New Faculty Forum on CENFAD

William Hitchcock
Professor of History

As a newcomer to Temple and to the History Department, I did not have a clear idea about the mission and role of CENFAD. But it didn’t take long to see how active CENFAD is and to perceive how much potential it has.

CENFAD is emerging as the big tent into which Temple’s international historians are congregating. International history is an imprecise word. I use it as short-hand for scholarship that explores the history of international relations in the broadest sense. In our era of globalization, historians have grown ever more aware of the need for historical scholarship that draws on various methodologies and that examines inter-connections between states, peoples, and regional or global processes. There is no dominant school or approach to the subject of international history. Some international historians focus chiefly on state-to-state relations and warfare, and use sources generated by states, armies, and government agencies. This approach to international history has been much enriched by new work on topics such as empires and their collapse, borderlands, comparative genocide, ideological conflict, ethnicities, gender, migration, non-governmental organizations, health and disease, environment and scarcity issues, and so on.

Temple’s History Department is unusually rich in faculty that work on international history. We have scholars here who are experts not only on one nation, continent, or time period, but on historical trends and patterns that cross borders and that find peoples of various national backgrounds interacting, competing, warring and even peace-making. This is why we have attracted such an able body of graduate students here to work in these areas, and they are beginning to make their mark in the field of international history.

My own current research may, in a small way, add to this effort to expand the reach of diplomatic and military history. As a diplomatic historian, I began to feel that the sources I was most familiar with – records of government agencies, departments and ministries – did not help me answer the key question I am most concerned with at present, namely, how did the experience of liberation in various European countries in the year 1945 shape Europeans’ perceptions about the role and place of American power in the postwar era? This is a question that bears directly on diplomatic history. But this question could not be asked by looking only at government sources, and has required far more digging into personal letters and papers, oral histories, local histories, displaced persons camp records, and the documents kept by relief organizations and NGOs. By looking at such records, I hope I’ll be able to link the human experience of liberation to the construction of the postwar international order.

There are many scholars in the field who are now moving in similar directions, and CENFAD, I believe, can be a terrific resource in building Temple’s contacts to these trends in international, diplomatic and strategic history. Through small workshops, conferences, and the occasional publication, we can generate interest within Temple and across the country in the work that we are doing here.

Obviously, a small center is limited by many factors. Running an active program costs money, and requires a big time commitment from faculty and graduate students. Centers like ours always run the risk of “event fatigue” – just too much going on. But focused workshops on themes relevant to what might be called the new international history would certainly be one undertaking CENFAD might wish to promote. Issues such as migration and refugees, environmental diplomacy, the politics of oil, gender and the discourse of international relations – these are just a few themes that some of our faculty and graduate students are engaged in that might make excellent day-long workshops. Such programs can help to spread the word that CENFAD is engaged on multiple fronts, encouraging scholarly exchange in the fields of military and strategic history, diplomacy, and international history. I look forward to helping CENFAD push into these exciting new fields.