:00: Liberalism

32:00: Nazi Germany's economics of fascism and the legacy of war

33:00: Tim Snyder on neo-populism, inequality

34:00: German fascism in Bohemian Austria, Nazi party creation, Romania and Hungary

35:30: Italy, the Depression, the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany

36:25: Poland's current political situation, the blind spot of the liberal elite, market economy, election

38:00: Origin of research projects; multinational contexts

39:00: Science and Stalinism in Poland

41:00: 3-country comparison, Harvard advisor

41:30: Emphasizing differences within comparative history

42:00: Afterlife of the model

43:20: Cross-border studies

45:10: Current book project, From Enemy to Brother, origins

47:00: Converts from Judaism in the Czech Republic

47:50: Austro-fascism

48:20: Relationship between historiography and morality

49:00: Evolution of Catholic thought away from anti-Judaism

51:00: Narrative arc of intellectual interests: questions of identity, groups/individual

52:40: Motivations for writing the history of Eastern Europe

54:30: Nationalism as a political phenomenon and movement

57:20: Progress of the book

57:50: Chapter on the 19C, Congress of Berlin

59:30: Areas in the field that could benefit from more development

1:00:30: Liberal nationalism, why does this produce Fascist/not-Fascist outcomes

1:01:40: Philosophy of history, Church history, technology

1:04:20: Graduate training, strategies

1:06:00: Accessible writing for East European history

1:07:00: Area studies trajectory and significance for field of history

1:08:40: East Europeanists' dominance in European field and implications

Saving What We Love

A version of the following essay was originally published in the March 2020 issue of Current History

In the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the character Finn plans to sacrifice himself for the rebel cause by flying into the glowing-hot core of a giant weapon trained on the rebel hideout. As his rickety vessel speeds toward the target, he is sideswiped off his path by another rebel, Rose. When Finn asks Rose why she prevented his self- sacrifice, she replies: “That’s not how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate, [but] saving what we love.” It is difficult to imagine such a scene appearing in earlier Star Wars episodes.

Something in the zeitgeist has shifted decidedly in the direction of saving. From Saving Private Ryan (1998) to Children of Men (2006), Son of Saul (2015), and 1917 (2019), in landscapes of devastation and collapse of the social order, the heroic gesture is now to save something or someone very particular from generalized destruction. The current preservationist impulse is characterized by the desire to keep history, nature, nations, cities, rights, memories, and relationships in place. But what are its origins, and where will it lead?

Preservationist thinking has deep roots and formidable adversaries. Friedrich Nietzsche lamented its pervasiveness in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–85), commenting, “The most concerned ask today: ‘How is man to be preserved?’” This proclivity was all too “womanish,” in his view. “O nausea! Nausea! Nausea! That asks and asks and never grows weary: ‘How is man to be preserved best, longest, most agreeably?’ With that—they are the masters of today.”

But the preservationist drive also had its advocates. In 1917, US President Woodrow Wilson appealed to Congress for approval to enter the Great War, declaring, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Confronted with unlimited German submarine attacks, which Wilson deemed “a warfare against mankind” and “a war against all nations,” the implication of his slogan was that democracy, like a rare species of flower, needed a special environment, a haven where it could not come under assault—and the world itself had to be that haven.

The first article of the German postwar constitution of 1949 set the preservationist drive as the primary function of the state: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”

Notably, these historical examples display universal or universalizing aspirations, referring to “the world” and “the human person.” Yet if there is nothing especially new about the preservationist impulse, there is indeed something new about the way liberal and some strands of leftist progressive thought more recently have framed this impulse as much more localized and specific. Certainly, movements like Extinction Rebellion continue to espouse a universalist aim of salvaging the planet from environmental devastation and climate change. But if progressive politics can be said at present to possess an ideational—one might even say idealist—mission, it is, ironically, particularist and conservative. Not conservative in the political sense, but in the original sense, according to Webster’s: “to keep in a safe or sound state.”

