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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Elizabeth Weiser

Principal Investigators: Elizabeth Weiser, Associate Professor of English

Questions of national identity are not only political, historical, and psychological, but also rhetorical. Rhetoric examines how symbol systems – text, image, performance – are used to construct national identity, and in turn how that identity influences those who create it.

Perhaps nowhere is the dialogic process for creating national identity more on display than in national museums, the topic of Elizabeth Weiser’s book project. National museums collect, preserve, and display a nation’s most cherished objects to project a national identity to thousands of visitors each year. Squeezed between competing demands to memorialize, educate, socialize, and entertain, national museums are often contested spaces.

Over four years, Weiser visited national museums in 22 countries on six continents to examine how they both shape and reflect the national identity with which visitors are asked to identify. The project crosses disciplinary boundaries between rhetorical theory, public history, and narrative as a tool for social change.

Weiser’s analysis of museum discourse incorporates close readings of museum signage, visitors’ guides, and museum websites, as well as more visual readings of space and display. These museum studies are placed in a context of communal national identity as represented in popular formats.

Of particular interest is the role of epideictic rhetoric, or the rhetoric of praise and blame. Epideictic rhetoric works by selecting part of a community’s past and assigning it a positive or negative role to reinforce communal values and argue for future visions of the nation.

A grant from the Mershon Center allowed Weiser to expand upon the political ramifications of her work with a semester in England and Sweden, working with museum scholars from across Europe in the European National Museums Project, or Eunamus.

This European Commission-funded collaboration developed a common frame for museum scholars to examine the unifying (or divisive) roles of national museums across both Western and Eastern Europe as the continent addresses changing governance, economic instability, and increased immigration. Weiser contributed to the collaborative production of the Eunamus final report and co-wrote its executive summaries and final policy recommendation report.

Weiser then spent the rest of her sabbatical year drafting her book, which covers museums not only in Europe but also North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. No other museum study has such a broad comparative base. With her book largely drafted, Weiser has published four articles from this project since her return.

Gleb Tsipursky

Principal Investigators: Gleb Tsipursky, Assistant Professor of History

Much has been written about politics and diplomacy in the Cold War, but less about its cultural influences and even less about how the Cold War affected culture within the Soviet Union itself.

Gleb Tsipursky fills this gap by exploring the effectiveness of U.S. cultural diplomacy on Soviet grassroots, the impact of western cultural propaganda on Soviet domestic and foreign policy, and how culture shaped Soviet and non-Soviet perceptions of each other.

While mainstream narratives portray Soviet culture as drab, militant and politicized, Tsipursky challenges this notion by examining state-sponsored cultural entertainment for young people during the early Cold War. In 1962 alone, more than 9 million amateur performers participated in a variety of state-sponsored concerts, dances, shows and festivals in a network of clubs.

Tsipursky argues that through these activities the Kremlin was attempting to build a socialist version of modernity as an alternative to the Western model. While this socialist modernity powerfully shaped the Soviet citizenry’s beliefs and values, it was not without controversy.

Many young people expressed a preference for western popular culture such as jazz and rock, while hardliners saw western culture as subversive. This put club owners in an awkward position: If they offered western activities, they risked censure but increased ticket sales. Young people exerted powerful influence by choosing whether to attend or perform at an event.

Tsipursky argues that to secure popular legitimacy for a socialist modernity, Soviet officials had to present an appealing version of Soviet culture: one where people would meaning and joy. His research shows that young people participated enthusiastically in official Soviet cultural activities, questioning the widespread notion that they scorned state-sponsored culture.

This widespread participation places state-sponsored popular culture at the heart of the Cold War, with great significance for policy-making. For example, Tsipursky argues that popular culture of this era shaped the beliefs and practices of the Gorbachev generation, making them more attuned to the West and more likely to seek peaceful solutions to the superpower struggle.

Tsipursky’s research sheds light on current beliefs and practices in Russia. Cold War efforts to build a Soviet modernity convinced many citizens that they live progressive and modern lives as good or better than their counterparts in the West. This attitude has persisted even after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It also helps explain current efforts by Russian authorities to manage youth cultural tastes by sponsoring nationalistic performances by the youth movement Nashi, and repressing protest groups like Pussy Riot.

A grant from the Mershon Center allowed Tsipursky to travel to Russia for archival and interview work, contributing to the last half of his current book project, Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popoular Culture in the Cold War Soviet Union, 1945-70.

Heather Schoenfeld

Principal Investigators: Heather Schoenfeld, Department of Sociology (now at Northwestern)

Whether decrying attacks on civilians in Syria or debating the jailing of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, conversations about global security often invoke the “rule of law.” Legal institutions are the foundation by which people in conflict-ravaged nations rebuild their countries.

Countless private, public, domestic, and transnational organizations, agencies and offices have emerged to facilitate transitions toward the rule of law. Yet such assistance is often executed in an ad hoc manner, without consulting national stakeholders or evaluating the results.

