A Q&A with Madeline Hsu, author of THE GOOD IMMIGRANTS

Hsu jacketWhat lead to the radical shift in public perception of Asians from dangerous “yellow peril” to celebrated model immigrants and overachievers? Madeline Hsu, author of The Good Immigrants argues that the short answer is the American government, and the CIA in particular. Recently she took the time to tell us a bit more about the book, its intended audience, and her reasons for writing this fascinating ethnic history. Check out chapter one here.

What inspired you to get into your field?

MH: As an undergraduate at Pomona College, I benefited from excellent teaching and mentorship. History seemed to come very naturally to me and the emphasis on explaining through telling stories is for me a very instinctive way to understand the world.

What are you reading right now?

MH: I have just finished reading Rise of a Japanese Chinatown: Yokohama, 1894-1972 by Eric Han (Harvard University Press, 2014) which provides an illuminating comparison of how Chinese fared in monoracial Japan as it was evolving into a world power as compared to racial dynamics in the United States. Han is particularly effective in linking the changing fortunes of Chinese Japanese to the relationship between Japan and China, particularly with the decline and rise of the latter’s international standing. I am also reading Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin and The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Bk. 2, a long-running graphic novel series by Stan Sakai featuring a rabbit ronin protagonist.

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

MH: I had been thinking about and researching this project for about 7 or 8 years. It had begun with my observation that at a time of highly restrictive immigration laws before 1965, international students from Taiwan and other Asian countries were nonetheless able to resettle permanently in the United States. From there, my research took me many places such as refugee programs, the establishing of international education programs in the United States, US missionary activities in China, and the earliest of Chinese students to come to the US.  After about 6 or 7 years, I was able to gain a sabbatical that gave me time to decide the parameters of the book and divide it into chapters. After that, it took me about a couple of years of hard writing to adapt and expand my various conference papers into the current manuscript. The key was figuring out my main arguments and chronology. I usually write at my desk at home, which looks out a window with a view of my neighbor’s beautifully kept front yard with agave and pecan trees.

Do you have advice for other authors?

MH: Rather than starting out with a fixed idea of what the book would argue, I had a question to which I sought answers. The subsequent research and the journey it has taken me on has revealed stories that have been unknown to myself and most others, but also help to make sense of major shifts in the positioning of Asians in the United States.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

MH: I am a single parent and struggle constantly with juggling responsibilities to my household and maintaining a certain level of writing and research.

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

MH: At a basic level, I hope it is accessible to informed and interested general readers who want to learn more about immigration policy, U.S. multiculturalism, and 20th century Chinese society with particular regard for migrations overseas.  My goal is to explain complicated intersections between laws, popular attitudes, and government projects and how they shape the behaviors and choices of migrants in ways that highlight their humanity and shared values.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

MH: The main title was suggested by the editorial board. I came up with the subtitle, which addresses a key problem in Asian American/immigration/ethnic history which has been how quickly Asians have transformed from being such dangerous and racially different “yellow peril” threats that they justified the earliest immigration restrictions and within a generation became celebrated model immigrants and overachieving Americans. The short answer is that the U.S. government, and in my book the CIA in particular, were pulling strings in the background. There were many unintended consequences, nonetheless, but Asians selected for their employment traits emerged as welcome immigrants.

Madeline Y. Hsu is associate professor of history and past director of the Center for Asian American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her books include Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home and the coedited anthology Chinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture.

Happy Independence Day!

The Fourth of July is a day of barbecues and bonding with the family… and American History books! If you find yourself needing a history fix after the fireworks, explore some of our best, including, America in Our Time: From World War II to Nixon — What Happened and WhyOverreach: Leadership in the Obama PresidencyThe Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, Governing America: The Revival of Political History, and Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right.


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Check out even more American History titles here.

Out of Ashes – The Cold War / Eastern Bloc

Out of Ashes jacket

Out of Ashes – Konrad Jarausch

To mark the release of Konrad H. Jarausch’s Out of Ashes, we continue with our series of vignettes describing some of the most compelling moments of twentieth century European history, many of which are discussed in Jarausch’s book. Today we remember the Cold War. Loop back to our earlier posts here and here.

