Historian, researcher & writer; professor & MA student advisor at the University of Texas at Arlington. PhD from Johns Hopkins. Promoter of #AppliedHistory: using historical concepts, frameworks, and methodologies to solve real-world organizational problems. Former visiting scholar @ Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, New York University & Kennan Institute; former Alexander von Humboldt & Fulbright-Hays scholar. Host of audio podcast Practical History: The Uses of History in Business, Tech, and Beyond (formerly ChronoLab), hosted by the New Books Network.
I'm a historian, researcher, writer and teacher. For the past fifteen years I've been writing about modern European and Russian histories, about their surprising mutual connections and their relationships with the other parts of the globe. I've been teaching courses on subjects that span the history of empires, the Cold War, cultural and global histories of Eastern Europe, and historical theory and methodology. I'm now excited to be exploring the applied potential of historical methodologies. What is the practical value of history? How can leaders draw on historical insights and approaches to solve problems in their organizations and communities? With these questions in mind, in the Fall of 2023 I'm launching a podcast titled "ChronoLab: Conversations About the Value of Historical Thinking in Business, Tech and Beyond." These will be hour-long, indepth conversations with people who have studied history and then used their training and passion to build fascinating careers and make an impact on the world. Hope you'll check it out!
SOVIET SOFT POWER IN POLAND: CULTURE AND THE MAKING OF STALIN'S NEW EMPIRE, 1943-1957 (UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS, 2015; PAPERBACK 2019). SPECIAL MENTION (3RD PLACE), BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PUBLICATION, POLISH MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS HISTORICAL COMPETITION, 2018
(CO-EDITED WITH KENYON ZIMMER): COLD WAR CROSSINGS: INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AND EXCHANGE ACROSS THE SOVIET BLOC, 1940S-1960S (COLLEGE STATION: TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2014)
(CO-EDITED WITH AUSTIN JERSILD): SOCIALIST INTERNATIONALISM IN THE COLD WAR: EXPLORING THE SECOND WORLD (NEW YORK: PALGRAVE, 2016)
SELECTED ACADEMIC ARTICLES
“WESTERNERS, WESTERN POWER AND POLISH SOCIETY IN THE MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY: THE POZNAŃ INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR AS A COMPLEX FRONTIER” IN CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN HISTORY (2023), DIGITAL OPEN ACCESS
Drawing on Polish, US, French, British and German archival documents, I examine the encounters between Western and Polish participants at the International Trade Fair in the Polish city of Poznań in the 1950s and 1960s. Challenging the predominant Cold War framework, I show that Westerners who came to Poznań drew on power and privilege while pursuing personal interests. These encounters are best seen in the context of a relationship between Westerners and East Europeans that spans decades, and even centuries, and that involved encounters fraught with contestation over economic power and cultural dominance.
SEARCHING FOR THE SOVIET WOMAN: PHOTOJOURNALIST LISA LARSEN IN THE SOVIET UNION, SPRING-FALL, 1956 (2023), DIGITAL OPEN ACCESS
This photo essay examines photojournalist Lisa Larsen's experiences in the Soviet Union in the period from spring through fall of 1956. It concentrates on her written and visual explorations of what it meant to be a woman in the USSR against the backdrop of her long standing interests in the roles of women in society worldwide during her work for Life magazine. I show that Larsen's visual and written storytelling goes far beyond the commonplaces of midcentury America. I suggest that it is helpful to understand her 1956 visit to the Soviet Union in the broader context of her biography. The article also aims to highlight more of Lisa Larsen’s photography, much of which has never been published anywhere and remains unknown.
"REFRAMING THE 1950S: POLAND AND AMERICA THROUGH PHOTOJOURNALIST LISA LARSEN'S LENS" IN APPARATUS NO. 13 (2021), DIGITAL OPEN ACCESS.
