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 Schmitt’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

Interview with Iván Szelényi--January 21, 2017

Interview with Iván Szelényi, William Graham Sumner Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Yale University and Foundation Dean of Social Sciences at NYU Abu Dhabi. He has also taught at UCLA, the CUNY Graduate Center, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The interview was conducted in two parts in Budapest, Hungary, on January 21, 2017. To access the audio of the complete interview (in two parts), click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2

Szelényi is the author of many books and the recipient of as many prizes and distinctions. Among his most prominent publications is The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, which he co-authored with György Konrád (and which first appeared in 1979); Making Capitalism without Capitalists (With Gil Eyal and Eleanor Townsley), published by Verso in 1998 and translated into several languages; Privatizing the land: Rural Political Economy in Post-Communist Societies, also from 1998; Theories of the New Class – Intellectuals and Power (with Larry King) from 2004, and Poverty and Social Structure in Transitional Societies: The First Decade of Post-Communism (from 2013). 

Special thanks to Máté Rigó (Ph.D. Cornell, 2016) for preparing an inventory of the interview.

Interview Themes


00:00 Family background: bourgeois family from Késmark
02:00 Family politics: Horthy, Trianon as a source of political radicalism, Nyilas party
Szelényi's paternal great-great grandparents Karl József
Kamitska (1804-1864) and Anna Schwarz (1813-1900)
07:00 Political conviction of Szelényi’s father, radicalization
09:00 Trianon, exposure to nationalist discourses
11:00 1948: Six-month trip to the Netherlands as a ten-year old through the Calvinist church
12:00 Dutch trip and stay in a Dutch family’s home; trip formative for the formation of Szelényi’s political views
14:00 Dutch host family; Hungarian fixation on noble background vs. Dutch attitudes
17:00 Identification as a “transnational,” American, and Hungarian
Szelényi’s grandfather, Ödön (Victor) Szelényi (1877-1931),
distinguished scholar of education, philosophy,
literature and theology
19:00 The siege of Budapest, experiences with the Red Army, Rózsadomb, Kapy utca in 1944
23:00 The siege, interaction with soldiers
24:00 Impact of literature teacher in formation of left and liberal, humanitarian ideas
26:00 Influential books, classmates, friends, Ferenc Litván, György Litván, József Litván, Károly Szendi
30:00 Diversity of friends’ backgrounds
31:00 1950s: left-liberal views solidified, non-communist, ”lefty”
34:30 Endorsement of Bernie Sanders
36:00 Humanism as political conviction; Political views did not change
Szelényi's father, Gusztáv
Szelényi (1904-1982)
40:00 Experience of reading many novels during adolescence, Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Hungarian poetry
47:00 The artist Lili Országh
50:00 Training as an urban sociologist, András Hegedűs
52:00 Ford fellowship at Columbia University and Berkeley, 1964-1965
54:00 George Konrád
56:00 Empirical research on newly built housing estates with Konrád
58:00 Overrepresentation of cadres in new socialist block apartments


00:00 Sociology
02:00 Choice of sociology as a career, University of Economics, János Avar, studies as an undergraduate
03:00 Refused to join Communist Youth League initially
04:00 Central Statistical Office
06:00 Choice of sociology as a profession
08:00 Research on leisure time
11:00 Ford Foundation interview
13:00 Research on housing with Konrád
14:00 1956 revolution, followed events without engagement
16:00 Politics without passions
19:00 2016 US elections
21:00 1956, Went on a date instead of participating in revolutionary march
24:00 Fear of the rise of anti-Semitism and the return of the Horthy regime
28:00 1956 revolution a mixed bag ideologically, thinks of emigrating to Vienna
31:00 Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956
34:00 The terrorist mindset, Islamist terrorists, suicide bombers
35:00 Emigration to Vienna
36:00 Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, István Bibó as a colleague at Statistical Office
37:00 Foreign journals department at the Statistical Office
38:00 Idea for Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power comes from István Bibó
40:00 György Konrad, The City Builder; the privileges of intellectuals in the socialist regime
43:00 The transformation of villages under socialism; “under-urbanization,” one million commuters in 1970s Hungary
46:00 The transformation of gender relations in rural Hungary
48:00 Urban planners and under-investment in villages; Szelényi and Kondrád’s article “dictatorship of the club of planners,” Pál Granasztói
53:00 Evaluations of socialism by intellectuals in Hungary in 1960s, 1970s
54:00 István Bibó, dictatorship of the intellectuals,” Milovan Djilas, changes after Stalin’s death; science as tool to give legitimacy to state bureaucrats
58:00 Ideology and intellectuals
1:01:00 Intellectuals vs. technicians, technocrats
1:05:00 US academia and technocracy
1:08:00 Thorstein Veblen, US, “dictatorship of engineers,” New York intellectuals, managers
From the left: Sociologists Teréz Kovács and Iván Szelényi,
political scientist Bálint Magyar, and agrarian social
scientist Pál Juhász (photo Fortepan).
1:13:00 Criticism of intellectuals in the US; capitalist economy bribes intellectuals to prevent subversion
1:15:00 Moralism and the humanities
1:18:00 Katherine Verdery
1:21:00 The reception of Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power in the US; the writing of the book
1:23:00 Withdrawal of research funds from Konrád and Szelényi
1:28:00 Punishment after Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power appeared

Interview with Adrian Grama--December 28, 2016

Interview with Adrian Grama, advanced Ph.D. student in History at the Central European University in Budapest. Interview conducted in Vienna, Austria on December 28, 2016. To listen to an audio stream of the interview, click here

Grama has recently completed his dissertation titled  “Labouring Along: Industrial Workers and the Making of Postwar Romania, 1944-1958.” He is also associate editor for the European Review of History.

Interview Themes

00:00 Introduction
00:47 How Grama defines his field: the social history of the Romanian economy
02:41 Evolution of Grama’s dissertation topic
05:07 On making the switch from Political Science to History
08:53 On cutting the “labor question” out of the title
11:01 Most revelatory moments during the writing of the dissertation (on the importance of the Second World War and the postwar economic transition, austerity as an experience Romania shared with many other countries)
16:08 On how a history cannot be limited to one country
17:00 Implications of comparing Romania to France and/or Germany
18:58 Why the idea of a “post-war” as a clear historical conjuncture is absent from the historiography East-Central Europe (importance of engaging in periodization)
21:31 What happens to ideology when one compares East and West?
23:56 To what extent did the conditions of the global market allow for genuinely different policy options after the Second World War?
27:10 Ethnographic/social anthropological approach versus classical social history
32:03 On the applications of the word “populism”
35:15 Grama’s working-class family history and how it influenced his perspective
38:35 Family interpretations of the socialist experience that Grama grew up with
45:04 Grama on the efforts of young Romanian intellectuals to write a history relevant for the present
47:45 On the aspects of the past that seem most relevant for understanding the present (“history is not a morality tale”)
53:37 On the intellectual environment at CEU
55:44 Romanian politics and how it is different from that of Hungary and Poland (explaining the absence of a far right in Romania)
1:04:05 On Romanian intellectuals’ disdain for the common people
1:05:49 Is there a political valence to nationalism studies?
1:09:18 On whether we can move on from the study of nationalism or not
1:11:00 Memorable political moments/events in Grama’s own life
1:15:05 Manifestations of hope and disappointment Grama has witnessed
1:18:03 Books and scholars that have had a strong influence on Grama (Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain)
1:23:20 On training people to write history
1:26:50 What Grama is reading now and his next project


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