The operative verb here is “to keep.” To keep safe is only meaningful if that safety, having once been achieved, is now presumed threatened. This is not the Wilsonian “make safe.” What was once a predominantly reformist drive in progressivism, one that looked forward to a better future, has become increasingly preservationist in character, attempting to halt or restrain a historical trajectory that seems to flail about destructively, like a “wild animal,” as Hegel put it.


Recent protest movements in Europe and elsewhere have exemplified this trend, perhaps most prominently the series of demonstrations that began in and around Istanbul’s Gezi Park in 2013. The protesters represented a broad range of interests and political inclinations, from environmentalists and gay rights activists to secular nationalists, religious nationalists, and soccer fans. Their shared platform consisted of the preservation of the small park adjacent to central Taksim Square. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government planned to raze the park to construct a shopping mall in its place. “Gezi Park must stay as a park” was the primary demand of the Gezi Solidarity movement. All the other agreed-upon demands concerned the government’s actions to prevent the demonstrations themselves (police brutality, tear gas, arrests, a ban on protests). In effect, there was a single shared preservationist goal.

Even before Gezi, similar efforts were underway elsewhere in Europe. In Croatia, the youth organization Pravo na grad (Right to the City) protested the construction of a shopping mall and garage on Cvjetni Trg, a historic square in Zagreb, from 2006 to 2011. The group now says it specializes in “activism against the devastation of public space.” There is a similar group in Serbia called Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (We will not surrender Belgrade), whose name suggests the city is under siege. Especially telling are the internal parentheses, which encompass both the present and future tense, as in an ongoing, perpetual—or in the grammatical sense, imperfective—preservationist action.

One is tempted to see some resurrection of the notion of perpetual revolution in these movements, but rather than having an expansionist, universalizing, and transformative impulse, they display a halting, particular, preservative tendency. This is more akin to Edmund Burke’s calls in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), a founding document of conservatism, for “a healthy halt to all precipitate decisions” to “prevent the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations” by means of “a tedious, moderate, but practical resistance.” The emphasis of Ne da(vi)mo Beograd is similarly on patience and careful planning “to secure long-term change of our society, rather than short-term benefit.” One of the slogans printed on the T-shirts of Pravo na grad activists reads “strpljen / spašen” (patient / saved), a far cry from the emboldened progressivism of early-twentieth-century Serbian Social Democrats, who regularly declared themselves “opponents of the status quo.”

The Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev wrote after Gezi, “The protests have not marked the return of revolution . . . they actually serve to forestall revolution by keeping its promise of a radically different future at an unbridgeable distance.” Yet to suggest these movements are categorically allergic to alternative futures would be wide of the mark. Some of them have birthed political campaigns with broader reform programs, and most have long outlived their original raisons d’être. Even a spoof party like Hungary’s Two-Tailed Dog has moved beyond calls for free beer and more sunshine to spawn a registered political party that concerns itself as much with civic action as with satire.

What these movements have in common is attempting not so much to alter the shape of the present world as to predict or anticipate the shape of future political constellations. Their simple, particular, and preservationist agendas make it possible to attract a broad spectrum of otherwise incompatible interests. They show an awareness that the political spectrum as it once was, along with all the terms and symbols by which it could be plotted (human rights, memory politics, technocratic romanticism, fiscal conservatism, family values, identity politics), no longer exists, or exists only in a ghostly form. Something new is coming. Such efforts—like the forces of Orbánism, Putinism, and Trumpism that they oppose—can be viewed as attempts to give shape to a post–Cold War political future that is still very much in the making.


One of the more fascinating manifestations of the preservationist tendency can be found in a Spanish Netflix series, El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time), which debuted in 2015. History is especially fraught in Spain given the resurgence of memory around the Spanish Civil War, most recently in October 2019, when the Socialist government ordered the exhumation of the late nationalist dictator Francisco Franco from a grave site designated for victims of the Civil War. The show imagines a government ministry that has found a way to travel through time. Yet the Ministry of Time uses the secret portal not to change the past but to make sure that particular events—even very difficult and painful ones—stay happened.