Here I engage with Lisa Larsen’s pioneering work as a photojournalist for Life Magazine in Poland, 1956-1957, contextualized by her experience as a Jewish exile from Germany in the 1930s. Reading her unpublished writings about Poland against the backdrop of her visual work reveals a woman who appreciated the ambiguity of photography and sought to shape the meaning of her work in a way that challenged the prevailing Cold War epistemologies of midcentury America, often espoused by Life and the Time/Life empire itself. As a woman, she was initially assigned entertainment and fashion work, but her drive to cover politics led her to cover US presidential campaigns, the Middle East, the Bandung Conference of 1955 and to the USSR. I draw on her unpublished writings, as well as some published material and her extraordinary photographs to argue that through her writing about and photographic work in Poland, Larsen engaged in a subtle critique of the social relations in the United States.
"A TOWER OF TANGLED HISTORIES: THE UPPER SILESIA TOWER IN POZNAŃ AND THE MAKING OF AN UNROMANTIC POLAND, 1911-1955" IN THE SLAVIC REVIEW 79, NO. 3 (2020): 566-590.
In this article I engage with regional, international and spatial histories to think through Poland's alternative identity shaped by regional values of industriousness and hard work rather than themes from Romantic past. I focus on the fascinating afterlives of Hans Poelzig's "Upper Silesia Tower," originally built for the Ostdeutsche Ausstellung in 1911.
“INTERFACING THE SOVIET BLOC: RECENT LITERATURE AND NEW PARADIGMS,” AB IMPERIO, NO. 4 (2011): 376-407.
Taking the classic historiography of Soviet-East European relations as a departure point, I argue that the traditional narrative about Sovietization and its undoing no longer accommodates the complex patterns of cross-border interactions within the Soviet Bloc. Despite the region’s relative isolation and internal atomization during the second half of the 20th century, East-Central Europe can be viewed as an “interface” between cultural, intellectual and social projects spanning other parts of the world; concepts such as empire and "the Second World," I suggest, can be useful in conceptualizing such linkages.
“TWO STAIRWAYS TO SOCIALISM: SOVIET YOUTH ACTIVISTS IN POLISH SPACES, 1950S-1960S” IN BABIRACKI AND JERSILD, EDS., EXPLORING THE SECOND WORLD: SOCIALIST INTERNATIONALISM IN THE COLD WAR (PALGRAVE MACMILLAN), 79-106. INTRO TO THE VOLUME (WITH AUSTIN JERSILD) IS ALSO INCLUDED HERE.
In "Two Stairways to Socialism" I compare the Soviet and Polish spatial regimes through the experiences of youth activists against the background of parallel de-Stalinizations. Photo by L. Larsen.
“BETWEEN COMPROMISE AND DISTRUST: THE SOVIET INFORMATION BUREAU’S OPERATIONS IN POLAND, 1945-1953," CULTURAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY 6.3. (SEPTEMBER 2009): 345-367.
I explore the early Cold War Polish operations of the Soviet Information Bureau, the institution responsible for the manipulation of foreign press. The essay concentrates on the interaction of Soviet and Polish officials and the meager results achieved by these efforts. The article illuminates the operation of the Soviet foreign propaganda unit and the problematic character of the project to mold Polish opinion of the USSR. It also reveals the inherent early weaknesses of the Soviet East European Empire more generally. This is the first English-language article about the Soviet Information Bureau's postwar operations abroad.
“IMPERIAL HERESIES: POLISH STUDENTS IN THE SOVIET UNION, 1948-1957,” AB IMPERIO: STUDIES OF NEW IMPERIAL HISTORY AND NATIONALISM IN POST-SOVIET SPACE NO. 4, 2007: 199-236
A minority of Poles who studied in the USSR between 1948 and 1957 held assumptions about their social, political and moral rights that clashed with those of the Soviet bureaucrats and Polish communist activists who supervised them. The article is about how this conflict came about and how it affected the Soviet imperial project in East-Central Europe. I argue that in their efforts to replenish the war-ravaged cadres of Polish specialists with Soviet-trained men and women, the communists simultaneously opened up an institutional space that enabled politically-subversive activities.
