If one were to ask what got Professor Chandler Rosenberger (IGS/LGLS/SOC) interested in international frameworks, he would blame a lot of it on Harrison Ford. “Indiana Jones. When I was a kid, watching Harrison Ford running around the world and leading this adventurous life got the 10 year old in me excited. The most interesting thing for me as a student had been comparing different societies and realizing that not all societies are alike. Plunging in and seeing the world through their eyes is just an amazing experience. It’s almost like watching the most elaborate 3-D movie you can imagine if you immerse yourself in the mind of another society and really understand,” he said.
Rosenberger is the chair of Brandeis’s International and Global Studies Program. This week, the program is undergoing its routine five-year review. Although not a full department, the program offers a major and minor and requires one semester of study abroad. One of the most diverse programs on campus, IGS cross-lists about 180 different classes throughout different Brandeis departments. “Our big challenge now is to make our curriculum as coherent as possible … We need to look carefully at how many of these classes are really comparative in the way we want. Are there classes that don’t meet these criteria, and are there new classes we should be developing?” Rosenberger said.
As an undergraduate at Dartmouth, Rosenberger was the executive editor of the college newspaper, doubling as an on-campus freelance writer for The New York Times. Out of college, he got a job at Massachusetts’s Springfield Union News. Nine months into his stint on general assignment, he moved to Germany to teach English and learn German. Soon after, he went to Oxford to study philosophy. At the height of the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, he found himself serving as a representative for a network of philosophers to Czechoslovakia. “The organization I worked for, the Jan Hus Foundation, helped the dissidents as they reorganized everything: political parties, newspaper — the stuff of civil society,” he said.
He then got a fellowship from the Institute for Current World Affairs, which really kicked off his European travels. “They supported me to travel around Central Europe for several years and write about it. I wrote for the Institute and for a lot of magazines as a freelance reporter. I hit about every country in Central Europe on that tour, spending a lot of time in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Northern Italy. It was incredible,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger recalls interviewing Radovan Karadžić, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Also known as “the Butcher of Bosnia,” Karadžić is currently on trial for genocide and war crimes. “I went to his armed compound, went through the metal detectors and dealt with his minions and body guards. At the end of the way through was a sad, self-pitying little man sitting at a conference table looking out at a city he was bombing (Sarajevo) and telling me about what a victim he was, and how the whole world was against him. The self-pity was such a key element of the murderous tyrant’s makeup. There he was, raining down death upon a city where you could literally see the puffs of artillery, and he was the victim.”
Rosenberger returned to the United States and went to Boston University to work on his Ph.D. with the prominent sociologist expert on nationalism Liah Greenfeld. For his Ph.D., he built off his own experiences in Central Europe and wrote about the cultural background of political dissent in Czechoslovakia. He then began work in the BU president’s office for a while, and then started to teach. He wanted the independence to focus on the topics that most interested him, which was not as possible to do as a reporter. “I have a sense of what a war feels like, what a huge protest looks like, what it looks like when a government falls. I have a personal feel for all that stuff, but you don’t have any time to think when you’re reporting … There’s a depth of cultural analysis, a sustained interest in a topic that’s very hard to do in journalism as opposed to academia,” he commented.
Then Rosenberger arrived at Brandeis. The IGS program needed full-time faculty, and Rosenberger went for it. “I liked it because it’s multidisciplinary … It seemed like a big intellectual smorgasbord,” he said.
When asked to describe IGS to the non-initiated, Rosenberger stated, “It’s a major where we try to learn lessons about societies by comparing them continually … International relations is a division of political science. It’s a very important part of what IGS does. We add that to other dimensions of society. Societies are cultural, our societies are organized around different ideas of what the good life is, and that’s a cultural phenomenon.”
Rosenberger would like to be able to get back to writing soon. He has a book he is finishing, and he also has a sabbatical coming up. “My personal fascination is with Alexis de Tocqueville and his prophetic ideas about how democracy can become illiberal, how it can slide and how populism can become a platform for dictatorship. There are similarities between that and popular nationalism. I think that someone like Putin is a figure out of Tocqueville’s nightmares,” he said.
Although not a bullwhip-wielding, Nazi-fighting professor of archeology, Professor Rosenberger certainly has had his share of international adventure and worldly academia worthy of his childhood hero.