Dr. Astrid M. Eckert, Associate Professor of History, published West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands with Oxford University Press in October 2019. The History Department recently sponsored a public presentation and conversation about the new monograph with Eckert and Joseph Crespino, Department Chair and Jimmy Carter Professor of History. Over 75 guests attended the event, which is the first of three that the Department will host this year. To learn more about Eckert’s newest work, read the recent written Q&A we published: “New Books Series: Q & A with Astrid M. Eckert about ‘West Germany and the Iron Curtain.’”
Former History major and 2017 alumna Samantha Perlman was recently elected to the city council of Marlborough, MA. Perlman is the youngest woman elected to Marlborough’s city council, and in the election earlier this month she received more votes than any other candidate. Perlman completed a double major in History and African-American Studies at Emory. Read more about the recent election: “After Dogged Campaign, Perlman Is Marlborough’s Biggest Winner.”
The Emory New Center recently published a feature about Dr. Astrid M. Eckert‘s new book, West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands (Oxford UP). The article presents some of Eckert’s central findings, which she will discuss in more depth with History Department Chair Joseph Crespino on Thursday, November 14. Find out more information about the event, hosted at 5pm in the Jones Room, 311 of the Robert W. Woodruff Library, here. Read the full Emory News Center article (written by April Hunt): “Iron Curtain’s consequences still evident for former West Germany.” Also learn more about the project by checking out our recent Q&A with Eckert: “New Books Series: Q & A with Astrid M. Eckert about ‘West Germany and the Iron Curtain’.”
David Eltis, Woodruff Professor Emeritus of History, was recently cited in a Nature article on research tracing the origins of the enslaved on St. Helena Island. Led by University of Copenhagen researchers Marcela Sandoval-Velasco and Hannes Schroeder, the study analyzed the DNA of 20 individuals from St. Helena and concluded that they were likely taken from West-Central Africa, or present-day Gabon and Angola. The piece quotes numerous scholars who see promise in genomic analysis for reconstructing the geographic origins of the enslaved.
Eltis co-founded Slave Voyages, the Emory-based digital memorial and database that collects nearly 36,000 transatlantic slaving voyages. This past summer Slave Voyages was re-launched in expanded and updated form. The Emory News Center featured the new edition here: “Documenting Slave Voyages: Led by Emory, a massive digital memorial shines new light on one of the most harrowing chapters of human history.”
Read the excerpt from the Nature piece that features Eltis below along with the full article: “Genomes trace origins of enslaved people who died on remote island.”
“David Eltis, a historian at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia who co-founded a database that collects information on 36,000 slaving voyages between 1514 and 1866, notes that most people captured in the transatlantic slave trade originated from south of the equator — where a paucity of genome data from modern inhabitants makes it difficult to trace the origins of enslaved individuals with any accuracy.”
“After coming to Emory University in 1979, Professor Mann helped create the Institute of African Studies, which she directed from 1993 to 1996. The Institute is one of the country’s oldest and most dynamic centers of Africanist scholarship. Professor Mann was very active in creating the Women’s Studies Program, now the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Professor Mann was also instrumental in bringing to Emory University the African Studies Association (ASA), the world’s largest organization devoted to the study of Africa, and in creating the nationally-ranked Ph.D. program in African History. Between 2008 and 2011, Kristin chaired the Department of History. A model citizen, Professor Mann has been active throughout Emory University, including the President’s Committee on Undergraduate Education, the Faculty Council, and the University Senate. A dedicated mentor and a meticulous reader, Professor Mann has advised generations of students, at Emory and around the world. The Mann Prize honors her commitment to students, her collegial spirit, and her enduring contributions to African Studies.“
Astrid M. Eckert, Associate Professor of History, published West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands with Oxford University Press in October 2019. Frank Biess (University of California, San Diego) offers the following review of the work: “This brilliant book is a timely reminder of how borders and walls remake the human and natural environments they seek to divide. Deeply researched and deftly written, West Germany and the Iron Curtain is a major accomplishment that is certain to have a lasting impact on the field.”
Below, Dr. Eckert offers a glimpse into the making of the monograph as a part of the History Department’s series on new faculty publications.
Books are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense of the lifespan of this book, from initial idea to final edits.
This book took me eleven years. Of course that does not mean that I engaged with the project every waking hour over those years. There were times of intense immersion during the summers and during occasional leave time; and then there were times when my attention was needed elsewhere and the book project moved to the back burner for a while. What I try to convey to our students is that you really need to be passionate about your dissertation and book project. Given the time such projects take, without a deep commitment and this passion, you would run out of steam. You also need to pace yourself and break down the project into manageable portions. Finally, it helps to remember that everything always takes longer than you think! The production process holds many surprises, from copyright issues for images to staff changes at the publisher’s offices.
What was the research process like?
