James Wald

Associate Professor of History
Hampshire College Professor Jim Wald
Contact James

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James Wald
Franklin Patterson Hall G15
413.559.5592

On sabbatical fall 2021


James Wald, associate professor of history, holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

His teaching and research interests include modern European history with an emphasis on cultural history from the 18th through the 20th centuries; the French Revolution; Central Europe; fascism and Nazism; and early modern Europe.

Particular research interests involve the history of intellectuals and literary life.

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Recent and Upcoming Courses

  • Many people think of history as an authoritative account of the past, based on indisputable facts. Historians, however, understand it as an evolving interpretation: debate. They argue not just over the interpretation of facts, but even over what constitutes a fact. What happens in the age of "fake news" and "alternative facts"? What is the difference between debating why the Holocaust happened vs. claiming it never happened? Whether Vikings came to America vs. extraterrestrials built the pyramids? Did women have a Renaissance? How did French peasants understand identity? Were Nazi mass murderers motivated by hatred or peer pressure? Nazism discredited the idea of race, but can genetics help Blacks and Jews recover their lost histories? Are European Jews descended from medieval Turks or biblical Hebrews? Did Thomas Jefferson father a child with the enslaved Sally Hemings? Students will come to understand how historians work and thereby learn to think historically.

  • According to a famous and revealing anecdote, antisemitism means "hating the Jews more than necessary." Why hate them at all? Among the most perplexing things about antisemitism is its persistence. It has flourished for over two millennia in a wide variety of settings. Three-quarters of a century after the end of World War II, despite the rise of modern multiculturalism, it seems to be on the rise again. One-third of Jewish college students report having experienced antisemitism in the past year. It is no wonder that it has been called the longest hatred. What are its religious, psychological, or social roots? What were its effects? How did the Jews respond? The course moves from the ancient world, through the anti-Judaic teachings of the Christian churches, to the rise of modern social, political, and racial antisemitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and contemporary manifestations, on both right and left.

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  • In a little more than a century, Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland have been transformed from provinces of multiethnic empires into a series of small successor states whose experience went from independence to Nazi occupation and communist dictatorship and back again. Today, they are members of NATO and the European Union. These three regions, with their dynamic and at times unstable population mixture of Germans, Slavs, Magyars, and Jews, embodied the tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, tolerance and intolerance, the persistence of tradition and the exuberance of modernity-issues also relevant to the study of other topics in the social sciences and humanities. Our course will treat the histories of the countries and cultures and the literature, music, and art that gave voice to those tensions. In addition, we will consider the appropriation of history through memory and memorialization in the present. Key words: history, European studies, German studies, Slavic studies, Jewish studies

  • The Shoah (Hebrew: catastrophe, devastation) or "Holocaust"-the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe-has entered popular consciousness and the curriculum. Museums and monuments are commonplace. And yet, knowledge is neither widespread nor deep. In 2020, a majority of Americans aged 18-39 do not know how many Jews were killed, and nearly half cannot name a concentration camp. Although many people find religious, philosophical, or political meaning in the genocide, it in fact contains no intrinsic, much less, consoling message. Because this course is anchored in the discipline of history, it proceeds from the belief that the losses cannot be understood unless we examine the world that was lost. It addresses the roles of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. It locates the Shoah in the spectrum of interethnic relations without portraying it as inevitable. It explains the uniqueness of the Jewish tragedy, while examining similar cases and universal implications. Key words: history, European studies, German studies, Jewish studies

  • Time and Narrative: Pandemics: Main Question: How do people, communities, and cultures understand, make sense of, and react to pandemics, both historically and now, given COVID-19? Course Description: The shock of suffering and death from the COVID-19 pandemic prompts many to speak of it as unprecedented. In fact, there have been many instances of global pandemics, from the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages to the Great Influenza of 1918 to the AIDS pandemic beginning in the 1980s. This class will examine historical, social, cultural, and scientific perspectives on how humans have understood and reacted to infectious disease across cultures and centuries and will provide insight as we seek to reconstruct our lives and societies. We will also investigate how our own particular identity and positionality lead to different consequences for each of us.This transdisciplinary course will involve research, hands-on investigation, and creative expression. We will focus on pandemics from multiple perspectives - biology, epidemiology, and public health policy, as well as history, politics, ethnography, oral history, literature, and other expressive arts. Students will undertake individualized study-analyze scientific data, conduct research in archives and via social media, interview pandemic survivors, and other projects -- and reflect on their own experiences and collectively share their findings through public forums, media, scholarship, creative writing, and journalism. Approaches: #epidemiology, #publicHealth, #history, #journalism, #ethnography