1948, The Berlin Airlift. The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler has been dismantled. Germany, reeling from the unprecedented violence it has witnessed and perpetrated, has been divided and occupied by France, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Berlin, isolated in the Soviet sector, has also been divided among the four victor nations. In June 1948, with the wartime alliance crumbling, the Russians close all highways, railroads and canal access to the city, in part an attempt to press Western Allies to withdraw the newly introduced Deutschmark. Instead, air forces from United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa combine  efforts to deliver fuel and food. Eleven months and over 200,000 flights later, the Soviets capitulate and lift the blockade – more supplies have entered Berlin by air than had previously been delivered by rail.

October 1956, Hungary. On a fall day in Budapest, a student demonstration that has drawn thousands veers toward revolt.  Young people flood central Budapest and head toward the Parliament building, ultimately storming the radio building to broadcast their demands. When they are detained, demonstrators outside demanding their release are fired upon by the State Security Police from within the building. A fallen student, wrapped in a flag, is held above the anguished crowd. Violence erupts through the capitol; the Hungarian Revolution has begun, marking the first major threat to Soviet control since WWII. Within hours Russian tanks are crawling through the streets of Budapest to crush the uprising.

November 9, 1989, The Fall of The Berlin Wall. Just before midnight, border guards at The Berlin Wall begin allowing East and West Berliners to pass from one side of the wall to the other. What has begun as a clumsy announcement on the part of an East German official about plans for loosening travel restrictions swells into a perfect storm of confused guards, and an unstoppable surge of people.  Long a grim symbol of division and Cold War tensions, the site of the wall is transformed overnight by peaceful revolution into one of celebration. Strangers embrace, families are reunited, champagne is opened; the historic wall will be dismantled by crowds of jubilant Germans. Though Gorbachev’s recent talks about nonintervention in Eastern Europe have foreshadowed the historic event, the opening of the barrier and the subsequent reunification of Germany takes the world by storm, lending momentum to the collapse of the other East European regimes.

Book Fact Friday – Incarceration Rates

From chapter 2 of Caught:

The race to incarcerate began in the 1970s. It persisted over the next four decades despite significant fluctuations in the country’s economic health and crime rates. Since then, there have been several points where different groups of people have suggested reforms because it was becoming too expensive to incarcerate as the same level, including an advisory board appointed by Ronald Reagan and fiscally conservative Republicans who had previously been penal hard-liners. Still, the rate of incarceration has not decreased, and the current model is not economically sustainable.

Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics
Marie Gottschalk


The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies—one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.

In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.

Out of Ashes – Building a Union

Out of Ashes jacket

Out of Ashes – Konrad Jarausch

25th March 1957. Twelve men meet on the Capitoline Hill in Rome to sign a treaty, two representatives each from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands. Concerns over loss of sovereignty mean that early plans for a European Political Community and European Defence Community have been abandoned. The statesmen seeking to build a united, federal Europe – among them Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet and Paul Henri Spaak – have instead focused on the creation of a customs union, the European Economic Community. The significance of this treaty between France and Germany after nearly a century marked by bitter armed conflict is lost on no-one. Owing to delays in the printing of the treaty, only the title and signature pages are ready – the document signed by the twelve men is blank.

1st January 1973. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark join the EEC, the first expansion of the community beyond the six original signatories. The British had declined to join the negotiations that led to the founding of the  community, Prime Minister Clement Attlee drily commenting that he saw no point in joining a club of “six nations, four of whom we had to rescue from the other two”. Two subsequent applications for admission were vetoed by France, whose President Charles de Gaulle saw the British as a trojan horse for US interests. Denmark, Ireland, and Norway, economically dependent on trade with the UK, are forced to withdraw their applications too. Only following de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969 can the British application proceed. Despite successful negotiations, the Norwegian people vote against joining in a public referendum, and Norway’s application is withdrawn. In 1994, the Norwegians will again vote against joining.

