H-Diplo Essay 280- Charles S. Maier on Learning the Scholar’s Craft: Reflections of Historians and International Relations Scholars

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H-Diplo Essay 280

Essay Series on Learning the Scholar’s Craft: Reflections of Historians and International Relations Scholars
16 October 2020

H-Diplo Memories

Series Editor: Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii

Essay by Charles S. Maier, Harvard University,  "Maier, Charles S." <csmaier@fas.harvard.edu>

The editors of H-Diplo have asked me to set down some recollections of early days in the historical profession, now over a half-century ago.  I have so far resisted such temptations since work on the next article or book has usually seemed more urgent than indulging in autobiography, indeed still does.  Still, perhaps there is a case to be made that memories of half a century ago will seem as instructive to younger scholars as the (n+1)th essay.  I began to feel at the final department meetings I attended that our last service as historians was to become an archive after we had spent our career feeding from them.  Although, caveat lector, the recollections are fragmentary and subjective…but as historians we know that already.

So let me briefly describe the education of a historian c. 1954-1967 and then the early professional steps, 1967-1980. I always had a curiosity about the Euro-American past from Mediterranean Antiquity on; it was present like a blank slate waiting to be filled in, at least with political events.  My uncle, who otherwise had little interaction with me, gave me the 1942 edition of Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager’s New-Deal inflected history of the United States; for some reason my parents also had a multi-volume chronicle of world history published by an American veterans’ group.  Their bookshelf also held Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Hendrik van Loon’s Story of Mankind, and as a come-on offer from the Book of the Month Club, the many thick volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Mankind (“Courage, Dear Reader: we near the End”). There was also literature, generally forgotten today, that introduced historical backgrounds: most memorable for me, Howard Fast’s Freedom Road whose then surprising version of Reconstruction prefigured authors I encountered only much later, such as W.E. Dubois, John Hope Franklin, and C. Vann Woodward.  As a Scarsdale High-School student I developed an interest in European current events and bought Theodore White’s Fire in the Ashes, about the early years of postwar Europe; also books on cold-war policy—not realizing how ideologically laden they were—such as Robert Strausz-Hupé’s cold-war plaidoyer, Protracted Conflict, and the young Henry Kissinger’s Nuclear War and Foreign Policy, which suggested that small tactical nukes had their virtues.  I had a wonderful teacher for both European and American AP history: Dorothy Connor who had learned her history in the Progressive tradition, knew a huge amount, and was enthusiastic about imparting it.  I remember reading in her course an early work of legal realism, Fred Rodell’s Nine Men, and other writing on the Court.  David Hall, the dedicated historian of the Puritans, was also her student two years ahead of me and we both went on to Harvard.

I was always interested in politics, and high school years were the years of Joseph McCarthy, whose Scarsdale followers in the Committee of Ten sought to purge the town library and defended us all from being indoctrinated by the Pearl Primus modern dance troupe, while the Westchester County American Legion sought to savage Miss Connor for letting us listen to “The Investigator,” in the after-school political discussion club.  (That wonderful spoof of McCarthy, smuggled in as a vinyl LP from Canada, has since been reissued by The Smithsonian Institution.).  They were also years when one of the high school math teachers, active as a Boy Scout leader, committed suicide after being arrested in New York City apparently for frequenting a male pick-up site.  We Boy Scouts, who spent much of our weekly meetings practicing marching for the Memorial Day parade, were mobilized to search the woods where his car had been found.  Only with years of distance did awareness of the constraining structures of the 1950s sink in. 