In a recent review of the series, historian Christopher Szabla wonders: “why is the past we have experienced up to the present point, with its private miseries and public genocides, invasions, and plagues, worth preserving, and with it our far-from-perfect present?” The answer, he believes, which may apply more generally to the preservationist drive in the interest of particular persons and places, is that, for better or worse, it is “our” past. “[T]he past must be preserved both to underscore the triumphs it has led to and the ongoing problems and lost possibilities that point toward revision.”

In this way, what might be called the new “progressive conservatism” reveals some proprietary sentiment of the sort otherwise typical of nationalists, a poignant particularism that is also a signal of despair and an attempt at consecration. As such, it recalls a passage from Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Concept of History,” written during World War II: “The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious.”

Part of this drive for preservation is in line with the general trend away from universalist thinking and toward hyper-subjectivity. Universalism has taken repeated and perhaps fatal blows, not least from left-of-center critics who might once have been its staunchest defenders. The crimes of colonialism, Stalinism, and a range of other horrific “-isms” have been traced back to Enlightenment universalism. There have also been increasingly fervent critiques of the notion of human rights as being destructive of what it purports to protect.

Little wonder that the particularized subject yields a particularized object to be saved, and that the reasons are typically either personal or local: one saves not out of idealism or ideology or a sense of duty, but out of love. The thing to be saved is simply: My beloved. Our park. Our history. Our university. The preservationist impulse thus has an immediate and visceral quality. Perhaps it is also deeply necessary, or at least unavoidable, as a counterbalance to the increasingly dominant alternative of unapologetic cruelty, cynicism, whataboutism, and Schadenfreude—a right-wing politics that is anything but conservative, delighting in the demise of particular others and the destruction of the world as it is, heedless even of its own preservation.

But beyond the seeming impossibility of moving forward by keeping things as they are, the particularist preservationist impulse is steeped in other paradoxes as well. One is the question of scale in political thought. What might be lost if the scope of our thinking is limited to what is near and dear to us? When viewed from the level of the entire Star Wars saga, Rose’s rescue gesture in The Last Jedi appears in a different light, resembling the sort of Faustian, particularist sentiment that motivated the young Jedi knight Anakin to become the evil Darth Vader in a misguided attempt to save his pregnant wife. In a tragic irony, Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side precipitates rather than prevents her death. French philosopher and historian René Girard called this “the terrible paradox of human desires”: they “can never be reconciled in the preservation of their object but only through its destruction.”

A second paradox relates to walls and fences, which are half-implied in any particularist preservationist drive. According to an oft-quoted statistic, there were fifteen border walls in the world before 1989, and now there are over seventy. The new right erects fences and walls ostensibly to “protect” what is inside from whatever is on the outside. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán built a fence along the southern border to prevent Middle Eastern refugees and migrants from “contaminating” Hungarian society.

There is a liberal and leftist-progressive variant of this tendency, especially in thinking on ecology and climate change. The journalist Andrea Appleton has called it “curation conservation.” She writes, “Many of us desperately want to preserve the thing we call nature or wilderness,” and this entails erecting “predator-proof fences” to create “a demonstration plot of what once was.” But the plot is inadequate to the purpose, because the endangered species symbolizes “the uncontained riot of the natural world.” The true object of the wish to salvage is a cosmos rather than a particular creature, a symbolic outside.

There is something at once moving and grotesque about seeing singed koalas in the back of a car, or thirsty kangaroos drinking out of baby bottles in a bedroom. They are safe, but they are no longer wild. The particular quality about them that was deemed worthy of protection is one of the first casualties of their individual salvation. For this reason, the earliest religions sacralized a species or variety, rather than an individual: “It is not such and such kangaroo or crow but the kangaroo or the crow in general,” wrote the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in 1912. If we focus on the specific kangaroo, what are we to do when we fail to save it?

