History Professor John Connelly wins 2024 Guggenheim Fellowship

History Professor John Connelly

History Professor John Connelly

April 15, 2024

UC Berkeley History Professor John Connelly has been awarded a prestigious 2024 Guggenheim Fellowship. Connelly, who serves as the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of European History, has made significant contributions to the field of European history through his extensive research and publications. 

He currently directs Berkeley's Institute for East European, Eurasian, and Slavic Studies. Connelly, who holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, published works that include “Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education,” which received the 2001 George Beer Award from the American Historical Association. His other notable book, “From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews,” earned the John Gilmary Shea Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association.

Connelly is one of 188 people who were named new Guggenheim Fellows this year. They receive grants that allow them to take time off to focus on their projects without many restrictions. In his project submission to the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Connelly proposed continuing this current project to research the complex history of Germany to better understand how its borders and national identity have shifted dramatically over centuries, impacting how Germans view their nation and its place in Europe. His project seeks to show how historical German views on nationalism and territory are linked to the actions and beliefs during Nazi Germany, highlighting a consistent goal to form a nation-state that includes all ethnic Germans within the historical German Empire, which the Germans call Reich, which is the central concept of his study.

Professor Connelly spoke recently to Berkeley Social Sciences about his project and the Guggenheim Fellowship. The interview is edited for length and clarity.

What is your reaction to winning the 2024 Guggenheim Fellowship?
John Connelly: My first reaction is relief, knowing that one has a bit more time to think and write in peace. I am currently involved in a long-term project on German history, so time is the crucial basic resource. But with more time, one is also challenged to take risks, to go down paths, ask questions, travel to places that one otherwise would never have considered in the first place. I hope the Fellowship will make me more creative and adventurous; although my project is in Germany, it occurs to me I might visit Amsterdam, Prague and Warsaw to listen to perspectives of Germany’s neighbors and investigate their archives (esp. Amsterdam with its collections on international labor). The generous fellowship encourages physical and intellectual mobility.

It’s also important to note that the Fellowship is an honor, and though honors come relatively often to our community (the History Department has numerous recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships and other honors), they generally don’t come so frequently in one's individual life — so it's also a time to be grateful for the people in decades past who have made this opportunity possible: teachers, colleagues and students. Perhaps this is also a time for more than the ordinary bottle of wine or maybe even champagne, in good company.

Why do you think you were selected for this prestigious fellowship?
John Connelly: I really don't know. I was a little surprised actually. It has partly to do, I think, with the people who wrote letters of support for me: their eminence and ability to see value in my work. I hope it has to do with the strength of my proposal, which involves the most dramatic and undertold story of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is how Germany emerged from a group of small poorly connected states to become a major world power.

What do you hope to do as a Guggenheim Fellow?
John Connelly: I am going to have time to think and do more research. I'm in the middle of the reading and research that goes into the project right now. Thanks to the digitization process which UC Berkeley took part in, we have the riches for historical research from all of the 19th century that’s readily and easily available, which was unimaginable just 10 to 15 years ago. I feel that I'm a pioneer and exploring all the things that have been digitized. So I will be reading, writing and doing a little bit of travel.

Tell us more about your project and its goals.
John Connelly: My German project is about learning more about Germany’s past and how it connects to nationalism. It's a huge project. And what really got me started on this project was a course I taught during COVID at UC Berkeley on the problem of democracy in European history.

Germany's history was one of troubled formation of democratic institutions, a fact that largely explains its launching of two world wars. Only after 1945 and the destruction of the Reich tradition that I study, could Germany proceed to the gradual creation of a democracy.

Germany was, therefore, a place that generated tremendous suffering and upheaval, but it's also a place that has been thought of as being a laboratory for democracy, a source of supposed lessons in 2003 when U.S. forces invaded Iraq. We would topple a regime in Iraq the way the U.S. and its allies had toppled the regime in Germany and the result would be democracy; this was a misreading of history with devastating consequences. In fact, Germany teaches just how difficult it is to create a sustained democracy. So I hope to contribute to a better understanding of why this is the case.