As an adolescent in a secular Jewish family, I had the dissonant formative experience of being sent by the American Field Service to a family in Bonn, Germany for a long summer in 1955, finding them warm and congenial though reluctant to talk about what I wanted to know, antisemitism and the loyalty inspired by the Third Reich; and I began the long and halting process of learning German, to set beside the French that had been offered since sixth grade in my public elementary school.  Those two languages each happily found their own separate storage area in my brain, as did Italian (acquired after college graduation) although it tended to crowd out high-school Spanish.  I audited two summer-school Russian courses; the grammar did not seem any more difficult than the German, but I let it lapse, and I have only this current semester enrolled in a course to get my reading into a bit more serviceable shape.  Subsequent forays into Portuguese and Dutch have been conducted like scouting missions—relearned when needed, abandoned when not.  Perhaps it is apt to say they remain on-line, rather than downloaded.  What seemed to peers and teachers when I was beginning a career as an impressive armory of languages is today a rather mediocre arsenal compared to that of the students I’ve been privileged to have and who have humbled my knowledge. But I’ve always retained the prejudice that without the capacity to read, and preferably to chatter in a couple of foreign languages, we are not equipped to absorb the breadth of human experience we need as historians.

College (once I had opted for Harvard rather than Yale in part because the local Yale interviewer advised me to take a fifth year of secondary school) compelled a choice: would I major in history or in physics and math?  I spent half of my freshman year doing physics and an accelerated course in calculus.  But I learned that I did not really ‘see’ the relationships or get the equations quickly enough; I would always be mediocre at best, and I liked the history I tasted freshman year: David Owen’s lively lectures in Britain since 1815.  I also dropped in on other lectures, including one on the ravages of the boll weevil in Frederick Merck’s final semester of teaching American (white) expansion and sectionalism.  So I shelved my math and science, although I have tried to keep abreast of some developments in an amateur way and this last semester exploited retirement to learn a bit of linear algebra.  Frankly, I have always had physics envy; math and science seem to require real intellection and not the packrat accumulation of fact and interpretation that history does.  But I’ve done the latter relatively well and do not have the gifts for the former, just as I have never had them for chess or music—which I love as a consumer.  

My major efforts in College were devoted to the Harvard Crimson on which I served as Executive Editor and for a while as Editorial Board Chairman.  Journalism tempted many of the Crimson executives who went on to distinguished careers at the New York Times and elsewhere, but somewhere around junior year I decided that I liked historical rumination about the long term more than either news reporting or editorial writing, although I still recognize a kinship in the efforts and greatly respect those who have worked in the borderlands between journalism and history, such as Neil Ascherson,  the late David Halberstam, or George Packer,  just to name a few.  John Clive, a Trollopian intellectual historian of Britain, who had left Berlin as a kid in the 1930s, was a resident tutor in my undergraduate house at Harvard and encouraged the academic option as did the House Master and my junior-year tutor, John Conway.  Senior year, I buckled down on an undergraduate thesis under the direction of Arno Mayer, an inspirational teacher who would be called to Princeton shortly after.  Arno was just publishing the book that would be retitled as Wilson versus Lenin,[1] and the “primacy of domestic policy”—pioneered in the 1920s by Eckart Kehr and resumed by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in the 1960s—beckoned as a lively subfield. When I came to Arno and mentioned an interest in Weimar, he prodded me by asking whether I wanted to write just another melancholy story of the death of the Republic and suggested instead that I look into a German pacifist group whose publications were in the New York City public library, the Bund für Freiheit und Vaterland.  I found them just too deprived of any real political influence to interest me and chose instead to work on one of the last Foreign Secretaries of the German empire, Richard von Kühlmann, interweaving his inconclusive and unsupported efforts to negotiate a way out of impending defeat with the current ideas of Max Weber, Friedrich Meinecke, Hans Delbrück, and others. 

I went off in September 1960 on a year’s fellowship provided by Harvard to St. Antony’s at Oxford (John Clive’s recommendation) to read with James Joll, mostly on the history of European socialism and other ideological currents.  It was a rather desultory academic experience, although I browsed widely and learned Italian, and I became very fond and respectful of Joll, who was immensely cultivated in music, literature, and the arts.  I learned to distinguish his comments on my essays between the “very good,” which meant good, and the “quite good” which meant rather marginal.  I used my time to listen to occasional lectures or occasional seminars—Sir Isaiah Berlin holding forth on political romanticism while we sat at his feet in All Souls’ or Iris Murdoch and Bertell Ollman discussing the concept of alienation. 