7th February 1992. Representatives of the twelve member states of the EEC, now including Greece, Spain and Portugal, meet in Maastricht to sign a new treaty. The provisions of the treaty subsume the Community into a European Union, with economic interests taking their place alongside a Common Foreign and Security Policy and agreement on Justice and Home Affairs. The treaty also lays down stringent economic guidelines, laying the groundwork for the creation of a single currency. Three countries hold referendums on the signing of the treaty – Denmark, France and Ireland. The Danes narrowly reject the Treaty: only following the negotiation of a series of opt-outs is the treaty ratified by a second referendum.

1st January 2002. A unique event in human history – the people of twelve countries across Europe wake up to a new currency, giving up marks, francs, lira, schillings, drachmas, escudos, pesetas, pounds, crowns, markkas and guilders for new euro notes and coins. Of the now fifteen countries in the Union, only Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom have chosen to retain their own currencies. The printing and minting of the 7.4 billion notes and 38.2 billion coins has taken over three years. Within twenty-four hours, over 90% of ATMs in the twelve countries are dispensing the new currency. But the first purchase using the new notes and coins takes place far away, on the French island of Rèunion in the Indian Ocean – a kilogram of lychees.

On This Day – Galileo forced to cede to Church

k10498On June 22, 1633, the Roman Catholic Church forced Galileo Galilei to renounce his view that the Earth rotates around the Sun. By doing so, he avoided death and was instead placed on house arrest. The Church opposed the heliocentric model, proposed by Copernicus a century before, because it directly contradicted biblical passages that assumed a geocentric system.

In Ideas of Liberty in Early Modern Europe: From Machiavelli to Milton, Hilary Gatti argues that the early modern period laid the foundations of our modern ideas of liberty, justice, and democracy. The “Galileo affair” is one example of this process that she highlights. Gatti argues that this moment in history has become “the historical pivot around which one of the most heated discussions of our time is developing—that is, how far religious doctrine can, if at all, determine the inquiries of the scientists and the ways in which they are accepted by society and taught in its academies and schools” (104). We see this debate continuing in our own time surrounding the study of the Theory of Evolution in schools.

To learn more about how events surrounding Galileo, Machiavelli, Milton, and others contributed to our modern ideas of liberty, check out Gatti’s book. You can read the introduction online.

Out of Ashes – Descent into Totalitarianism

Out of Ashes jacket

Out of Ashes – Konrad Jarausch

To mark the release of Konrad H. Jarausch’s Out of Ashes, we continue with our series of vignettes describing some of the most compelling moments of twentieth century European history, many of which are discussed in Jarausch’s book. Today we remember the descent into Totalitarianism. Loop back to our earlier post on the birth of Modernism here.

October 1917, The October Revolution. Centuries of imperial rule implode as revolutions sweep through Russia, triggering political and social changes that would lead to the formation of the Soviet Union. Food is scarce and mounting civil unrest eventually culminates in open revolt, forcing the abdication of Nicholas II, the last Russian czar. On October 24th, the Bolshevik Red Guard initiates a coup with the takeover of government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd, seizing power from Kerensky’s interim government. The storming of the palace, an iconic symbol of the revolution, will be immortalized in Eisenstein’s 1927 film, October.

October 1922, The March on Rome. Italian society is in disarray in October, 1922, when 30,000 fascist blackshirts mass on the outskirts of Rome. Fearing arrest, their leader Benito Mussolini remains safely in Milan until King Victor Emmanuele II invites him to form a new government: he takes the train to Rome (first class) where he is appointed prime minister. A former journalist (not to mention an egomaniac) well-versed in manipulating a news story, Mussolini fakes pictures of himself marching with the blackshirts and subsequently claims to have led a mythical army of 300,000 to Rome on horseback.

Feb. 27 1933, The burning of the Reichstag. On the evening of Feb. 27, 1933, alarms sound. The Reichstag, the German Parliament building, is in flames. Firefighters rush to the inferno, but too late: the embodiment of democracy in Germany is completely destroyed. A young, mentally disturbed Communist Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe is arrested in due course. Many see the charges as a pretext, but opportunistic Nazi leaders waste no time issuing an emergency decree abolishing all civil rights enshrined in the Weimar Constitution. It will be 75 years until van der Lubbe (long since beheaded for the crime), is pardoned on the basis that his conviction was politically motivated.

