What I’m Reading: An Interview with Gerhard L. Weinberg

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Erik Moshe is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.

Gerhard L. Weinberg is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of many military history books, including A World at Arms (1995) and Visions of Victory (2005) which won the 2009 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement.

What books are you reading?

I am reading two books: Robert Wittman and David Kinney, The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich, and Joel Greenberg, Gordon Welchman: Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence.

What is your favorite history book?

It is very hard to say, but David Kahn’s The Codebreakers may qualify.

Why did you choose history as your career?

My original plan had been to be a secondary school teacher of social studies and Latin. The GI Bill made graduate school possible, and history was my favorite among the social studies.

What qualities do you need to be a historian?

One needs an enormous amount of energy and patience, and a willingness to invest vast amounts of time into research and analysis.

Which historical period to you find to be the most fascinating?

I have been most fascinated by two periods at extreme ends of history: ancient Egypt and the origins and course of World War II.

Who was your favorite history teacher?

Watt Stewart in college (Albany State) and Hans Rothfels in graduate school (Chicago).

What are your hopes for world and social history as a discipline?

I very much hope that continued study and teaching of history will assist people in understanding the world in which they live and encourage them to participate in improving it to the extent that their abilities and resources allow.

Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?

No doubt some of the books in my library on both fields are fairly rare. Those on WWII, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust will go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; while those on ancient Egypt will go to the North Carolina Museum of Art. I do not collect WWII or Nazi items and do not advise collectors about buying and selling such items. Instead I advise donations to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans or the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago.

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?

Most rewarding has been the practical reality of being able in spite of numerous obstacles to have a career doing what I most wanted to do: to be a teacher as I was inspired to be by my teachers in a boarding school in England when I was an eleven and twelve years old refugee from Nazi Germany. Most frustrating is the reality that because of cuts to the budget of the University at Chapel Hill, the position from which I retired and in which I was succeeded by Christopher Browning is after his retirement now empty for at least four years.

How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?

It seems to me that there is a considerable increase in attention to social and economic factors and less attention to political, diplomatic, and military aspects than was usual in earlier years.

What is your favorite history-related saying? Have you come up with your own?

There is no good answer to the first part of this question. The statement that I have found occasion to utilize rather frequently both in class and after public lectures is to remind the audience that others make decisions and choices on the basis of their view of the past and hopes for the future, not the views of either the student or listener or myself.

What are you doing now?

I try to keep up in my fields, occasionally give lectures, keep in touch with former students, and work on my memoirs.  

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