AHA Member Spotlight: Kees Boterbloem

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 by AHA staff or nominated by fellow AHA members. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

AHA Member, Kees Boterbloem

Kees Boterbloem is a professor of history at the University of South Florida. He lives in Tampa, Florida, and has been an AHA member since 2007.

Fields of interest: Russia and Europe, world history

When did you first develop an interest in history?
I’ve loved history ever since I was a child. A key feat was writing a sort of research essay on the Soviet Union at primary school, at the age of 10 or so. This was part of an assignment to write an essay about another country in Europe (I grew up in the Netherlands).

What projects are you working on currently?
I have just published my fourth book (Moderniser of Russia, with Palgrave England) and in the fall a textbook on Russian history will be published by Rowman and Littlefield (From Romanov to Putin). I am also writing a textbook on continental western Europe in the modern age with a friend, Ralph Guentzel of Franklin College. In terms of research, I am beginning to look more and more at the Dutch role in the international arms trade and as mercenaries across the globe during the 17th century.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Yes, very much. I was a real Soviet specialist, investigating especially the Stalin period (the topic of my dissertation and first two books). Some 10 years ago I turned to the 17th century of Russian and European history.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
By me? My last book (ha!).

What do you value most about the history profession?
The opportunity it grants to continue to try to understand why we have become what we are today, and the opportunity to expose historical myth as such.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
Well, I am a bit of a foodie, and you cannot beat New York City for its magnificent options in that regard; the cold is bracing (as it was in 2009!), but the food (even from the halal stands) was incredible. One can find solace from any disappointing job interview by gorging oneself.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
My wife (Susan Mooney, who is a literary expert), son and (soon-to-be-born) daughter, as well as soccer (favorite team: Ajax Amsterdam), and music (from Monteverdi and Bach to Lee Perry, Kraftwerk, and Brian Eno). And I cook.

Any final thoughts?
Well, I am worried that Western society fails to wrest itself from this mindset that all postsecondary study should be immediately useful or applicable (such as this overbearing emphasis on STEM topics). Although I am not usually an optimist, I do believe that most people who are 20 today may live beyond the age of 100; if they begin in a “useful” profession at 22 or 23, are they supposed to work in this capacity for the next 60 years? Perhaps it is better to have people younger than 30 as much as possible explore what life is all about, in part by studying topics that do not seem to be immediately relevant. In some ways, the political discourse is so simplistic because politicians, journalists, and voters lack broad-based knowledge, including about history, beyond the clichés. And they cannot be blamed because they have been forced to race through their postsecondary schooling, never having been given enough time to reflect upon themselves and the world.

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