In his 1945 essay “The War Has Taken Place,” French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wondered how to think about particular human losses. “We claim that [history] must not be forgotten,” he wrote,  
[Yet] there will come a moment when what we wish to preserve of the friends who were tortured and shot is not our last image of them . . . but a timeless memory in which the things they did mingle with what they might have done, given the direction of their lives. We have not of course gotten to this point, but . . . should we not go beyond our feelings to find what they may contain of durable truth?

Interview with Pieter M. Judson--May 15, 2017

Interview with Pieter M. Judson, Professor of 19th and 20th-Century History and Head of the History Department at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. The interview was conducted in Florence on May 15, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Judson completed his BA at Swarthmore and his PhD at Columbia. He began teaching at Pitzer College from 1988-1992, and then returned to Swarthmore as a professor from 1993 to 2014, where from 2011 to 2014 he was Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, among them Guggenheim and NEH fellowships, and a number of distinguished prizes for his books, as well as for his teaching. His books include: Exclusive Revolutionaries: Liberal Politics, Social Experience, and National Identity in the Austrian Empire, 1848-1914 (published by Michigan in 1996), and which won two prizes; Wien Brennt! Die Revolution von 1848 und seine liberale Erbe (translated from the English by Norbert Schürer and published by Böhlau in 1998); Guardians of the Nation. Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria, published by Harvard in 2006, which won three prizes; and The Habsburg Empire, A New History (published in 2016 by Harvard). In addition to his stellar scholarly reputation, Judson is also famous as a teacher and mentor to many in the field and beyond.

Special thanks to Mate Rigo for preparing an inventory of the interview.

Interview Themes

01:00 Introduction
02:00 First contact with East-Central Europe; early interest in history; the Netherlands; Smith College;
03:30 Road trip from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 1970, Vienna, Budapest, Transylvania, Bucharest, Bulgaria, Istanbul
06:30 Interest in maps, geography, history, politics
08:00 J.F. Kennedy, 1964 presidential campaign, East Germany, Hungary and first political memories
09:00 Eastern Europe, border crossings
10:00 Willy Brandt election
10:30 Swarthmore College, the 1970s
12:00 North Hampton, MA; parents professors at Smith College
12:30 “Hard time” to be a college student in the mid-1970s; discouragement of political action; the Quaker traditions
14:30 Inspiration to study German; Exchange student at the University of Munich, 1976-1977
16:30 Helmuth Schmidt’s reelection campaign
17:00 Attraction to politics
17:20 Fascination by the role of ideology in 1970s German politics vs pragmatic US politics
18:00 1972, McGovern campaign, junior youth delegate
19:00 The disappointment with the lack of political change in the 1970s
20:00 Nineteenth-century politics
21:00 AIDS crisis ignored by politicians
21:40 War in Bosnia
24:00 Second book and arguments against nationalist politics
26:00 Cultures of nationalism and liberal politics
28:00 Reading nationalist sources against the grain
29:00 National indifference
30:30 Habsburg administration as umpire among political parties
33:00 Divergent views on nationalism in historiography (i) nationalism is not always problematic (ii) “not everyone is national”
36:00 Nationalism radically different in 1830s, 1870s, 1930s
36:30 On nationalism and Prometheism
38:00 Interwar period as validating the idea of nation-state
38:30 On Timothy Snyder's The Reconstruction of Nations
39:30 The disappearance of empires as primary target of nationalist mobilization
40:00 Nation and empire are not mutually exclusive and mutually produce each other
42:00 Italy and Hungary as exceptions where the Habsburg empire emerges as major opposition
45:00 Changes in the historical profession; Cold War generation of historians tried to explain why Eastern Europe was a problem in terms of imperial exploitation; consensus on backwardness
47:00 The expansion of East European studies, generation of historians coming of age around 1989
49:00 Katherine Verdery
50:00 Graduate studies at Columbia University, István Deák, Eugene Weber, Robert Paxton
51:00 Research on Habsburg Monarchy, learning Czech
53:00 Morals and historians, Jan Gross, Norman Naimark, Timothy Snyder, István Deák
55:00 Identity politics in academia
57:00 1990s and the return of nationalism
59:00 Moral statements and judgements by historians
1:00:00 Identity politics, 1970s, 2000s as an era of possibilities, Obama presidency, financial crisis
1:02:00 Habsburg Empire – A New History and its current context; Habsburg Empire and the EU?
1:03:00 The military dictatorship during WWI in the Monarchy
1:06:00 Graduate training at the EUI; the mission of the EU and how Europeans are oblivious to it
1:09:00 The iron curtain, the “wall” in Berlin
1:11:00 Different generations of historians of East-Central Europe
1:14:00 The Cambridge history of the Habsburg Empire project, 23 historians from multiple states, Mark Cornwall
1:15:00 Caitlin Murdoch
1:16:00 Teaching methodology, passion for history and narratives
1:21:00 Teaching at Swarthmore
1:24:00 The value of a liberal arts education
1:27:00 New research on East-Central Europe, regional studies
1:30:00 CEU as crucial for the study of East-Central Europe