April 26, 1937, The bombing of Guernica. It is 4 pm on a Monday in the Basque village of Guernica, and a group of German bombers are spotted over the hills. Today is market day, and over 10,000 people are in the town, which is widely considered the cultural and spiritual capital of the Basque people. During a relentless three-hour siege aimed at breaking the Basque resistance to Nationalist forces, the town is blanket-bombed, while fighter planes ruthlessly pursue and gun down anyone who tries to flee. Women and children huddle and die in cellars; the town square is surrounded by a wall of flame. Guernica is systematically and utterly destroyed: 1,600 civilians—one third of the population—are killed or wounded. Pablo Picasso will later depict the attack, considered the first aerial assault on a civilian population, in the famous anti-war painting, Guernica. Beneath a fallen horse with a gaping wound, a dismembered soldier is depicted; his severed hand still holds a broken sword from which a flower grows.

A Q&A with Konrad Jarausch can be found here.

Jurassic World Giveaway

In honor of today’s release of Jurassic World, the much anticipated-sequel to Jurassic Park, we’re giving away a special ‘prehistoric package’ of three books to three lucky winners!

They are:

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro


Shapiro spoke to The Telegraph recently on the science of de-extinction and how it can be used to save animals that are endangered today, possibly in Pleistocene Park, a real-life Jurassic Park in Siberia. To learn more, you can loop back to this post.




The First Fossil Hunters by Adrienne Mayor


In The First Fossil Hunters, Mayor shows us that many mythological creatures of the past, including Griffins, Cyclopses, Monsters, and Giants, are in fact based on creatures that used to exist. The ancients knew that different creatures once inhabited the earth, and they came up with sophisticated theories to explain the fossils they found. These first paleontologists are studied in detail in Mayor’s book.




What Bugged the Dinosaurs by George Poinar & Roberta Poinar


Today, we think of the T. Rex as the most ferocious carnivore of the Cretaceous period. However, the Poinars, whose research inspired Jurassic Park, show us that many insects of the time could be just as deadly and that they played a significant role in the demise of the dinosaurs.




To enter, please follow the directions in the box below. The entry period ends June 25, 2015.

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Out of Ashes – the Birth of Modernism

Out of Ashes jacket

Out of Ashes – Konrad H. Jarausch

29 May 1913. At the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s new ballet, The Rite of Spring, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet’s Russes, descends into chaos. The combination of Stravinsky’s violent chords and Nijinsky’s primitivist choreography proves too much for refined Parisien tastes. The music is drowned out by the barrage of shouting and roaring as conservative elements in the audience contend with the bohemian modernists in the stalls. The orchestra is pelted with missiles. Forty people are ejected from the theater before calm is restored and the performance can be completed. Afterwards, at dinner with Stravinsky and Nijinsky, Diaghilev is ebullient at this succés de scandale.

2 February 1922. Sylvia Beach, proprietor of the bookshop Shakespeare & Company in Paris, publishes the first edition of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. Serial publication of the novel in The Little Review has been halted following a public prosecution for obscenity – Beach’s edition of one thousand is the first opportunity to read Joyce’s masterpiece in full. Subsequent editions from Harriet Shaw Weaver and John Rodker are seized by customs officials in the United States and England and destroyed. American readers have to wait until 1933 for a legal decision ruling that Ulysses is not obscene, and the first authorized US edition.

19 April 1941. The Schauspielhaus in Zurich stages the first production of Bertolt Brecht’s play, Mother Courage and Her Children. German forces are advancing through Yugoslavia and Greece to complete their conquest of Eastern Europe, Britain is nightly pounded by heavy bombing raids and U-Boats patrol the seas. Neutral Switzerland is perhaps the only place in mainland Europe where Brecht’s scathing anti-war epic can be staged. Brecht, himself a German citizen but a committed Marxist and enemy of the Nazi regime, waits anxiously in Helsinki for an entry visa to the United States. Two weeks later he sails for New York.

