Dr David Motadel is an Assistant Professor of International History at the LSE. He joined the Department of International History in September 2016. He works on the history of modern Europe and Europe’s relations with the wider world. He teaches several courses in the department, namely HY116: International History since 1890, HY322: Nazi Germany’s War and HY471: European Empires and Global Conflict. Dr Motadel’s recent publications include Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (Harvard University Press, 2014) and Islam and the European Empires (Oxford University Press, 2014).
He has kindly answered a few questions about himself and the place of History in his life:
Where do you come from?
I was born and raised in Germany. I studied history in Germany, Switzerland, and England. I completed my MPhil and PhD at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and subsequently became a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
What first inspired you to study history?
My parents. When I was a boy, my mother would read me stories on winter evenings by our fireplace in my hometown Detmold, a small medieval city in the heart of Germany. She mostly read fairytales, the stories of Andersen, Bechstein, Hauff, the brothers Grimm and others (after all, Germany is the country of fairytales!). My mother is a captivating reader, telling stories with a gentle, though at times chilling, voice that can make the bravest shiver with fear. I listened to tales of bandits, witches, dwarfs and dark forests. The books, some of which had been read to my grandmother by her mother, were also physically intimidating – heavy, old, with yellowed pages. In short, her readings by the fireplace had a significant effect on me. It was there where my love for good stories began to develop – and that is, I think, what history is all about: creating powerful narratives that help us to better understand the human condition.
What false preconceptions do people have about history?
Many people think that history is a dry and dusty subject; quite the opposite is true, of course – history is not only crucial for our understanding of the present, but often also entertaining.
Where do you do most of your work?
In the library, in the archive, and in my study.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Archival research. There is nothing more rewarding than finding unknown documents that shed new light on the past. Holding a fragile, old, long-forgotten paper in your hands feels like holding a piece of hidden history.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
The solitude during the long writing processes.
What is the best part of teaching in the Department and the part you enjoy least?
The best part of teaching are the discussions with my students in class. Our department has some of the world’s brightest students, and I frequently learn from them - the very best often make me revise my own views on history. The part of teaching I enjoy least is marking.
What’s the best thing about working at the LSE?
The cosmopolitan academic atmosphere. And the intellectual intensity.
If you could give your younger student self some advice, what would it be?
What is your favourite fiction book?
Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I also enjoy reading campus novels, from C. P. Snow to Philip Roth.
How do you like to relax?
I love the London opera, concert and art gallery world, which provides so many possibilities to relax. I also often relax during walks from my home in Cambridge to Grantchester, a small village nearby. In the summers, you can have tea in the gardens of The Orchard – a tea house. Some of the greatest minds have relaxed there – Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s a good place to clear your mind.
What one thing don’t your students or colleagues know about you?
It’s better they don’t know, so it’s also better I don’t say here.
What do you think will be the next big discovery in your field in the next 10 years?
In history, discoveries are usually not moments, but developments. The most important development in the field of modern European history will be, in my view, the attempt to interweave European and world history. While historians have long looked at the history of Europe and European countries in isolation from the outside world, more and more scholars now seek to globalize modern European history – to explore exchanges, connections, and interrelations with the wider world. This will ultimately help us to look at European history from entirely new angles, and indeed redefine the field. My work is part of this research trend.
Personal Website: www.davidmotadel.com