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.
Many people have learned and are accustomed to thinking of history as an authoritative account of the past, based on indisputable facts. Scholars of history, by contrast, understand history as a matter of contested and evolving interpretation: debate. And they argue not just over the interpretation of facts, but even over what constitutes a relevant fact. This course will use some representative debates to show how dynamic the historical field is. Topics may include: Did women have a Renaissance? How did people in early modern France understand identity? Why did eighteenth-century French artisans find the torture and slaughter of cats to be hilarious rather than cruel? Were Nazi killers who committed genocide motivated by hatred or peer pressure? Are European Jews descended from medieval Turks rather than biblical Hebrews? Students will come to understand how historians reason and work. In so doing, they themselves will learn to think historically.
Although we talk readily of "postmodernism," do we really know what "modernism" was about? Never did change seem to be as dramatic and rapid as in the first half of the twentieth century. Leftists and rightists, avant-gardists and traditionalists alike, spoke of the age of the masses, characterized by conscript armies and political mass movements, mass production of commodities, and mass media. The European "great powers" achieved domination over the globe, only to bleed themselves white in wars that devastated the continent physically and psychologically, weakened the colonial empires, and undermined faith in progress itself. The real victors were two rival systems of modernity: American consumer capitalism and Soviet communism. Although the age witnessed great violence and despair, it also brought forth great hopes and achievements in social thought, the arts, and technology, many of whose effects we are still pondering.
According to a famous and revealing anecdote, antisemitism means hating the Jews more than necessary. Among the most perplexing things about antisemitism is its persistence. It has flourished for over two millennia in a wide variety of settings, and, despite the rise of modern multiculturalism, seems to be on the rise again. It is no wonder that it has been called the longest hatred. Among the questions we will ask: How does it relate to other forms of prejudice? What are its origins? What forms does it take, and how do they change over time? What are its religious, psychological, or social roots? What were its effects? How die the Jews respond? The course moves from from the cultural prejudices of the Classical world, through the anti-Judaic teachings of the Christian churches, to the rise of modern social, political, and racial antisemitism and their new contemporary manifestations, including the Middle East conflict.
The era of the Renaissance and Reformation (c. 1350-1550) witnessed the rise of cities and commerce, the introduction of printing and firearms, the growth of the state, stunning innovation in the arts, scholarship, and sciences, bloody struggles over religion, and the European colonization of the globe. Crucial to many of these developments was the struggle to acquire and control knowledge, generally contained in texts--increasingly, printed ones. We will thus pay particular attention to the role of communication and the "history of the book" in shaping the origins of modernity. The course devotes equal attention to primary sources and secondary literature, introducing students both to the early modern era and to the discipline of history itself. A foundational course in history, social science, humanities, and cultural studies.
Associate Professor of History
Mail Code SS
Franklin Patterson Hall G15
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002