tags: Top Young Historians
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.
Area of Research: Modern transatlantic history, with an emphasis on 20th century political cultures in the US and Europe, the United States in the World
Education: Ph.D. History, Columbia University, 2007
Major Publications: Temkin is the author of The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial (Yale University Press, 2009), an international history of one of the major legal and political episodes of the twentieth century, selected for the long list of the 2009 Cundill International Prize in History at McGill University.
Temkin is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: "Internationalism and the Limits of Political Tolerance: Malcolm X in Europe, 1964-1965" (article manuscript in preparation); "Cold War Culture and the Lingering Myth of Sacco and Vanzetti", in Duncan Bell and Joel Isaac, eds., The Cold War in Pieces: Explorations of a Model for Postwar American History (forthcoming, OUP); "Culture vs. Kultur: The First World War, American Intellectuals, and the Clash of Civilizations" (article under revision); "'Avec un certain malaise': The Paxtonian Trauma in France, 1973-74," Journal of Contemporary History (April 2003). His current research interests include the death penalty in transatlantic perspective, Malcolm X's career and politics in global context, and internationalism and border control in the twentieth century."
Awards: Temkin is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Finalist, Cundill International Prize and Lecture in History, for The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial (2009);
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellowship, the New School University and the New-York Historical Society, 2007-2008 (declined);
Finalist, Bancroft Dissertation Award, 2008-2009;
Visiting Fellow, Institute for Scholars at Reid Hall, Paris, 2006-2007;
Visiting Fellow, Centre d'Études Nord-Américains, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Spring 2007; Visiting Fellow, Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Paris, 2004-2005;
History Department Teaching Fellow, Columbia University, 2001-2003;
Gerson Cohen Memorial Fellow in History, Columbia University, 2003l;
Visiting Fellow, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, UK, Summer 2002;
Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies Fellow, Columbia University, 2000-2007.
Affiliated with both the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for European Studies, Harvard University.
Temkin previously taught at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and at Columbia University.
With Alex Keyssar, convenes the Harvard Seminar on History and Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.
Temkin has written articles for The Nation, Haaretz, and the Journal of Contemporary History, and was a founder of The Israel Forum of New York, which organized public discussions of Middle East politics and history, particularly the role of the United States.
When I read or hear other people's accounts of how they wrote their dissertation or their first book-the sojourns in dusty but marvelous out-of-the-way archives, the fateful chance meetings with ousted despots in abandoned mineshafts, the luggage mistakenly switched with that of the shady foreign operative-I can't help but think of the recurring Seinfeld joke about "Rochelle, Rochelle", the film-turned-Broadway musical about "a young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk." In reality, at least in my experience, there's very little glamour or romance involved in getting a PhD in history. Yes, there is often a lot of travel involved, and anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time in airports and hotels is bound to have more than her share of misadventures. I am no exception. But the process of the PhD is in some ways nasty, brutish, and long-sometimes strange, yes, but not necessarily in a good way, and in any case rarely erotic. Still, I like to think I'm not a masochist, so it's reasonable to ask why I wound up walking that road. It wasn't at all obvious, and I can't claim to be following a calling I felt since I was a child. History was one of my worst subjects, my inability to memorize names and dates surpassed perhaps only by my inability to comprehend the most simple geometric axioms. I still recall the big day of the matriculation exam in history-as dictated by the high school curriculum in the frenetic Middle Eastern country where I spent most of my boyhood, we were tested on our knowledge of Second Temple-era Judea, and I bravely chose to answer the question about the differences in religious practices and beliefs between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. I wrote my response with some pride, pleased that I was actually able to remember all the priestly minutiae. It was only later that day that I realized in horror-though not with total surprise-that I had been absolutely correct about all the religious practices and beliefs, but had attributed those of the Pharisees to the Sadducees, and vice versa. I hoped against hope that the exam would be graded by an understanding soul who could appreciate that I had included all the relevant information, just the other way around, but no such luck was forthcoming.
In all the time that's passed since then I'm still not sure I've mastered the elusive art of memorization, and I've certainly forgotten most of what I knew about Judea in 70AD. It wasn't until over a decade later that I decided on an academic career (long story), and even after I embarked on the road to becoming a professional historian I was sorely tempted on a few occasions to opt for alternate paths: during one lull in graduate school I considered returning to my previous life as a journalist, and during another-this one more sustained, a probable side effect of the distractions of living in New York and then Paris-I seriously contemplated diving headlong into the world of music. What kept me going in the discipline is, I think, something that I first grasped in college, listening to a talk by wizened scholar of medieval France, and to which I have returned in such moments of doubt: that history should not, cannot, be treated as a "subject", something separate from other domains of life, to be learned in isolation. Eric Hobsbawm was on to something (though maybe not for the right reasons) when he demanded that history not be treated as "merely one damned thing after another." What I try to convey to students as they begin to delve into the past is that history, contrary to what they may have thought or heard, is not a body of knowledge to be absorbed, but "a way of thinking", as Marc Bloch put it, about the world they live in. That may sound banal to those of us professionalized in the discipline, but I wish I realized that twenty years ago. I think that's where I (and my teachers, for that matter) went wrong in high school. Armed with that insight, I might have enjoyed history much more even then, been somewhat more adept with names and dates (though probably still not with those geometric axioms) and maybe even remembered-correctly!-what it was exactly that those pesky Pharisees and Sadducees did differently from each other.
By Moshik Temkin
I think all this reflects an uncertainty in how they are remembered. Sacco and Vanzetti do not have a clear place in our civic life or historical record. Part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that we still don't know-and never will know-whether they "did it."
But in many ways, the Sacco-Vanzetti affair is still with us. Certainly the issues that animated it are very much alive. Americans today still do battle over the issue of immigration, and intolerance toward foreigners is still widespread, sometimes virulent, especially when times are hard. Europeans, Latin Americans, and other non-Americans are still concerned over, and in some cases outright hostile to, America's presence in the world, and the way Americans handle international politics. And then as now, Americans are still divided over what was called, in Sacco and Vanzetti's day, "foreign interference" in American affairs.
Whether it is the death penalty, or the health care system, or how to deal with terrorism suspects, or even who should be elected U.S. president, non-Americans have and will continue to have opinions, because the United States is so powerful and what it does domestically reverberates externally. Many Americans bristle at this but many others welcome this. It depends on whether they see the United States as an entity separated in principle from the rest of the world, or as a genuine part of the world-a world in which Americans have a stake in the lives of non-Americans, and vice versa.
This issue divided Americans when Sacco and Vanzetti were what one magazine called "the two most famous prisoners in the world," and it still divides Americans today. This, I believe, is the context in which the Sacco-Vanzetti affair took place. My book is not an attempt to end the discussion about Sacco and Vanzetti, or to provide a definitive account. My aim was to start a new conversation, one that would not be about guilt or innocence but rather about the Sacco-Vanzetti affair-its significance and place in history." -- -- Moshik Temkin in an interview with "Rorotoko" about his book "The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial"
About Moshik Temkin
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