I am an Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Penn State Altoona. Tending towards the comparative and transnational, my research focuses on the movements of people and diseases around the world.
In 2020, my prize-winning dissertation was published as a book titled Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age, with Cambridge University Press. This work was supported by the German Historical Institute-Washington DC, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the Religious Research Association, the Mennonite Historical Society, and the University of Iowa.
My current research project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: A Cultural History of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe,” compares the cultural impact of the “Spanish” flu across ten European countries using 1,000 first-hand accounts of those who survived it. This work is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, where I am serving as a Marie S. Curie Junior Fellow during the 2020-21 academic year.
Book: EXILED AMONG NATIONS
PRAISE FOR EXILED AMONG NATIONS
“Based on archives in five different countries, Eicher develops an exciting story of diaspora in the age of imperialism.” ~ Stefan Rinke, Freie Universität Berlin
“Exquisitely written, ambitiously conceptualized and thoroughly researched.” ~ Royden Loewen, University of Winnipeg
“A masterful analysis of the collective narratives of two highly-mobile Mennonite groups.” ~ Marlene Epp, University of Waterloo, Ontario
“Rich in detail and wide-ranging in its theoretical ramifications.” ~ Stefan Manz, Aston University, Birmingham
Exiled Among Nations compares two groups of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia. One group was composed of voluntary migrants and the other was composed of refugees. The voluntary migrants traveled from Imperial Russia to Canada in 1870, and from Canada to Paraguay in 1927. The refugees traveled from Soviet Russia to Germany in 1929, and from Germany to Paraguay in 1930. Settling next to each other in Paraguay’s Gran Chaco, the voluntary migrants established the Menno Colony and the refugees established the Fernheim Colony. Although the groups shared the same language, religion, and ancestry, they refused to associate with each other for nearly two decades. This book explains why.
History is a story, and even if two stories share similar reference points, the lessons people draw from them can be vastly different. So it was with the Mennonite colonies. Owing to the groups’ different migration routes, their contrasting statuses as voluntary migrants and refugees, and their divergent beliefs about God’s plan for their communities, the groups negotiated radically different relationships with the Paraguayan government, Germany’s Nazi government, and aid organizations in Germany and North America. They also provided different levels of support for Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932-1935) and pursued different relationships with indigenous Paraguayans.
The Menno Colony viewed modern governments’ nationalizing efforts as a new chapter in an old story of “worldly” institutions threatening to undermine their loyalty to God. Alternately, Fernheim colonists viewed the rise of modern nation-states as part of God’s unfolding plan to integrate humans into national communities.
Exiled Among Nations contrasts these dramatic case studies to shed light on how migrants and refugees negotiate loyalties to domestic and foreign governments, aid organizations, co-religionists, and other mobile populations. It also shows how mobile populations use (and abandon) national, religious, and racial identifications to aid their movements.
Reviews FOR EXILED AMONG NATIONS
Current Research: "The Sword Outside, The Plague Within"
My current project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within” is the first cultural study of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Europe. It is also the first study to compare average Europeans’ understandings of healthcare during the pandemic, their notions of what caused the disease, their perceptions of the flu as a global event, and the experiences of both urban and rural survivors.
Accompanied by common strains of bacterial pneumonia, the 1918 flu sickened over a billion people and killed upwards of 100 million individuals worldwide. Notably, the pandemic occurred amidst Europe’s increasingly urbanized and “rational” social landscape, and in the final months of a global war that had already taken the lives of twenty million people.
The project draws on nearly 1,000 flu survivors’ testimonies, from across ten European countries, to understand Europeans’ impressions of healthcare and disease at the beginning of Western medicine’s “golden age” and amidst the aftermath of the First World War. Using quantitative analysis for qualitative interpretation, it describes the experiences of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, and across a range of professions, from nurses and professors to milkmaids and gravediggers.
“Comparative Narratives: Russlanddeutsch Migration Stories.” In Jenseits der “Volksgruppe”: Neue Perspektiven auf die Russlanddeutschen zwischen Russland, Deutschland und Amerika [Beyond the “Volksgruppe”: New Perspectives on Russian Germans between Russia, Germany, and America]. Edited by Victor Dönninghaus, Jannis Panagiotidis, and Hans-Christian Petersen. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017.
“Diaspora Hermeneutics: Mennonite refugee narratives between the World Wars.” In New Perspectives in Diasporic Experience. Edited by Connie Rapoo, Maria Luisa Coelho, and Zahira Sarwar. Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2014.
“‘Our Christian Duty:’ Piety, Politics, and Temperance in Berne, Indiana, 1886-1907.” Indiana Magazine of History 107, no. 1 (2011): 1-31. (Winner of the Thornbrough Prize for best article of 2011).
Review of European Mennonites and the Challenge of Modernity over Five Centuries: Contributors, Detractors, and Adapters. Edited by Mark Jantzen, Mary S. Sprunger and John D. Thiesen. North Newton, Kansas: Bethel College, 2016. For Mennonite Quarterly Review, 2017: 283-285.
jpe14 (at) psu (dot) edu
Smith Building C129D, Penn State Altoona
3000 Ivyside Park, Altoona, PA 16601