And I continued the courtship of Pauline Rubbelke, who had won a Fulbright to LSE.  We had fallen in love with each other on the Harvard Crimson junior year although until she had finished her competition and was elected to the paper I could not legitimately ask her out.  We were lucky to be able to negotiate our academic lives in proximity in that post-graduate year, travelled to France, Germany, and Italy in the long vacations, and we resolved to return to Harvard together for graduate study in history –American for her, European for me.  We were married on the last day of spring term in Oxford 1961 and began a week’s honeymoon in the west of England, then spent another month travelling via Berlin and Warsaw through Russia from Minsk and Smolensk, to Moscow, Novgorod, and Leningrad, adding two friends to help us with the driving of my new Peugeot 404, which was my parents’ wedding gift. It was the period of Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’; tourism was easier and freer, Intourist had established camp sites with pitched tents and some plumbing near each of the major cities for about $2.00 per night, and it was a great experience.

The first year of graduate school back at Harvard was rather disappointing.  Except for the graduate seminar in each semester, there were no particular courses in European history designed for graduates.  One followed undergraduate lecture courses, almost all of which were organized according to chronological segments of national history, to prepare for a two-hour oral general exam, normally undertaken at the end of the second year.  The ‘generals’ required preparation in four fields, one of which for Europeanists had to be in early modern history, another in medieval or ancient history.  Second year was devoted largely to ‘reading courses’ in the fields one selected for examination:  some were organized with biweekly pro-seminars, as was Stuart Hughes’s on European intellectual history; others consisted of rather casual occasional meetings with one’s future examiner.  Happily, the Department did institute a more structured graduate curriculum a few years later after the university was shaken by the events of 1968-70, but my years in graduate school—at least for those of us in modern European history—saw the height perhaps of what might be called laissez-lire instruction.  On the other hand, as the department moved to relax the spread in time and space required and to allow for more boutique and negotiated examination fields, I sometimes have regretted the narrowing of mastery that took place.  But realistically speaking, graduate cohorts then and now really learn their fields when they began instruction in courses.

As for the first year, my later adviser, Franklin Ford, was on leave during 1961-1962; I chose Stuart Hughes’ lectures on Italy in the century since 1860, Charles Taylor’s coverage of medieval France, and Mack Walker and Fritz Ringer’s jointly taught lectures on early modern Germany.  I selected a seminar offered by Reginald Phelps which focused on Bavaria in the Weimar Republic.  Phelps, who was dean of the graduate school, devoted his scholarly work to the early National Socialist movement, and I spent a semester in the basement of the library reading the records of the Bavarian Landtag to produce a paper on the Bavarian People’s Party: hardly a thrilling subject but good for learning the crises of Weimar.  Still by late fall I was becoming rather depressed by the experience.  However, in the spring semester, I crossed departmental lines to take the young Stanley Hoffmann’s course, in effect an ideological history of modern France, which proved the most stimulating intellectual experience of the first year.  Then in my second year I enrolled in his new seminar course on ‘war’—an exciting mélange of history, theory, and political analysis from Antiquity to the present.  Professor Hoffmann asked me to serve as one of his teaching assistants the following year when he converted the seminar into what would become a classic lecture course.  Eventually we ended up co-lecturing on the history of post-war Europe in the 1980s and working together at the Center for European Studies, which he and Guido Goldman, a year ahead of me as a graduate student in the Government department, had the entrepreneurial and intellectual vision to organize. 

Pauline found her intellectual inspiration a bit earlier than I did.  She had concentrated in American History and Literature as an undergraduate, studied the history of the Labour Party during her year at LSE, then returned with the intention of focusing on late nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. reform movements with Oscar Handlin.  Professor Handlin, who emerged as increasingly conservative in many respects as the university went into turmoil, had a huge reservoir of knowledge and always original insights.  Despite political differences he remained a friend and in effect a patron for both of us throughout our early years in the department.  The rotation of courses, however, led Pauline to take Bernard Bailyn’s seminar in early American history in the spring of our first year; and that formative experience reoriented her specialization to the period of the Revolution, which provided the basis for a lifetime of wonderful scholarship. 