Interview with Mate Rigo--May 14, 2017

Interview with Mate Rigo, Assistant Professor of History at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. The interview was conducted in Florence, Italy on May 14, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Rigo received his PhD from Cornell University in 2016. His dissertation, “Imperial Elites after the Fall of Empires: Business Elites and States in Europe’s East and West, 1867-1928,” won the Messenger Chalmers dissertation prize. During the academic year 2016-2107, he was in Florence on a postdoc at the European University Institute. In addition to his other scholarly work, Rigo has also written articles and blog posts on a number of topics, most notably on debates around the Holocaust in Hungary. He has been a long-time collaborator on this blog, so it's about time he was interviewed for it. 

Interview Themes

01:00 East-Central European history camouflaged as Hungarian history in Hungarian primary and high schools?
03:00 Learning Slovak and Romanian in graduate school
04:00 Early retirement of grandparents and great-grandparents as an opportunity to talk history with them
06:00 World War II, grandparents, Károlyi estate, Transylvania, grandfather’s degree from Kolozsvár law academy, post-1945 social mobility, “fényes szelek,” family memory of the “Horthy-regime”
11:00 1990s and interest in the Holocaust as a generational experience
15:30 The 1990s and the transformation of Hungarian history
21:00 The changing evaluation of the Holocaust in Hungary since the 1990s, growing interests in Jewish culture and the Holocaust vs. anti-Semitism; revival of 1930s anti-Semitism? 
28:00 Interest in financial history, money fluctuation in the 1990s collection of Roman copper coins gathered in Pécs, Hungary in the 1990s; HVG; pocket money and currency exchange in the 1990s
30:00 History of Capitalism school at Cornell
31:00 The study of nationalism, the works of Pieter Judson, Tara Zahra, Timothy Snyder
32:00 Dissertation project, interwar business elites as atypical actors amidst rising nationalist mobilization, Mózes Farkas, Ferenc Chorin
34:00 CEU as crucial hub for research on East-Central European history
36:00 Mass mobilization in Budapest for CEU in 2017
37:00 The evolution of the dissertation as a comparative history project
40:30 Challenges in the archives
43:20 Is there European history as such? Breaking down divisions between Eastern and Western Europe
46:15 The experience of living in contemporary Italy, Eastern vs. Southern Europe, traditionalism in Florence; the advantage of Southern over East-Central Europe
48:00 Experiences of studying history at ELTE
49:45 Studies at Bard College, studio arts
51:00 Literature and studio arts as inspiration
53:00 Max Weber Fellowship at the EUI, History of Capitalism Reading Group
47:00 Decisive books, Fernand Braudel’s Material Culture
58:30 Writing the history of Europe
1:01:00 Schools of history, The renaissance of the field of East-Central European history
1:06:00 Unexplored connections between East-Central European and Middle Eastern history
1:09:00 Learning languages and learning from senior colleagues
1:12:00 Yale-NUS College and the popularity of humanities majors in Singapore
1:14:00 Grandparents teaching “anti-fascist” refugee children from Greece, 1950s

Interview with Tara Zahra--April 30, 2017

Interview with Tara Zahra, Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago, where she is also Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies and at the the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights. The interview was conducted in Vienna, Austria on April 30, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Zahra received her PhD in History in 2005 from the University of Michigan and has since published three books and won a number of prestigious prizes and awards. Her books include: Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948 (Cornell, 2008), which won five prizes; The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Harvard, 2011), which won two prizes; and The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (Norton, 2016). In 2014, Zahra was also named a MacArthur Fellow. 

