January 11, 2011
Indiana State University professor Richard Schneirov fondly remembers his first job teaching American history, which was to college students in Frankfurt, West Germany, during the Cold War.
"I was just starting out my career," Schneirov said. "I didn't have a job yet, so a chance to teach in Germany, and bring my family overseas was a great opportunity, both to see Europe and start my teaching career."
Now, though the times have changed, he has received a similar opportunity to make it happen again.
Schneirov has been awarded a Fulbright senior lectureship to teach American history in Germany this summer. He will teach a course titled History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era at the University of Muenster, and he will be part of a seminar at the University of Bielefeld with German faculty members and graduate students that will examine political economy, labor and ethnicity in the United States during the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction. He expects to be teaching in Germany from mid-May to mid-July.
When you teach to students in a different country, you need to have an understanding of their culture and history, Schneirov said.
"You have to explain American history in terms they understand," he added.
His first time teaching in Germany, during the 1985-86 academic year, was enjoyable because it broadened his perspective of the United States and American history, "and having to teach it to foreign students really forces you to think about it in a new way," said Schneirov, who received a Fulbright junior lectureship award for that experience.
When Schneirov first taught German students, the country was still divided into two nations - West Germany, which was a U.S. ally, and East Germany, which was aligned with what was known then as the Soviet Union. Schneirov at times had to rely on help from friends he met while living in Germany, which included Germans and Americans in the U.S. military.
"Well, it was just a great experience, having to be totally on your own in another culture," Schneirov said. "You learn how to rely on yourself, but you also learn that you have to rely on other people, too."
He also noticed some of the cultural differences. In one instance, he said that Germans walking on the street would stop at a red light, even when no cars were nearby. Americans in Germany, Schneirov said, would check to see if cars posed a threat, and if not, they would cross the street regardless of the traffic lights.
He said that, in American culture, there is a "strong streak" of anti-authoritarianism, something that became clearer to him after his experience abroad.
Schneirov also visited East Berlin for a day. When he tried to return to West Berlin late at night, he said that East German troops ran a mirror under his bus to check for people hiding. They also checked his passport while analyzing his face multiple times to ensure it was the same person, and not somebody escaping from East Germany.
"It was just unnerving," Schneirov said.
Yet in the quarter of a century since his first time teaching in Germany, much has changed. Just a few years after Schneirov left, the Berlin Wall fell, Germany was reunified and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter.
When he was there, Schneirov said there was a "sense of wounded nationalism" among young people in the country. But 20 years later, Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, a month-long global competition of the elite national soccer teams that attracts visitors and attention from around the world.
The Fulbright program is very developed in Germany, he said. He advocates that others research what Fulbright opportunities could be available for them.
While he learned a lot about different perspectives during his first trip, his second trip will give him some additional opportunities. A seminar he will lead will be based on his upcoming book, "Chicago in the Age of Capital: Class, Politics, and Democracy during the Civil War and Reconstruction," which he co-authored with John B. Jentz. Among other things, the book explores the social and political impact of German immigrants on American society.
With the book coming out soon, "this is a great way to test out those ideas, with students and faculty there," he said.
Contact: Richard Schneirov, professor, department of history, Indiana State University, 812-237-2719 or Richard.Schneirov@indstate.edu.
Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Richard Schneirov has been awarded a Fulbright senior lectureship to teach American history in Germany this summer.