Of course, the input of fellow students in the same crucible—all of us at times insecure, sometimes competitively edgy even as we became close companions—is perhaps the real contribution of the graduate years.  Among the future Europeanists in my class I was close with Dan White, who worked then on German liberalism in the late nineteenth century and had a career at SUNY Buffalo, the late Franz Nauen, who seemed to know German Marxist theory intimately and ultimately taught intellectual history at Haifa, and Stephen Schuker, who worked like me on the international relations of the 1920s with a focus on France, and was a brilliant archival researcher, as was another of Franklin Ford’s students two years ahead of me, Gerald Feldman, who was immensely helpful in guiding me when I went off for archival work in Germany in 1964-65. I remained close to Gerry until his death of lymphoma at age 70, although it took work to preserve friendship once the ‘David Abraham affair’ roiled the field of German history in the first half of the 1980s.  Pauline’s circle—especially Professor Bailyn’s students both earlier and later—Gordon Wood, Stanley Katz, Michael Kammen, and Mary Beth Norton, just to name a few—enjoyed a special and perhaps less fraught bond.                   

Harvard provided light guidance but allowed intellectual autonomy.  While taking the prescriptive courses, I tried to advance my knowledge of economic theory and political philosophy, which had always interested me.  And I became determined not to remain exclusively focused on German history.  I was indebted to Franklin Ford for letting me take on a comparative history topic on stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy after World War I.  After generals there followed a year of my doing library research and ‘grading’—TAs graded then or did small-group tutorial but sections, if provided at all in lecture courses, were left to instructors and assistant professors.  (Assistant professors, however, were largely barred from teaching seminars even when the senior professors went on leave.)  The next academic year, 1964-65, supported by a new Social Science Research Council (SSRC) fellowship for comparative European research, we moved from Germany, to France, to Italy, and back to Germany.  While I was researching at the Koblenz Bundesarchiv and East German Staatsarchiv, Pauline used the fall months to work in the British Public Records Office, which was still in the center of London, for her thesis, which became her first book From Resistance to Revolution.[2]  We converged in Paris in December to be together and to await the birth of our first child, Andrea, who arrived in February 1965 and was then taken off to Rome by April.  That experience was itself an education: ‘prepared childbirth’ with a midwife as well as an obstetrician (who had been trained in New York), the curious remedies of French pediatrics, the innovation of ‘Milton,’ a British powdered baby-milk one could mix while travelling along with the new disposable bottles that did not need sterilization, and paper diapers, the confusions in Rome of explaining to passers-by that the tiny infant—Che carina! Come si chiama?  È maschio o femminuccia?—was a girl despite being named Andrea…anyway she survived, along with her eventual two siblings.  Harvard was not always easy on women:  although Professor Bailyn later felt that Pauline was one of his best students, the Department tended to give me the larger annual fellowship.  The somewhat imperial Harriet Dorman, the long-serving Department Secretary, unconsciously or not, communicated the implicit gender guidelines as clearly as the professors.

We returned in the fall of 1965 to a graduate-student society much further to the Left than when we had left.  The significant escalation of America’s involvement in Vietnam took place while we were abroad, and political engagement had become intense.  As a ‘tutor’ once again, I was anxious to complete the dissertation by the end of the academic year in which we had returned to Cambridge, since there were job offers from Princeton and Harvard.  But this proved impossible.  I was also tutoring; so the dissertation work took me through the fall of 1966, and I started my instructorship in the spring of 1967.  I was allowed to begin my actual teaching—participation on one of the introductory surveys and a small conference course on the history of rightwing and fascist movements—which then seemed so safely in the past as not to threaten any contemporary relevance.  Pauline accepted a position a year later at the new campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, which, counter to her justified trepidation about being relegated to a local school so that Harvard could retain her husband, she was enjoying tremendously. (This was in the period before positions had to be advertised openly and professors often placed their students with a phone call to colleagues at a suitable school.).