WHITE PAPERS CO-WRITTEN WITH JAMES W. CORTADA FOR "HISTORY APPLIED: A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION IN THE 21ST-CENTURY MARKETPLACE," A SYMPOSIUM ON APPLIED HISTORY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON ON SEPTEMBER 13, 2023):
"WHY AMERICANS KEEP FALLING FOR RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA," THE WASHINGTON POST, SEPTEMBER 13, 2017
"WHO IS EVIL NOW? HOW RUSSIA CAME BACK TO HAUNT TRUMP'S AMERICA," NEW EASTERN EUROPE , APRIL 24, 2017
"Reinventing Poland: The Poznań International Fair, National Identity and the Twentieth-Century Rebellion of the East European Peripheries"
I am currently writing a book that examines Poland's history through the lens of the Poznań International Trade Fair. Located in the western Polish city of Poznań (before 1918: Prussian Posen), this unique institution served interchangeably as a showcase of German imperial prowess, a business card of the independent Polish state, and a poster child of socialist planned economy. During the time of Cold War-era isolation, the fair linked Poland to various economic, political and cultural developments around the world. Poland's modern identity, cultivated largely in Warsaw, rested on the Romantic myth of armed struggle and sacrifice. Triangulating regional, national and international histories, I argue that the fair enabled many Poles to contest that idea, and to promote a more pragmatic, business-like identity, rooted in such local values as industriousness, efficiency and hard work. Partly supported by Germany's Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he project is based on archival research in Poland, Germany, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The local values that the fair embodied developed in the nineteenth century, in the context of struggle of Poles against Prussian imperial domination. Industriousness, efficiency, and a penchant for order constituted a local Polish response to repressive policies, but overtime, also became a source of the region's economic strength and pride. The histories of Western Poland and Germany became entangled. Among Poles in Posen-Poznań, resentful memories of Prussian rule twined with Germanophilia, a sentiment that surprised many visitors from the other parts of partitioned Poland, and that left physical and symbolic marks on the city itself. How can we think about the influence of this conflicted regional historical tradition on the political culture of state socialism?
Between the wars, the strong sense of regional identity alienated Poznań from Warsaw, the nation's capital, while political tensions between Poznań and Warsaw limited the development of the fair. But after World War II, the communists gradually integrated the fair into Poland's planned economy, appropriating local ethos of hard work into the narrative about socialist modernity. And they used the Poznań fair to showcase the pragmatic, hard-working, modern Poland to the world. What were the ideological and institutional continuities and ruptures, and who were the individuals who re-appropriated the fair to represent socialist Poland on the national and international stage?
In its global dimension, the Poznań fair reframed the well-known vision of Poland defined around the ideas of Romantic nationalism, such as armed struggle, suffering and sacrifice. Through propaganda and trade, the fair also channeled a broader project of the communists who aimed to challenge Eastern Europe's longstanding peripheral status in the world. How did Western political and economic institutions react? How did individuals such as foreign government officials, private entrepreneurs and visitors to the fair respond? What can these contestations tell us about the complicated relationship between Eastern Europe and the world today?
The Poznań fair brought together millions of people, it embodied conflicted local traditions and helped preserve little-known continuities. But how were these political and economic processes mediated by culture--specifically by people's physical and visual experiences of architecture, objects on display at the fair, and photography?
Selected Recent Courses
SPACE, MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE COLD WAR (GRADUATE)
This research seminar examines the politics of space and the role of material culture in the Cold War. The focus will be on the material dimension of a world that has been often defined by ideas (freedom, justice, etc.); the goal will be to reflect on individuals' physical experience at a time when much of human activity moves into the digital realm. We will explore similarities and differences between Western and Soviet / East European approaches to spatial planning, architecture and interior design. We will compare the roles of objects on each side of the Iron Curtain. Our focus will be on how these similarities and differences reflected and affected the conflict between capitalism and socialism. Themes of the course will include: the Cold War as a clash of competing modernities; relationship between the material environment and cultural imagination; linkages between space and power as well as those between objects, emotions and social status; contrasting ideas about public and private spaces; global circulation of objects; relationships between space, travel and transportation; and nostalgia and memory of socialism as it's manifest in the culture of private collecting and museums.