I visited nineteen archives with records of state and non-state actors. I interviewed a number of people, mostly nature conservationists, and corresponded with a few former East German border guards. At times, I identified relevant interlocutors in the archives or in dated literature from, say, the 1970s and ’80s. In one case, I read an article from 1981 on the re-discovery of the black stork (ciconia nigra) in a certain area of Thuringia (East Germany). Although the piece was very vague on location, I figured out that it must have been close to the Iron Curtain. I contacted the author, and lo and behold, I uncovered the story of how this East German conservationist was called by GDR border guards who had observed a “strange black bird with red feet” in the border area. This might not rock everyone’s boat, but if you are trying to piece together how, exactly, the “hardware” of the Iron Curtain that was placed into the landscape affected wildlife, you live for nuggets like this. In terms of reading, I extended my reach into fields like conservation biology, ornithology, and river ecology. I also read up on nuclear technology for the chapter on a nuclear waste reprocessing and storage facility that the West Germans intended to build right on the Iron Curtain. This obviously does not turn me into a nuclear engineer, but I felt strongly that you need to know the difference between a light-water reactor and a fast breeder, otherwise you can’t explain what’s at stake.
Are you partial to a particular chapter or section?
I love them all because each offers a new perspective on a subject in Cold War German history that many people would have considered to be “settled.” The chapter on tourism to the Iron Curtain has autobiographical roots of sorts. As a high school student, I myself took our French exchange students to the border although I no longer remember why we did this or what they thought about it; presumably it was one of the few things we could do in our rural region that might impress teenagers from Paris. I also like the chapter on transboundary pollution between East and West Germany. Not only is this a staple subject in environmental history and borderland studies, it also allowed me to develop a genuinely new perspective on inter-German relations. Environmental diplomacy has thus far been overlooked in those relations. I point out that the inter-German border was the interface through which West and East Germany encountered each other’s pollution, an encounter that was becoming very asymmetrical over time: during the 1980s the GDR’s infrastructure was in full decline and its decaying industry was literally “bleeding” pollution. West German authorities monitored and engaged East German pollution. I argue that through the evidence of this pollution (the water quality of the Elbe River was so poor that a new classification category had to be invented to describe its pollution level), they were practically handed the evidence of the GDR’s dissolution on a platter but failed to get the message. Still, the negotiations with the GDR over pollution that I address in the chapter generated the knowledge about the causes of East German environmental problems. Only if we take these encounters seriously (although some of them may have looked ineffectual at the time) can we understand the rapid pace of the post-unification ecological restoration in East Germany. To be sure, much of the pollution abatement after 1990 was achieved by switching off the polluter—factories were closed, mines were shut down etc., but I still credit the environmental diplomacy of the 1980s with producing a clear understanding of the challenges and occasionally with generating accurate templates to fix them. Such insight is only possible, of course, if one does not stop analyzing data in 1990 when both countries re-unified. In fact, I found it very illuminating and satisfactory to draw the subject matter of all my chapters well into the post-unification years and at times right into the present.
How does this project align with your broad research agenda?
With its strong focus on environmental history, work on this book has acquainted me with several aspects of this field, namely the history of nature conservation, the history of pollution and environmentalism, and nuclear history. I intend to continue to work in this field with a new project that examines the ways in which one leading industrialized western economy with a high standard of living has related to global environmental resources over time. This new project will probe Germany’s reputation as a “green leader” and presumably show that the paths towards climate-conscious and sustainable practices that it took were serendipitous, contingent, and involved dead ends and unintended consequences.
Dr. Michael Camp, a 2017 alumnus of the history graduate program, recently published his first book, Unnatural Resources: Energy and Environmental Politics in Appalachia After the 1973 Oil Embargo, with University of Pittsburgh Press. Camp is Assistant Professor and Political Papers Archivist at the University of West Georgia. He completed his doctoral thesis, “Greater Abundance: Energy Production, Environmental Protection, and the Politics of Deregulation in the United States after the OAPEC Embargo,” under the supervision of Jimmy Carter Professor of History and Department Chair Joseph Crespino. Read the publisher’s summary of Unnatural Resources below and find more information on the University of Pittsburgh Press website.
“Unnatural Resources explores the intersection of energy production and environmental regulation in Appalachia after the oil embargo of 1973. The years from 1969 to 1973 saw the passage of a number of laws meant to protect the environment from human destruction, and they initially enjoyed broad public popularity. However, the oil embargo, which caused lines and fistfights at gasoline stations, refocused Americans’ attention on economic issues and alerted Americans to the dangers of relying on imported oil. As a drive to increase domestic production of energy gained momentum, it soon appeared that new environmental regulations were inhibiting this initiative. A backlash against environmental regulations helped inaugurate a bipartisan era of market-based thinking in American politics and discredited the idea that the federal government had a constructive role to play in addressing energy issues. This study connects political, labor, and environmental history to contribute to a growing body of literature on the decline of the New Deal and the rise of pro-market thinking in American politics.”