The real cost of my project, however, was that having reconceived my dissertation both in terms of explanatory framework and in the years covered to develop a book, I would require eight years to get it into print as Recasting Bourgeois Europe. What I realized in retrospect was that my own historical motivation was changing from early curiosity as to what had happened in the past as to why and how change had occurred—or just as tantalizing, failed to occur.  My own research was being provoked or at least moved along by a series of riddles often prompted by current developments.  As the 1960s yielded to the 1970s it seemed important to discern how an earlier period of radical turmoil had yielded to political stability.  Over later decades the provocations and the riddles have changed but have also tended to arise from current preoccupations—bitter disputes over the causes of the Cold War, the non-monetary reasons for severe inflation, German controversies over the Holocaust, the peaceful collapse of European Communist regimes, my own country’s motivations for hegemony.[3]  But the challenge for me has been to address these developments not merely as current puzzles demanding a short-term account, but as responses to long-standing conflicts of values and interests.  At present I am trying to rewrite twentieth-century history in light of our democratic distemper, so distant at first glance from the happier outcomes that others and I, too, discerned after 1989.[4]

In the 1960s and 1970s I also wanted to refine comparative methods.  In what ways were political developments alike or not alike?  For the book, rather than focus on visible parallel structures, e.g. rightwing political parties, which varied immensely from country to country, I needed to ask how hierarchies were restored through the fusion of economic and political bargaining being referred to by Philippe Schmitter and later many others as “corporatism” or neo-corporatism.[5] Another hint was provided as I took note of the curious appeal of Taylorism and Fordist mass production—so supposedly quintessentially American an achievement—for anti-liberal groups on both the far Right and Left in post-1918 Europe.  This puzzle led to my first substantive article, published in 1970, “From Taylorism to Technocracy,” and from there to exploring how notions of productivity and economic growth reemerged in the 1940s and 1950s to serve as America’s response to Communist ideology (“The Politics of Productivity,” 1977).[6] Many historians have elaborated these issues since, but I like to think I helped to open them up.

But since I was not able to show sufficient progress on the book as I was approaching the end of my five-year term of employment, the History Department decided in the fall of 1971 that they could not or would not wager on its timely completion so declined to promote me to the next academic level, the new non-tenured associate professorship.  Various personal factors perhaps intervened as well; meritocracies don’t always operate with transparency.  My closest intellectual association and warmest encouragement at that time came from David Landes, the economic historian, who had arrived only during my year abroad.  After my assistant professorship expired, I taught two years in the Social Studies Department and served as a junior academic dean (‘senior tutor’) in the residential ‘house’ for undergraduates where I had lived as a student.  I enjoyed that experience—our Senior Common Room included such notables as “Jack” Rawls and Judith Shklar—and meanwhile I underwent the painful process of looking for another position.

From my work in Stanley Hoffmann’s seminar and later I developed close relations with political and social scientists: among others, Suzanne Berger, Philippe Schmitter, John Goldthorpe, Peter Gourevitch, and from an older cohort, Alessandro Pizzorno and Albert Hirschman.  By the mid-1970s we would develop a close circle of colleagueship through the Center for European Studies and a bit later in the Joint Committee on Western Europe sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and SSRC—part of the high tide of Area Studies. These experiences encouraged multidisciplinarity and compelled enlargement of the historian’s agenda.[7] In thinking back on them I realize that they also have persuaded me that true scholarly disciplines each retain a hard core of their own.  History, after all, remains a particular straddle of the humanities and the social sciences by its insistence on sequences in time and path dependency as major explanatory factors.  Post hoc is not propter hoc, but for the historian there can be no post hoc without propter hoc

Still, when the return of narrative became chic again in the 1980s, I became concerned that the slogan would become an excuse to retreat from the intellectual venturesomeness of the previous decade or two.  International history, of course, became a major battleground, and a well-wrought diplomatic history narrative has always won my respect.  Diplomatic history has the same virtue as a good mystery novel: a focus on discrete causal development through time with every country at least initially a suspect in some lethal prelude or outcome.  I also modified my early enthusiasm for expositions based on the “primacy of domestic politics” since the state system seemed to impose its own game-theoretic logic on national actors.  The best international histories, such as Paul Schroeder’s and Paul Kennedy’s or the late Zara Steiner’s and Ernest May’s, to name just a few, take account not only of decision-making but the systemic constraints and reverberations that entangle multiple actors.  I ventured into American international history, surveying cold-war controversies in 1970, helping Averell Harriman with a memoir, and later ruffling some feathers when in 1980 I stressed and possibly exaggerated the discipline’s stagnation in the essay “Marking Time,” for the AHA’s survey of American historical writing.[8]

My years on the job market were not easy—finding a position at the tenured level was perhaps (until the recent collapse of entry-level positions) the most difficult of the job levels to negotiate.  The difference is that now my department seeks to mentor its faculty hired at the opening level so that they can make tenure, and perhaps half do, whereas the expectation at ‘elite’ universities then was that only a very few might ascend the ranks without interruption but the rest of us would easily find employment in a grateful peripheral institution.  On the other hand, the profession has now managed to add the chasm between ladder and precarious contracts at the entry level to the cleavage between tenure and non-tenure appointments.  There were many moments of intense discouragement.  As time was running out at Harvard there were flirtations from Chicago, Michigan, Johns Hopkins, Brooklyn College, Pennsylvania, and MIT—but no offers.  Some believed I would never finish my study; others, even when I could show the galleys, saw no niche for the work. 

Comparative history seemed a poorly understood venture; I was always asked whether my countries weren’t more different than they were alike.  Specialists in each of my countries’ history sometimes felt that while I knew the other two, I hadn’t quite penetrated that of their own.  I remember Professor Donald Fleming, Harvard’s American intellectual historian, telling me in the friendliest fashion (we were always on good terms, and he was fond of Pauline as well), that I might indulge myself with comparative history at my stage, but “when I grew up,” I would become a German historian.  I survived the year 1975-76 with a fellowship at the then remarkable Lehrman Institute in New York and a guest semester arranged by Hans-Ulrich Wehler at the still venturesome University of Bielefeld.  Since the early 1970s I had developed close intellectual and personal relations with the remarkable new generation of West German historians—particularly Wehler and Jürgen Kocka, but also Hans Mommsen and others.  Colleagueship across borders—Patrick Fridenson in France, Mariuccia Salvati in Italy, and Adrian Lyttelton, so ineffably English but teaching in Italy, to name just a few of my now sunset generation—has remained one of the enduring satisfactions of my scholarly life.  As a non-national colleague, moreover, I was able to retain friends from across their own politically divided ranks.

In the end, after Recasting Bourgeois Europe appeared in 1975, I was offered a position as tenured associate professor at Duke.  My time at Duke proved as happy a teaching affiliation as I have had during my career.  Four years later, encouraged by Arno Mayer, I submitted an application for an announced professorship of economic history at Princeton.  Princeton’s offer seemed to produce or accelerate some second thoughts at Harvard, once one of the Harvard department members learned of it through his service on the Princeton department’s visiting committee.  Princeton had a wonderful and renowned history faculty, but the chance to cease commuting and settle where Pauline was teaching, now at MIT, proved decisive and I rejoined my former department in the fall of 1981. 