Special thanks to Máté Rigó for preparing an inventory of the interview.

Interview Themes

1:00 Early interest in the history of East-Central Europe
2:00 Swarthmore College, Pieter Judson’s “Fascism” seminar
4:00 Interest in the history of everyday life, social class, ordinary people
7:00 Literary interest in migration stories
8:00 First impressions of Central Europe, Vienna, 1998
10:00 Czechoslovakia, France, nationalism
11:20 Pieter Judson as a mentor
14:30 Post-1989 generation of historians of East-Central Europe in the US
17:00 De-humanization of Eastern Europe, national indifference, schools of thought on nationalism
19:00 Nationalism and the welfare state; Two approaches to nationalism in scholarship on East-Central Europe
20:30 “Debaters,” cultures of debate
23:00 Influences on her scholarship, Laura Downs
26:30 Vienna, Prague, European and comparative history
28:00 Trends in current historiography
30:00 The field of East European studies since 1989
32:00 Research on European history within history departments
35:00 British vs. East-Central European history
39:00 The study of the Habsburg Monarchy as a window to modern history; Schorske, psychoanalysis
42:00 Themes in Zahra’s scholarship; indifference; state management of populations
44:00 Recent project on de-globalization
46:30 Views on the Habsburg Empire; Pieter Judson; The Monarchy as a functional modern European state
49:00 Habsburg exceptionalism?
52:00 Challenges of studying East-Central European history
58:00 The Great Departure and current politics
1:04:00 The reception of The Great Departure
1:08:00 Digital humanities, history of capitalism, environmental history
1:10:00 Differences among questions asked by British, French, and East European historians
1:14:00 The training of graduate students
1:16:00 The choice of dissertation topics; danger of following trends
1:18:00 The recruitment of graduate students at the University of Chicago
1:20:00 Areas yet to be explored by modern European historians

Interview with Leyla Safta-Zecheria--March 14, 2017

Interview with Leyla Safta-Zecheria, PhD student in the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations at the Central European University in Budapest. The interview was conducted in Vienna, Austria, on March 14, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Safta-Zecheria has an MA in European Ethnology from the Humboldt University in Berlin and has also studied in Bremen, University of Toronto, and at Istanbul Bilgi University. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation at CEU, which is tentatively titled  “Away towards the Asylum: The Politics of Biopolitics in Psychiatric Deinstitutionalization in Romania.”

Interview themes

00:00  Introduction
00:55  Given her training in various disciplines, how Safta-Zecheria defines her field of scholarly interest
02:40  What brought Safta-Zecheria to the study of psychiatric hospitals and orphanages 
06:20  Personal experiences that influenced her interest in the subject
08:00  On how Safta-Zecheria's perspective on the topic has changed over time
13:40  On the critique of human rights claims and interventions and, if not human rights, then what?
18:15  Parallels between dissent under state socialism and the nature of human rights claims (does the subaltern ever get to speak?) 
26:00  The paradox of therapeutic interventions and power: can there be therapy/amelioration without repression?
32:40  On how Safta-Zecheria learned about anti-psychiatry 
37:25  On patient "self-determination" and its challenges
41:30  Safta-Zecheria's take on theory (specifically Foucault's biopolitics) and its application
45:15  Are there viable alternatives to biopolitical approaches to this topic? 
51:40  Whether a patient can both be considered to have agency as well as to be embedded in a repressive power structure
58:40  Academic institutions where Safta-Zecheria has studied (Humboldt, Bilgi, Bremen, CEU)
1:02:15  Social projects in which she has been involved (specifically in Brazil), and the apparently "endless" opening that "stopped seeming endless" around 2010 (as experienced from Turkey in particular)
1:12:40  On the first signs that the "endlessness" was coming to an end
1:17:05  On why she decided to go to CEU and the atmosphere there
1:19:00  How Safta-Zecheria characterizes the time we are living in
1:22:50  Her views on Europe, its trajectory and significance both as the EU and as a concept
1:26:00  Books and individuals who have had a strong impact on Safta-Zecheria (Book: Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Individuals: Aslı Odman at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, and "Herr Schulz," a Lutheran minister)
1:29:30  On how, "in order act politically and to do something, there need to be some geographic conditions of possibility" (i.e., you have to be in one place)