1 December 1948. Neo-realist Italian director Roberto Rossellini completes his trilogy of war films, following Rome: Open City and Paisan with Germany, Year Zero. Set in the ruins of Berlin, the film unflinchingly depicts the daily struggle to secure enough food to survive, and the moral collapse of a defeated nation. Preferring not to use professional actors, Rossellini draws his cast from Berliners picked out on the street—children, academics, a former wrestler. Unable to speak German, Rossellini gives direction in French while one of his co-writers translates; working without a formal script, his untrained cast have to improvise their dialog. Rossellini’s dark vision of a devastated Berlin is not welcomed in post-war Germany and after a brief run at a Munich film club in 1952, Germany, Year Zero is not shown again there until the end of the seventies.

Mark Zuckerberg Selects “The Muqaddimah” as his Latest Book Club Read!

MuqaddimahAs part of a 2015 initiative entitled A Year of Books, Mark Zuckerberg has selected a new book every two weeks to share and discuss with the Facebook community. For the second time, A Princeton University Press book has been selected:  The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun is his latest pick!

The Muqaddimah, often translated as “Introduction” or “Prolegomenon,” is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn (d. 1406), this monumental work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics

Mark Zuckerberg shared his personal account of the book and some reasoning behind his selection on his Facebook page:

My next book for A Year of Books is Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun.

It’s a history of the world written by an intellectual who lived in the 1300s. It focuses on how society and culture flow, including the creation of cities, politics, commerce and science.

While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it’s still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it’s all considered together.

Check out The Muqaddimah and join the conversation through Zuckerberg’s A Year of Books Facebook page!

You can read the introduction here.



John M. Owen, IV , author of “Confronting Political Islam,” gives insight on Islamic Democracy

Confronting Political IslamJohn M. Owen IV, author of Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past, and Ambassador Henry J. Taylor and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, recently discussed what history says about the prospects for Islamic democracy on the Washington Post’s blog, The Monkey Cage. According to Owen, “Liberal democracy, once viewed as self-evidently impossible, is now broadly seen as normal, unexceptional and desirable.” From his piece:

Can Islamic democracy also come to seem normal and natural? The tension here is similar but different: What if the majority wants a law that contradicts sharia? In principle, institutions could do for Islamic democracy what they do for liberal democracy by empowering jurists (clergy), or interpreters of sharia, at some expense to the majority. Suppose an Islamic democracy had a freely elected legislature and a high court of Islamic jurists, with a majority of parliament wanting to relax divorce laws but a majority of the court believing that would violate sharia. The two bodies would need to have rules, tacit or explicit, designed to produce an outcome that would maintain the regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of citizens. Each generation would need to agree to these rules or renegotiate them. In this way, the supposed contradictions between religion and democracy could be managed, just as they are for liberalism and democracy.

Read the rest of his piece in The Washington Post here.

Don’t forget to explore the rest of John M. Owen‘s work. You can read the introduction to his latest book here.



Q&A with Konrad H. Jarausch, author of Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century

Konrad H. Jarausch, eminent historian and Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is the author of the sweeping new history, Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century, which Publisher’s Weekly notes is “bound to become the standard work on its subject”. Recently, Jarausch took the time to discuss with us how the impact of history itself influenced his own decision to become a historian, the key lessons of the 20th century, and why the tendency to view the last century in Europe as “one gigantic catastrophe” is reductive to the larger picture’s nuanced stories of humanity, prosperity and promise.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be posting installments in a new blog series called Out of Ashes – Scenes from 20th Century Europe. Through a series of vignettes highlighting the major episodes covered by Jarausch’s book—from the descent into totalitarianism, to the growth of modernism and the arts—we hope to offer a sense of the scope and range of events that shaped the war-torn, and, as Jarausch writes, “spectacularly recovered” continent.

Out of Ashes jacketWhy do we need a new history of 20th century Europe?

KJ: The development of Europe during the last century is a fantastic story which no screen-writer could have invented, because its extremes offer an incredible mixture of suffering and pleasure. The war-torn continent has now spectacularly recovered from its prior disasters and overcome the division between East and West. Though written by eminent historians, the previous efforts are too incomplete in temporal treatment, too unbalanced in geographic coverage and too partisan in ideological interpretation in order to do justice to the complexity of events. Written after the overthrow of Communism, this new book presents a more comprehensive and balanced account.

What inspired you to get into your field?