It may be instructive or amusing to record some salary levels:  I began teaching as a Harvard instructor with an annual salary of $7,800 in 1967, went to Duke in 1976 as an associate at $19,000, and returned to Harvard in 1981 as a full professor, at $40,000.  Harvard’s dean fixed my compensation at what Princeton was prepared to offer me at the same time.  Even allowing for subsequent inflation, these were not princely sums.  Nonetheless, I think that I entered the profession in what was a decade of great expectations: a bit of the Camelot mystique hovered over the University as well as Washington.  Social-science inflected history seemed relevant.  In my own field the West European national archives, even the elusive French ones, were opening up fantastic new stores of material on the interwar years, as were many leading industrial firms.  Of course, the reach of the historical discipline in terms of geography and methodological approaches has expanded hugely in the last generation.  Our capacity to empathize with masses of humanity who were hardly taken account of in my own university has also grown.  Forget ‘agency,’ even visibility had to be discovered, or at least rescued from the outer margins of the discipline.  Of course, there were dazzling practitioners of women’s history, environmental history, microhistory, or subaltern studies a half century ago even as I was choosing  to work within traditional frameworks of politics and ideology, violence, statehood, and international society, hoping to renew them with new inquiries.  New fields will always generate excitement from the observers of our guild, but I have always tried to avoid any defensiveness about traditional approaches.  I’ve also resisted the periodic cries of anguish that claim the discipline is in crisis.

When I reflect back on graduate school, it is still hard to say what actually I was ‘taught.’  I felt as if I had been sherry ageing in a cask: despite the lack of outside intervention the elixir poured out after six or seven years was different from what had been poured in.  I hate the word ‘training’ for that process—we should train pets not scholar intellectuals—although apprenticeship may be involved.  The experience has left me with the conviction that the task of graduate teaching must be to provide a plausible model for our students by our own work, and to encourage the abilities and the motivations brought by eager aspirants for a career that is often parsimonious in its material rewards.  That is, most of all: to take our students seriously as younger colleagues and to urge them to take on research that they believe to be truly significant, that will not merely fill a gap, but will transform our understanding of the past.  That, I guess, was what in its laissez-lire approach Harvard had allowed me to do.  I would—even in these dispiriting times—probably do it again. 


Charles S. Maier received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1967 and is currently Leverett Saltonstall Research Professor of History at Harvard University.  His most recent book is Once within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).


[1] Arno J. Mayer, Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917-1918 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), reissued as Wilson vs.  Lenin: Political Origins of the New Diplomacy (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Co., 1964).

[2] Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Ooposition to Britain (New York: Knopf, 1972).

[3] For some of my successive reflections prompted by contemporary developments see, Charles Maier, “Revisionism and the Interpretation of Cold War Origins,” Perspectives in American History, IV (1970): 313-347; Maier, “The Politics of Inflation in the Twentieth Century,” in Fred Hirsch and John Goldthorpe, eds., The Political Economy of Inflation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 37-72; The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988 and rev.ed., 1997); and Among Empires: American Ascendancy and its Predecessors (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

[4] For my contribution to this literature see Maier, Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), but also early on the cautionary essay, “The Collapse of Communism in 1989: Approaches for a Future History,” in History Workshop Journal 31 (1991): 34-59.

[5] See Philippe Schmitter, “Still the Century of Corporatism?”; also the essays, including my own, “’Fictitious Bonds… of Wealth and Law’” in Suzanne Berger, ed., Organizing Interests in Western Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and “Preconditions for Corporatism,” in John H. Goldthorpe, ed. Order and Conflict in Contemporary Capitalism (Oxford: Clarendon Prss, 1984).

[6] Maier, “From Taylorism to Technocracy: European Ideologies and the Vision of Industrial Productivity in the 1920s,”  Journal of Contemporary History, vol V, no. 2 (1970): 27-61 ; and “The Politics of Productivity: Foundations of American International Economic Policy,” in Peter Katzenstein, ed., Between Power and Plenty: Foreign Economic Policy of Advanced Industrial States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978) – originally International Organization 33:4 (1977): 608-633.

[7] Maier, Changing Boundaries of the Political: Essays on the Evolving Balance between State and Society, Public and Private in Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

[8] Maier, “Marking Time: The Historiography of International Relations,” in Michael Kammen, ed., The Past Before Us:  Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association, 1980).