Interim Department Head, Modern Europe/Modern Germany
I am a historian of modern Europe. My research focuses on the cultural and social history of Germany, with an emphasis on the era of the World Wars and the decades immediately after 1945.
Of particular scholarly interest to me are the “tacit conventions” and unspoken rules that guide daily life and sustain the social order—structures of time and space; values, moral norms; customs and classifications; and how communities understand themselves in relation to a cosmic order. As a historian, I am interested in how these change over time, often imperceptibly.
My first book, Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany appeared with Cambridge University Press in 2010. Its subject is the way people in Germany’s vast capital thought about death, imagined afterlife, and buried their dead from the aftermath of World War I to the building of the Berlin Wall. In an era of total war and mass death, and despite various ideologically-motivated attempts to transform them, the practices and rituals of death remained virtually unchanged. Ultimately, the book is about the stubborn durability of culture even in the face of sustained upheaval. Death in Berlin was awarded the Wiener Library Ernst Fraenkel Prize (2010) and the Hans Rosenberg Prize of the Central European History Society (2011).
The book I am now completing, “Evil after Nazism,” will appear with Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt). It deals with the emotional and psychological effects of defeat and the subterranean legacies of Nazism in the Federal Republic of Germany after WWII, as viewed through the prism of mass supernatural phenomena, including witchcraft fears and miraculous healings. The book reveals deep spiritual and existential unease in the early Federal Republic after total defeat and the Holocaust. Among the book’s themes are the connections among religion, culture, and medicine; the difference between facts and meaning; the uses of theodicy in everyday life; the embeddedness of religious ways of thinking in an apparently secular society; and the past’s habit of lingering in the present, no matter how studiously we ignore it. The project has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Academy in Berlin, among others.
My additional research and teaching interests are varied. They include: war and culture; folklore, memory, rumor, and oral tradition; the social and cultural history of medicine; and the philosophy, craft, and literature of history. For a description of my current research and writing projects, please click here.
With colleagues in English, Art History, Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, and other departments, my UTK colleague Sara Ritchey and I organize a UT Humanities Center seminar on Medical Humanities.
Beginning in summer 2019, I will assume the editorship of Central European History.
I offer graduate and undergraduate courses on the history of modern Europe and modern Germany, on historical methods and practices, and on the history of everyday life. I also teach an interdisciplinary graduate seminar called “Spiritual Medicine” (on the connections between religion and medicine from ca. 1500 to the present), and two undergraduate seminars: “Medicine in the Third Reich” and “The Supernatural: A Global History.” Before coming to Knoxville in 2011, I taught at Furman University and at the University of Virginia.
I welcome applications from potential graduate students interested in the cultural history of Germany and Europe and the connections of both to the wider world.
PhD, University of Virginia
BA, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill