AHA Member Spotlight: Ingo Trauschweizer

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.

Ingo Trauschweizer is assistant professor of history at Ohio University. He splits his time between Athens, Ohio, and Washington, DC. He has been an AHA member since 2005.

Alma maters: University of Maryland (MA, PhD) and Universität Tübingen, Germany

Fields of interest: modern military history, US foreign relations, 20th-century international history

When did you first develop an interest in history?
I developed an interest in popular history sometime between fifth and seventh grade. I couldn’t say exactly how, when, or why that started, but the more I read the more I realized that I’d like to do something with history. Thanks to my parents for never trying to talk me out of it! Maybe my time as a conscript in the German army after high school added to an interest in military history and military institutions, but I definitely credit my high school teachers for guiding me from simply enjoying the stories to more serious historical questions. We didn’t have undergraduate degrees in the arts and humanities in the German university system back in the 1990s and so I essentially started out as a graduate student. I never thought this could turn into a career and I figured journalism would be a more realistic option, ideally with some sort of political and international portfolio.

What projects are you working on currently?
The past couple of years I have spent most of my time on a number of chapters for essay collections on post-heroic warfare, the Ford and Carter administrations, and military historiography. I am now finishing an essay on NATO’s grand strategy in the Cold War for a similar project. In addition, I am co-editing an essay collection on failed states and, together with David J. Ulbrich, I am a running a book series on War and Society in North America at Ohio University Press. Eventually, I’d like to get back to my broader research on the significance of war and militarism in modern German and American history.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
They have certainly broadened in geographic and chronological terms. My dissertation and first book was an institutional history that considered how the US Army adjusted to a radically changed environment in the Cold War. I am still interested in some of the questions that drove that research: inter-service rivalry, civil-military relations, the relative importance of individual actors and political or bureaucratic structures, and alliance relations at the strategic and operational levels. But through the classes I have taught in the past years, I’ve taken a much greater interest in the global Cold War and my work on militarism has led me back in time into the 18th and 19th century and it has allowed me to read much more broadly in European as well as American history.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I like the Society for Military History’s website as a resource: www.smh-hq.org/. I think it is particularly helpful for graduate students. Mark Grimsley’s excellent blog features creative questions and discussions (www.warhistorian.blogspot.com/).
As for books, David Reynolds’s In Command of History:Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War offers an engaging narrative and trenchant analysis of how Winston Churchill came to craft and distort his World War II memoirs that have loomed so large in our understanding of the politics, diplomacy, and strategy of Britain and the United States. I’ve gotten some of the best graduate-seminar discussions about the nature of history and the reliability of sources from that book.

What do you value most about the history profession?
I think that the combination of teaching and research is a very creative process. Both undergraduate and graduate classes have pushed me into questions and directions that I would not have considered otherwise. Sometimes the odd alignment of courses that look at different centuries or continents in the same semester (even on the same day) reveals intriguing patterns. I am also fortunate to work in a department that has strong ties to the Contemporary History Institute at Ohio, which allows me to think actively and frequently about the linkages of past and present and the ways in which history is used and abused in current political and public discourse. Somebody will always try to use the past in order to advocate policy or going to war. A current example is the increasingly intense discussion about what the Vietnam War can tell us about counterinsurgency and the nature of war in the 21st century.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
I am afraid my AHA meeting memories are still heavily colored by four or five years on the job market. Most of them are only amusing in hindsight, like the incredibly soft-spoken hiring committee that made it easier to follow the conversation one table over to the right than to know what was going on in my own interview. I must say that I have gotten some of the most insightful and challenging questions about my research during job interviews and often from senior scholars who are nowhere close to my own field of studies. That has been an eye-opening lesson in professionalism and intellectual rigor. But, frankly, what I like best about the annual meeting is the ability to catch up with a lot friends and colleagues all in one place.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I have a long-standing and much too deep emotional investment in soccer and in my hometown team (Stuttgart). Spending Saturday afternoons in the stands is what I miss most and so I read up on the German league religiously and I try to catch as many games as possible online. Playing has become more difficult, but I like to go hiking and generally spend time in nature.

Any final thoughts?
One of the great contributions of the liberal arts to society is our effort to push students to think critically and analytically and to communicate clearly. I am concerned about what I see in colleges and universities now: that constant institutional pressure for more students in classes and the political pressure for shorter times to degree completion. I imagine Ohio’s push for a three-year degree is far from unique and I am worried what that will do to higher education. I am less concerned about the structures than about the product, students who are being rushed through and aren’t given the necessary time to mature into critical thinkers. Clearly, college is too expensive as either vocational school or a four-to-six-year camp. There has to be something more and I get the sense that we’re at a crossroads.

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