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.
Richard S. Fogarty is an associate professor of history at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has been an AHA member since 2000.
Alma maters: BA, SUNY Geneseo; MA, University of Georgia; PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Fields of interest: modern France, modern Europe, colonialism, the First World War, race and racism.
When did you first develop an interest in history?
Like probably most historians, I have been interested in history since I was a child, for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved the stories of the past for what they can tell me about people whose experiences differ from my own, and more generally, about the human experience. I fell in love with French history because I had a great French teacher in high school (the fallen state of my spoken French, however, is emphatically not her fault), and because the history of France appears as a hothouse version of the human experience, where most or all of the possibilities of human experience have been tried, with spectacular successes and equally spectacular failures.
What projects are you working on currently?
I am currently working on two major projects. The first is a general history of France and its colonial empire at war between 1914–18, seeking to highlight the centrality of the French war experience to the global story of the Great War, and to underline the importance of the colonial empire to that experience. The second project explores the role of Muslims and Islam in the Great War through the stories of French North African Muslim soldiers who were taken prisoner by the Germans, pressured as “good Muslims” to take up arms against France and its allies, and ultimately forced to serve in the Ottoman army. Those who survived had incredible stories to tell, stories that connect the global and imperial struggle involving Islam with the personal experience of particular Muslims.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
My interests probably changed more in graduate school than after. Entering graduate school, I initially intended to study the French Revolution, but was quickly attracted to the study of the 20th century. I came to put war, colonialism, and racism at the center of my concerns, and they remain there. My interest in the place of Islam in French and European history has intensified, but is of a piece with my earlier work. So my interests haven’t changed much, though I can hold out hope that my understanding of them has become increasingly sophisticated. I will let others judge that.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc., that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Samuel Hynes’s The Soldiers’ Tale. It is the best book I have ever read for making sense of the experience of war. I think even readers not generally interested in war will find his sensitive and accessible exploration of memoirs of 20th-century war fascinating. He is a literary scholar, and so combines that sort of sensitivity to storytelling and reading with a historian’s concerns and sensibilities. It is a great book to teach.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I am tempted to cite the excessive remuneration and rock-star lifestyle, but I think I value what probably most of us do: the ability to pursue one’s intellectual passions and make a living at it. In academia not only do we chase our passions through archives and libraries, we come up for air often to connect with more or less captive audiences of smart young (and not-so-young) people in whom we can try to kindle something of our own enthusiasm—perhaps inspiring them to find and chase their own enthusiasms through the past. At the very least, we are vouchsafed the privilege of living a life of intellectual stimulation, and helping others through our teaching think more clearly and live richer, more productive, happier lives. I’ve done other jobs. This one’s the best.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
This is a tough one. The AHA annual meeting is not known for the kind of wacky hijinks that make for good anecdotes. And sharing the few that I have witnessed would not endear me to certain other AHA members. I’m still fighting an unjust parking ticket I received (entirely the fault of a good friend and colleague, in fact) during the 2010 San Diego meeting. Does that count?
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
My family, running, weightlifting, good food, wine, Jimi Hendrix.
Any final thoughts?
I think I should thank the AHA for helping many of us in this profession get jobs, share our work, find colleagues, have a collective voice, and be featured on blogs. All of it is important, and we are lucky to have the organization.