In this project, Heather Schoenfeld seeks to understand the influence of the “rule of law” paradigm on justice-sector reform in post-conflict nations by focusing on one rule of law initiative: the United Nations Rule of Law Indicator Project. Her research will:

  • situate the U.N. Rule of Law Indicators in the larger field of rule of law assistance
  • explore the process by which abstract rule of law principles are put into action
  • evaluate how rule of law indicators influence efforts to rebuild and reform criminal justice institutions in post-conflict nations

Published in 2011, the U.N. Rule of Law Indicators are comprised of 135 measures designed to assess performance, transparency and accountability, treatment of vulnerable populations, and capacity in post-conflict nations. Schoenfeld plans to use these measures to produce the first empirical scholarship on how the “rule of law” paradigm is translated into the institutions that provide domestic security, including police, courts and prisons.

The project will be done in three phases:

  • background research, already done, on how the U.N. Rule of Law Indicators complement or compete with existing ways to measure the rule of law, existing criminal justice assistance projects, and existing U.N. indicators such as the Human Development Index
  • interviews funded by the Mershon Center of key personnel in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Vera Institute of Justice, which developed the indicators
  • site visits to two post-conflict nations that have implemented the U.N. Rule of Law Indicators to assess and monitor their courts and prisons, with application for funding to the National Science Foundation

Schoenfeld’s research will make a critical contribution to sociology, criminology and law by drawing together three strands of scholarship on rule of law initiatives, “indicators” as a form of global governance, and domestic criminal justice reform.

Jennifer Siegel

Principal Investigators: Jennifer Siegel, Associate Professor of History

In the 1870s, Imperial Russia abolished the state monopoly on oil and opened the oil-rich Caucasus to private enterprise. Several companies developed competing refineries, the most prominent of which was run by Ludwig and Robert Nobel, brothers of the chemist, Alfred.

While the Nobel brothers came to dominate the Russian oil industry, they were unable to enter the global marketplace due to a lack of transportation infrastructure. To solve this problem, the Caspian and Black Sea Petroleum Company (BNITO), financed by the French branch of the Rothschild family, built a railroad connecting the Caspian and Black seas, allowing for export. The Rothschilds then established extensive storage facilities and bought BNITO in 1886.

The entry of the Rothschilds into the oil industry transformed its nature. The Rothschilds changed the focus of Russian oil from domestic production to the global market. This spurred companies like Standard Oil to reinvent itself as a multinational corporation and Shell to develop into the most important oil transportation company in the world.

In this project, Jennifer Siegel will write one chapter in the story of the Russian oil industry: the involvement of the Rothschild family from its first collaboration with BNITO in 1884 to the transfer of their holdings to the Royal Dutch Shell Company in 1912.

This project goes beyond state-centered decision making to include non-governmental sources in international finance and the oil industry. A grant from the Mershon Center allowed Siegel to do research at archives for le Banque Rothschild Frères at le Centre des Archives du Monde du Travail in France, as well as the Rothschild Archive in London.

Geoffrey Parker

Principal Investigators: Geoffrey Parker, Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History

In 1988, Geoffrey Parker published his best-known work, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800. In this book, which won best book prizes from the Society for the History of Technology and the American Military Institute, Parker asks how the West, small and deficient in natural resources, came to control over one-third of the world.

Parker argues that four key military innovations transformed European warfare, providing the foundation for the “rise of the West”:

  • mass production of bronze artillery in the late 15th century, enabling a shift from labor-intensive to capital-intensive warfare
  • sailing vessels capable of making long-distance voyages and delivering lethal broadsides
  • artillery fortresses, perfected in the 1520s and spread from Italy to Europe and European possessions overseas
  • volley fire and drill for infantry, introduced by the Dutch Army in the 1590s

While The Military Revolution has garnered interest from a broad array of historians, political scientists, and strategic analysts, it has also been the subject of controversy, including The Military Revolution Debate by Clifford J. Rogers in 1995.

Critics have brought up four points:

  • conceptual: Some believe the process of military change was not a revolution
  • chronological: Some argue these changes took place before or after Parker’s time frame
  • technological: Some say the book is technological determinism
  • geographical: Some argue the revolution did not spread to the areas Parker cites

In this project, Parker is substantially revising his “disputed classic” by incorporating elements of his own research, undertaking new research, and incorporating research by others. From his own research, Parker will add archival data about the birth of the broadside in England, the spread of artillery forces to Ireland and European colonies, and the birth of volley fire in the Dutch Republic.

Support from the Mershon Center has allowed Parker to incorporate new material from research trips to Turkey, Japan, France and Vietnam. He also reviewed substantial research by other scholars on the impact of European firearms in Africa and America in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The book, under contract at Cambridge University Press, will be divided into two parts. Part I, on creating the military revolution in Europe, will cover innovations in land and sea warfare, supplying war, and a new chapter on the culture of war.

Part II, on exporting the military revolution, will cover victory at sea and conquest and colonization using new sources from Africa, Asia and the Americas. An epilogue will compare the military revolution of past centuries to the contemporary “Revolution in Military Affairs,” a theory about the future of warfare tied to information, communications, and space technology.