AHA Member Spotlight: Marcus Gräser

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series. The members featured in this column have been randomly selected or nominated and then contacted by AHA staff. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

Marcus Gräser is a professor of modern and contemporary history at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. He has been an AHA member since 2000.

AHA Member Spotlight, Marcus Gräser

Alma mater: University of Frankfurt, Germany: MA 1985, DPhil 1993, Habilitation (second book) 2005.

Fields of interest:
My research and teaching interests are in the field of North American as well as central European history, sometimes in a comparative (or transnational) perspective. I have always been interested in social and political history, in urban history, and also in the history of welfare (states). I have recently developed a strong interest in the history of historiography, and I like to think about various national styles in historiography and how this may inflect upon the current wave of transnationalism and transnational understanding in an ongoing (and very welcome) process of internationalization of history writing.

When did you first develop an interest in history?
My father took me to the historical museums in the Frankfurt area in Germany where I grew up, my mom always took care to ensure that I had enough history books to read, and I always listened carefully when my grandmother talked about family history. I think that is it: I grew up in an atmosphere that suggested that history is not only fascinating but also relevant.

What projects are you working on currently?
I am currently writing a general history of North America for a German-speaking audience. Also, I am a part of a group of European historians who are currently putting together an essay collection that tries to present various European perspectives on American history. And I would like to do research on the history of the US and the Habsburg monarchy in the 19th and early 20th century, from a comparative perspective and with a special focus on ways and means of political, economic, and cultural integration (and disintegration) in empires.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Indeed they have: up until I finished my dissertation, I was a typical product of a history department in Germany—doing German history and nothing else. After my dissertation I was fortunate to receive funding for writing my second book (a comparative history of welfare state-building in Germany and in the US) and I spent two years as a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago—one of the most intellectually stimulating places I can think of. Being in Chicago changed my mindset in a lot of ways and made me a “worldly” person and a better historian.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc., that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Princeton University Press is about to publish an English translation of Jürgen Osterhammel’s magisterial global history of the 19th century (The Transformation of the World: A History of the 19th Century), which came out in Germany in 2010. It’s a meticulously researched book which opens many new perspectives on transfer and interaction between world regions—and it is an awesome good read!

What do you value most about the history profession?
Being a historian is always a good excuse for browsing in used bookstores and for sticking my nose in books. Now seriously: being a historian means a certain way of thinking things through and being able to “historicize” yourself. I like to get off campus and to lecture to a wider audience in order to demonstrate that history is not “antiquarian,” but rather an illuminating way to understand the present. Historians do have a certain public function. And that is also what I tell my students in the classroom.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Classical music. Living in Austria I am fortunate to have Salzburg (the famous Salzburg Festival) and Vienna with its many opera houses and orchestras close by. I also enjoy hiking in the wonderful Austrian countryside.

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