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Ryan J. Gesme

Doctoral Candidate


Ryan Gesme received from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015 a B.A. in Scandinavian Studies and History with Comprehensive Honors and earned a Minor in German and European Studies. Upon acceptance to the Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK), he began working as a student of Dr. Vejas Liulevicius. He is the current Graduate Assistant for the Center for the Study of War and Society under the supervision of Dr. Liulevicius, where he assists in transcribing and digitizing U.S. Veterans’ Oral Interviews. He assists with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans’ Legacy Program for the Knoxville National Cemetery (KNC), which creates an educational tool for teachers and researchers around the historical memory and stories of veterans’ buried at KNC.

His dissertation, entitled “Heimat or Hjemland: Self-Determination, National Consciousness, and the Great War in Schleswig-Holstein, 1897-1920,” examines the Danish and German-speaking communities in Northern Germany around World War I. The attempts at “Germanization” of the local Danish-speaking minority by the Imperial German Government along with the conflict created an atmosphere of perceived slight that resulted in the agitation for a rectification of the border during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The resulting 1920 Schleswig Plebiscite presented the first major effort to settle national disputes through an application of the voters’ sovereignty. He analyzes the role of the “Germanization” policies, the conflict itself, and the introduction of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas had on the two national communities in the build-up to the plebiscite. The study of these plebiscites gives scholars a greater understanding of the complexities of democracy, the endurance of nationalism, and the difficulty in boiling down individual national identity to a singular choice between two countries.

Ryan has received generous support for his project, including from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville History Department and the graduate school through Chancellor’s Fellowship (2015-2019) and the Wilson B. Andersen Fellowship (2017). He received outside assistance and fellowships from Leo Baeck Summer University in Jewish Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, with funding assistant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austaushdienst (2016). He was also a Summer Research Fellow at the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN (2017). For the 2018-2019 academic year, he is researching and writing his dissertation and serving as the current history department Graduate Student Senator.

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