EAST CENTRAL EUROPE AND THE MODERN WORLD (UNDERGRADUATE)
The course examines the eastern stretches of the European continent and their relationship with the broader world between the eighteenth century and the present. Where is--and was--East Central Europe, anyway? Was it chiefly Europe's brutal battleground or the continent's backward periphery? Should we think of it as lands in-between the developed, "First," and underdeveloped "Third" worlds or perhaps a crucible of various social and economic experiments and a source of immigration in the West? The themes of the course include: the imperial experiences and legacies in the region; the role that real and imagined differences between East-Central Europe and the West played in how the region developed, was defined, and defined itself; the role of East-Central Europe in globalization; travels and cultural exchanges between East-Central Europe and the rest of the world; Eastern Europe's economic "catching up" with the West; Eastern Europe's role in the Cold War and the manifold experiences behind the "iron curtain;" we will also be asking about the extent to which history can help us answer questions about the tensions and conflicts in East-Central Europe today.
SOVIET UNION IN GLOBAL COLD WAR (GRADUATE & UNDERGRADUATE)
The course examines the Soviet side of the Cold War, from Joseph Stalin to Mikhail Gorbachev. When, how and why did the Cold War start? Why exactly did it end? What were the Soviet motivations and means for fighting it? Themes of the course will include: Soviet foreign policy vis-à-vis the West, China and “The Third World;” Soviet-sponsored regime changes in Eastern Europe; the Soviet role in East European rebellions and in the global “hot spots” of the Cold War; the role of atomic weapons and arms race; Soviet cultural diplomacy, foreign propaganda and Cold War culture; the role of consumption in the Cold War. Students will have the opportunity to learn about new interpretations of the Cold War based on recently declassified Russian archival materials, and to appreciate the complexity of the evolving Soviet view of international relations.
SOCIALISM AND CINEMATIC IMAGINATION
The course examines the complicated relationship between cinema and history in the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe, between 1917 and 1991. How did films recount the past in various moments of history of socialist states? How did the cinematic imagery and institutional context of film production and distribution reflect the possibilities and limitations of a given political moment--and of socialism more generally? Was there such a thing as "socialist cinema" behind the "Iron Curtain," a region where various states and peoples continued to embrace nationalism? Students will survey a sample of famous and lesser-known films from various periods (the early years of the Soviet state, Stalinism, "the Thaw," and late socialism) and genres (comedy, drama, science fiction) to try to answer these questions, become familiar with the vibrant cinematic imagination that was born under socialism, situate the films in their historical contexts, and hopefully enjoy themselves too. Themes of the course will include: state manipulation through propaganda, efforts to create socialist pop culture, narratives and counter-narratives of socialism on film, tensions between national cinema and "socialist" cinema, film reception, and the question of artistic freedom under socialism.
HISTORICAL THEORY AND METHODOLOGY (GRADUATE)
This is a graduate-level introduction to the craft, theory and methodology of history. It is structured as a chronological survey of various historical approaches to history between the mid-nineteenth century to the present era. The starting point for our explorations is a key moment in the evolution of historical thinking, which was propelled forward, problematized and increasingly professionalized in the context of consolidating nation-states. The end point is the present era, characterized by a great diversity of approaches, but also trends and assumptions that reflect our present concerns about inclusion, globalization, and culture. Thus, on the one hand, this course aims to introduce students to stages of development of historical methodologies and approaches through a sample of works; on the other hand, its goal is to highlight certain constant questions that professional historians, philosophers of history and ambitious story tellers have grappled with, questions about causality, epistemology, individual agency, narrative, history's relationship with other humanities and social science disciplines, and about reliability of different kinds of historical evidence
September 13, 2023
"History Applied: A Liberal Arts Education in the 21st-Century Marketplace." This unique event aims to bring together a panel of accomplished history-trained global business leaders, Liberal Arts faculty, students and business leaders from around the Dallas-Ft, Worth Metroplex area to discuss how university grads can use the skills gained during the study of history to build successful careers in the private sector--and how they can help company managers solve problems in the age of Artificial Intelligence. We want to know: what is the value of history in the 21st-century marketplace?
January 31, 2020
"Westerners at the Poznań International Trade Fair and the Reinvention of Eastern Europe, 1940s-1970s," History Colloquium Workshop Series, Portland State University, Portland, OR
March 6, 2020
Keynote lecture, Cold War Archives Research Conference, European Institute, Columbia University, New York City
March 25, 2021
"Polish Identity and the Cold War at the International Trade Fair in Poznań," Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ Link