Interview with Tara Zahra--April 30, 2017

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Interview with Tara Zahra, Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago, where she is also Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies and at the the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights. The interview was conducted in Vienna, Austria on April 30, 2017. Zahra received her PhD in History in 2005 from the University of Michigan and has since published three books and won a number of prestigious prizes and awards. Her books include: Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948 (Cornell, 2008), which won five prizes; The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Harvard, 2011), which won two prizes; and The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (Norton, 2016). In 2014, Zahra was also named a MacArthur Fellow. Special thanks to Máté Rigó for preparing an inventory of the interview.

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Interview Themes 1:00 Early interest in the history of East-Central Europe 2:00 Swarthmore College, Pieter Judson’s “Fascism” seminar 4:00 Interest in the history of everyday life, social class, ordinary people 7:00 Literary interest in migration stories 8:00 First impressions of Central Europe, Vienna, 1998 10:00 Czechoslovakia, France, nationalism 11:20 Pieter Judson as a mentor 14:30 Post-1989 generation of historians of East-Central Europe in the US 17:00 De-humanization of Eastern Europe, national indifference, schools of thought on nationalism 19:00 Nationalism and the welfare state; Two approaches to nationalism in scholarship on East-Central Europe 20:30 “Debaters,” cultures of debate 23:00 Influences on her scholarship, Laura Downs 26:30 Vienna, Prague, European and comparative history 28:00 Trends in current historiography 30:00 The field of East European studies since 1989 32:00 Research on European history within history departments 35:00 British vs. East-Central European history 39:00 The study of the Habsburg Monarchy as a window to modern history; Schorske, psychoanalysis 42:00 Themes in Zahra’s scholarship; indifference; state management of populations 44:00 Recent project on de-globalization 46:30 Views on the Habsburg Empire; Pieter Judson; The Monarchy as a functional modern European state 49:00 Habsburg exceptionalism? 52:00 Challenges of studying East-Central European history 58:00 The Great Departure and current politics 1:04:00 The reception of The Great Departure 1:08:00 Digital humanities, history of capitalism, environmental history 1:10:00 Differences among questions asked by British, French, and East European historians 1:14:00 The training of graduate students 1:16:00 The choice of dissertation topics; danger of following trends 1:18:00 The recruitment of graduate students at the University of Chicago 1:20:00 Areas yet to be explored by modern European historians


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history; nationalism; national indifference


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