KJ: My becoming a historian was determined by the impact of history itself: I was born in Germany on the day on which the Atlantic Charter of fundamental rights was proclaimed by FDR and Churchill, August 14, 1941. I survived the Allied bombardments of Magdeburg as infant, but my mother evacuated both of us to a farm in lower Bavaria in order to escape the danger from the air. My father, who was serving on the Eastern Front in charge of a kitchen for Russian POWs, passed away in January 1942  from typhoid fever, because he was trying to keep the Soviet prisoners from starving. As a result we never saw each other. At the end of the war my mother started teaching school in some private institutions until she finally got a state position in Krefeld in the Rhineland. I grew up playing in the rubble, being confronted with the devastating impact of the war almost every day.  It was therefore only natural for a curious teenager to want to find out what had happened in the Third Reich that destroyed his family and divided his country. Six decades later, having moved to the US as a student, I am still wrestling with questions of dictatorship and war.

Is the European record of the past century just one gigantic catastrophe?

KJ: It is true that the first half of the 20th century was full of internecine warfare, economic depression, ethnic cleansing and racist genocide that killed tens of millions of people, more than any other period in human history. But looking only at the disasters creates an incomplete perception, because the second half of the century witnessed a much more positive development in spite of the Cold War. After the defeat of Fascism in 1945, the peaceful revolution of 1989/90 also liberated the East from Communist control in a quite unexpected fashion. As a result, Europeans generally live more free, prosperous and healthy lives than ever before.

What is the central theme of the new perspective offered by this book?

KJ: Drawing on the conception of multiple pathways towards modernization, the book explores the fundamental ambivalences of modernity. The dynamism of change which Europeans unleashed in the 19th century held enormous potential for progress, but it also created an unparalleled destructive force. During the First World War, the broad coalition advocating change fractured into three competing ideological blueprints: Bolshevik social revolution, Wilsonian capitalist democracy and Fascist racial imperialism. It took World War Two to defeat the Nazi version and the Cold War to overcome the Communist variant.

Which role did Germany play in the conflicts over control of Europe?

KJ: In these ideological struggles, the new nation state of Germany played a key role as the source of problems during the first half of the century due to its authoritarian and dictatorial drives for hegemony. The country was both too large to fit into the European order and too small to dominate the continent all alone. But double defeat and loss of territories forced a drastic rethinking that re-civilized the country in the West. With the overthrow of Communism in the East, Germany became part of the solution, ending the division of the continent through reunification. In both respects Germany, located at the center of the continent, is at the heart of the story.

How does the newly emerging Europe differ from US politics, economics and society?

KJ: Both transatlantic partners share basic values such as liberty and equality, but since the Reagan revolution in the United States, the trend towards convergence has been reversed. The Europeans interpret the common legacy in a different way that makes life more livable there. For instance, the memory of the terrible bloodshed of the two World Wars has made them less willing to use war as means of politics; putting a higher value on social solidarity has created more equality on the continent; tight control of firearms has reduced homicide to one-third of the rate in the US; higher investments in mass transit have made Europe more ecological. In these questions the American public can actually learn from its European partner.

What are some of the key lessons of the twentieth century?

KJ: The loss of life and human suffering during the first half of the century were so appalling that European leaders made strenuous efforts to prevent their recurrence. Both sides of the Iron Curtain understood the need to tame the dynamism of modernity lest it become self-destructive. Concretely that meant no longer engaging in war on the continent, allowing nations the chance for self-determination, providing possibilities for self-government and creating more social equality. The overriding lessons have therefore been the need for a peaceful world order and the importance of human rights.

Does the Old Continent have a promising future?

KJ: Contrary to American pundits emphasizing the Euro crisis and to Tea Party denunciations of European socialism, the future of the old continent looks very promising indeed. The transnational effort at European integration is not just directed to overcoming the hostilities of the past, but also to meeting the globalization challenges of the future. The EU comprises a multinational realm of almost 500 million people, growing together by economic trade, unrestricted travel, civil society contacts and public debate. While the precise shape of the EU’s inter-governmental structure is still vigorously disputed, the Europeans have created an attractive alternative to the American Way.

Konrad H. Jarausch is the Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His many books include Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front (Princeton) and After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945–1995. He lives in Chapel Hill.