- Associate Professor
PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 2001
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84977
Office: Lawson Hall 2217
Office Hours: Thursdays 2:30-4:30pm and by appointment
Professor Nathans has published a history of German citizenship policies and an examination of the conduct of a leading official of the Nazi administration of justice. In 2017 Palgrave Macmillan published his analysis of the life and work of a prominent West German radio and television journalist, Peter von Zahn's Cold War Broadcasts to West Germany. Assessing America. The study focuses on postwar West German debates about the weaknesses and strengths, possibilities and deficiencies, of republican forms of state and society and, in particular, of the United States. Although Peter von Zahn's American broadcasts date to the 1950s, the subjects on which he focused, the questions he posed, and the insights his work contains, remain relevant to the challenges that continue to face the United States and parliamentary regimes around the world.
Historical study offers the opportunity to move beyond the limits of one's own time and place, to analyze foreign societies and individual lives that may differ greatly from our own. It enables students to examine patterns that are larger than an individual life or even several lives. It explores the ways in which contemporary societies are the product of past experiences and choices, or perhaps break with their pasts.
My classes explore all these aspects of the past, as well as a range of other more focused questions. In my classes students answer questions such as: How can one explain the development of parliamentary forms of government in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Why did anti-democratic ideologies like Nazism and Communism prove attractive to some? What forms of hierarchy have existed in modern societies? How have these hierarchies influenced life chances and choices? How have the rights and roles of men and women differed, and how have these rights and roles changed over time?
I assign a range of original sources, including memoirs, private letters, philosophical and religious works, novels, and government documents. This diversity of sources offers many different perspectives and speaks to many different questions. I seek to develop students' ability to read critically and carefully, and to express themselves clearly and succinctly in discussions and in essays.
I welcome inquiries from students pursuing the M.A. or the Ph.D in modern continental European, and especially modern German, history. My foreign languages are French and German, and I feel most competent to serve as a supervisor where research in primary and secondary sources would be conducted largely in either or both of those languages. The principal focus of my own work has been on legal, intellectual, and cultural history.
Major Research Projects
My new book on Peter von Zahn has three subjects. The first is the journalist Peter von Zahn, who in the 1950s captivated West German audiences with his pioneering radio broadcasts and television documentaries about the United States. Before 1945 Zahn shared the militant and elitist ethos common among educated German young men, but the experience of the war – he spent the entirety of it in the German army – and the realities of postwar Germany led to a reorientation. Zahn became a cultural pillar of the Federal Republic. I seek to characterize and explain this change in the individual. The second subject is the transformation of West Germany, from a society riven by domestic conflicts and still in many respects authoritarian, to a stable republic integrated into West European and Atlantic alliances. Although Zahn’s American broadcasts explored the United States, often the issues on which they focused were those that divided West Germans. Zahn’s broadcasts were one important voice in West German debates that accompanied and in some measure helped bring about the postwar transformation of West Germany. The third subject is the United States, as seen by Zahn. Zahn wanted to know whether the United States would prove a strong and dependable Cold War ally. With this question as his starting point he conducted a probing and sustained examination of the workings of the federal government and of American society. I examine his arguments and his conclusions. They remain relevant today.
Books & Monographs:
Peter von Zahn's Cold War Broadcasts to West Germany. Assessing America (Palgrave Macmillan, Studies in the History of the Media: 2017).
The Politics of Citizenship in Germany: Ethnicity, Utility and Nationalism (Berg Publishers, 2004).
- “Peter Von Zahn über Rassismus in den USA,” (Peter Von Zahn on Racism in the United States) in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 1-2 (2009): 20-26. [read article]
"Legal Order as Motive and Mask: Franz Schlegelberger and the National Socialist Administration of Justice," Law and History 18 (June 2000): 281-304.
- Review of Wissenschaftspolitik in der Weimarer Republik. Dokumente zur Hochschulentwicklung im Freistaat Preußen und zu ausgewählten Professorenberufungen in sechs Disziplinen (1918 bis 1933), Volumes 9:1, 9:2 of Acta Borussica - Neue Folge, Series 2; Preußen als Kulturstaat: Der preußische Kulturstaat in der politischen und sozialen Wirklichkeit. Edited, with an introductory essay, by Hartwin Spenkuch (De Gruyter, 2016), in Central European History 52:2 (June 2019): 367-9.
- Review of Benjamin Hett, Burning the Reichstag. An Investigation into the Third Reich's Enduring Mystery. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) in Histoire sociale/Social History 101 (May 2017): 171-6.
- Review of Steven Schroeder, To Forget It All and Begin Anew. Reconciliation in Occupied Germany, 1944-1954 (University of Toronto Press, 2013), in The University of Toronto Quarterly 84:3 (Summer 2015): 226-8.
- Review of Sener Aktürk, Regimes of Ethnicity and Nationhood in Germany, Russia, and Turkey (Cambridge University Press, 2012), The American Historical Review 119:1 (February 2014): 158-9 (http://ahr.oxfordjournals.org/content/119/1/158.full)
- Review of Christoph Hendrik Müller, West Germans Against the West. Anti-Americanism in the Media and Public Opinion in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1949-68 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), in Central European History.45:2 (2012), 365-8.
- Review of Ann Goldberg, Honor, Politics, and the Law in Imperial Germany, 1871-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), in The American Historical Review 116:4 (2011), 1214-5.
- Review of Andreas Fahrmeir, Citizenship. The Rise and Fall of a Modern Concept (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, in Rg [Rechtsgeschichte, or Legal History] 15 (2009), 211-216.
- Review of Christina von Hodenberg, Konsens und Krise. Eine Geschichte der westdeutschen Medienöffentlichkeit 1945-1973 (Wallstein Verlag, 2006), in Central European History 41:1 (2008), 172-4.
- Review of Deniz Gökturk, David Gramling and Anton Kaes, eds.,Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration 1955-2005 (University of California Press, 2007), in Nations and Nationalism 14:1 (2008): 196-198.
- Review of Oliver Trevisiol, Die Einbürgerungspraxis im Deutschen Reich 1871-1945 (Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2006), published in H-German in July 2007. [read review]
- Review of Michael Stolleis, A History of Public Law in Germany 1914-1945, translated by Thomas Dunlap (New York: Oxford University Press), in European Historical Quarterly 37:1 (2007), 176-178.
- Review of Christian Geulen, Wahlverwandte. Rassendiskurs und Nationalismus im späten 19. Jahrhundert (Hamburg: HIS, 2004), in Central European History 40:1 (2007), 153-6.
- Review of Nikolaus Wachsmann, Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), in Punishment and Society 8:4 (2006): 487-490.
- Review of Diemut Majer, “Non-Germans” under the Third Reich: The Nazi Judicial and Administrative System in Germany and Occupied Eastern Europe, with Special Regard to Occupied Poland, 1939-1945, translated by Peter Thomas Hill, Edward Vance Humphrey, and Brian Levin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), in The American Journal of Legal History 47 (2005): 113-116.
- Review of Andreas Fahrmeir, Citizens and Aliens: Foreigners and the Law in Britain and the German States 1789-1870 (Oxford, 2000), published in H-Net in June 2003. [Read Review].
Review of Lothar Gruchmann, Justiz im Dritten Reich (Munich, 1988), Mittelweg 36 6 (Dec. 1997/Jan. 1998) 49-52; Exchange with author published in Mittelweg 36 7 (April/May 1998) 57-60.
Awards and Distinctions:
Jacob Javits Fellowship