Interview with Mugur Ciumăgeanu--February 17, 2017

Interview with Mugur Ciumăgeanu, Romanian psy-professional, specializing in psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy as well as policy making. The interview was conducted in Vienna, Austria, on February 17, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview, click here

Ciumăgeanu attended a German high school in Timișoara and after graduation went to medical school in Timișoara where he studied general medicine. Later he also received a doctorate in psychiatry and a bachelor's degree in psychology there, as well as a masters in psychiatric anthropology at Paris 7, and a masters in special education at Timișoara. Starting in 2002, he practiced clinical psychology in Bucharest, and from 2006-2008 he served as head of the Romanian National Center for Mental Health (Centrului Național de Sănătate Mintală). He now works as a private psychotherapist, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy, and is also a lecturer at the University of Timișoara in the Psychology Department, where he teaches psychopathology and clinical psychology.

Interview themes

00:00  Introduction
01:10  How Ciumăgeanu became interested in psychiatry (on being born into a psychiatric hospital)
6:00  On Ciumăgeanu's father, Dumitru Ciumăgeanu, his career, reputation, and political views
11:10  On the institution in Pclișa (Spitalul de Neuro-Psihiatrie Infantilă Pâclișa) where his parents worked and where Ciumăgeanu spent his early years
15:45  More on Dumitru Ciumăgeanu's life, work, and politics
17:45  On how his father related to the Ceaușescu regime
20:20  On Ciumăgeanu's grandparents, especially his paternal grandfather and maternal grandparents (marital politics, Orthodox priesthood, membership in the Iron Guard, vampire stories and rituals of the dead [and undead] in the village)
40:10  How Ciumăgeanu now relates to rituals of the (un)dead in which he participated as a child from the standpoint of a psy-professional
44:25  The German school in Timișoara Ciumăgeanu attended and the atmosphere in the town at the time (late 1970s-1980s)
49:00  How his family experienced the official ban on psychology of 1978
55:30  On how Ciumăgeanu's family became (temporarily) Jewish
58:45  Are there mental conditions unique to or common among Romanians and/or Central-Eastern Europeans of the time? (boală de curent, suppression of anger, socialization to envy)
1:08:40  Experience heading the Romanian National Center of Mental Health (Centrului Național de Sănătate Mintală), 2006-2008. 
1:16:20  Lessons drawn from the experience working for the Romanian government
1:27:50  On the history of various therapeutic interventions in Romania (as compared with other countries in the region)
1:36:30  Popularity of the New German Psychotherapy derived by the National Socialist Johannes Heinrich Schultz (and on the post-1989 proliferation of therapeutic methods and their uncritical reception in Romania)
1:42:35  Ciumăgeanu's exposure to and interest in the ideas of anti-psychiatry (his father's temporary period of "madness")
1:54:15  Can development of the critical capacity negatively impact the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions?
2:00:30  How Ciumăgeanu teaches psychiatry and psychology now
2:03:15  Notable trends in the way students approach the field now (preparation, proclivities, capacities)
2:10:20  On the experience of Ciumăgeanu's mother, personal and professional
2:17:55  What Ciumăgeanu would like to focus on next
2:19:50  Ciumăgeanu's concerns about developments in neuroscience and the potential for manipulative intervention