The Nazi Legacy in the Trump Era: Research, Pedagogy, and Public Engagement

AHA Session 5
Friday, January 3, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Sutton North (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Janet Ward, University of Oklahoma
Geoff Eley, University of Michigan
Atina Grossmann, The Cooper Union
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University
David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Fairfield University

Session Abstract

Ever since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, scholars have vigorously debated how to characterize the rightwing turn in American political life. While some have argued that it is best understood as an expression of “authoritarian populism” or “illiberal democracy,” others have declared that it should be seen as a form of “fascism.” Historians of modern Germany have been especially active in this debate, offering a wide range of views about the extent to which the Nazi past has lessons for the American present.

This roundtable seeks to deepen our understanding of this question by examining the links between Fascism, Nazism, antisemitism, and genocide in German and American history. The roundtable’s participants will focus especially on the challenges that historians face in researching, teaching, and contributing to the public discussions of these topics in the today’s America. These challenges do not just involve issues of history but also memory, as shifting views of the Nazi legacy’s historical significance and present-day relevance both reflect and shape our contemporary political climate.

Geoff Eley (University of Michigan) will start off the conversation by highlighting the merits and drawbacks of applying German historical precedents to American political realities, focusing especially on the conceptual challenges of employing the categories of Fascism and Nazism. Atina Grossmann (The Cooper Union) will discuss how the current political climate has affected the field of Holocaust Studies (both in scholarship and teaching), particularly in regard to the pervasiveness of Holocaust references on all levels and most corners of present-day political discourse. David Myers (UCLA) will address the question of how the Trump administration's policies have shaped the objective realities and subjective perceptions of antisemitism. And Cynthia Miller-Idriss (American University) will focus on transatlantic connections and mutual influences of far-right activists in the U. S. and Germany. In applying their respective scholarly expertise to these important questions, the speakers hope to generate lively discussion and produce new insights about a topic of pressing political relevance. Indeed, in view of the fact that 2020 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, the roundtable is especially timely.

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