JOHN EICHER

About

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. It has since received book prizes from Penn State and the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. This project 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: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe,” compares the cultural impact of the “Spanish” flu across ten European countries using over 1,000 first-hand survivors’ accounts. 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 served as a Marie S. Curie Junior Fellow during the 2020-21 academic year.

Book: EXILED AMONG NATIONS

PRAISE FOR EXILED AMONG NATIONS

“In richly textured prose… Exiled Among Nations [is a] tour de force of archival research and theoretical rigor… that will speak to scholars of modern history across specializations.” ~ Brandon Bloch, University of Wiscon-Madison

“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. 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.

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"

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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 50-100 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 over 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.

Publications

BOOKS

“The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe.” Currently in progress.

Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

  • Winner of the Dale W. Brown Book Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, 2021.
  • Winner of the Fred Allen Womack and Frances Sue Zimmerman Womack Book Award from Penn State Altoona, 2021.

BOOK CHAPTERS

“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.

SCHOLARLY ARTICLES

“Rustic Reich: Nazi Impressions of South America’s German-Speaking Enclaves.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 60, no. 4 (2018): 998-1028.

“A Sort of Homecoming: The Mennonite Refugee Crisis of 1929.” German Studies Review 40, no. 2 (2017): 333-352.

““Every family on their own”?: Iowa’s Mennonite Farm Communities and the 1980s Farm Crisis.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 35 (2017): 75-96.

“‘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 Emma Lou and Gayle Thornbrough Award for best article in the Indiana Magazine of History, 2011.

BOOK REVIEWS

Review of Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era. Benjamin W. Goossen, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017. For Church History, 2019: 273-275.

Review of Martyrs Mirror: A Social History. David L. Weaver-Zercher. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. For Conrad Grebel Review, 2018: 94-96.

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.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

“E Pluribus Turkey.” In These Times, December 2013.

“Cultivating Transcendence: Art, Worship Music, and the Church.” Mennonite, December 2011.

Links

Contact

jpe14 (at) psu (dot) edu

814.949.5242

Smith Building C129D, Penn State Altoona 

3000 Ivyside Park, Altoona, PA 16601