The History Channel

With my book manuscript finally turned in to the publisher, I can once again begin to rejoin the human race and catch up on other things -- such as this woefully untended blog space. Hopefully I'll be able to post more frequently here in the coming months.

For today, just a brief thought:

Some of my colleagues in SIS appear regularly in the news media commenting on current events and policies. They write op-eds about contemporary situations, do research and produce books and articles recommending specific policies to be followed in the present, and generally use their academic positions as vantage-points from which to critically apprehend the contemporary world. hence it is little surprise when they are tapped by CNN, the New York Times, and the like.

Me, on the other hand: my big media break (if one can call it that) a couple of weeks ago was taping an interview for an episode of Deep Sea Detectives, a History Channel program in which the hosts dive on mysterious shipwrecks and then spend the rest of the hour trying to figure out how the wreck came to be where it presently is and the like. The wreck in question for this episode was the German merchant ship Das Reich, sunk in 1940 with some measure of American involvement (one American ship kept the Germans from escaping, while another fed precise targeting data to the Dutch or Danish ship that performed the actual sinking). So the hosts wanted to interview someone about the meaning of "neutrality" in 1940, and try to figure out why the United States would have been involved in such an event before war had been declared. So they called me, because I know a thing or three about American foreign policy during this time-period, and it says so in the AU Experts Guide.

The great irony of being a professor at a policy school, but being asked for an interview about a historical subject, does not escape me. No one seems to care that my work on postwar German reconstruction has some implications for the present; they prefer to ask me about history. Not that I mind overmuch, since I am generally reluctant to give policy advice or to assume (somewhat naively, I'd say) that past conditions will simply continue into the future largely unchanged and that therefore the experience of past policies and strategies will provide a clear guideline applicable to the present. But it's odd. Most of my colleagues are far more likely to be consulted on other matters, which underlines my position on one wing of the general field of endeavor called "International Relations" -- just not the wing that gets to appear on Oprah to talk about contemporary Islam, or on CNN to help explain contemporary transatlantic relations.

But for basic cable historical programs, I'm your guy.

Oh, and yes, we did end up discussing Hitler quite a bit, which is appropriate for the network often satirized as "The Hitler Channel" given its extreme reliance on WWII topics. The show is set to air 30 May, if you're interested in seeing my big television debut :-)

[Posted with ecto]

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