John Eicher


Website Headshot 2020-1

I am an Associate Professor of Modern European History at Pennsylvania State University-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 was supported by yearlong fellowships from the German Historical Institute in Washington DC (2016-17), the University of Iowa Graduate College (2015-16), and the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Free University of Berlin (2012-13), as well as grants from the Mennonite Historical Society (2013), the German Academic Exchange Service (2011), the Religious Research Association (2010), and the University of Iowa.

My current research project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe,” is the first cultural history of the 1918 “Spanish” flu in the European context. This work was aided by yearlong fellowships from the Penn State Humanities Institute (2024-25), the National Endowment for the Humanities (2023-24) and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Freiburg (2020-21), as well as short-term funding from Project House Europe at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (2023), the American Council of Learned Societies (2020), the National Endowment for the Humanities (2020), and Penn State University.



“Based on archives in five different countries, Eicher develops an exciting story of diaspora in the age of imperialism.” — Stefan Rinke, Freie Universität Berlin

“[A] tour de force … that will speak to scholars of modern history across specializations.” — Brandon Bloch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“[It] surprises readers with its broad scope, innovative approach, and irresistible appeal… It deserves a readership far beyond those interested in the history of Mennonites.” — DAAD/GSA Book Prize Committee

DAAD Book Prize
WCGS_BookPrize_2020 Finalist

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 very different. Owing to the groups’ different migration routes, their contrasting statuses as refugees and voluntary migrants, 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 held contrasting views of 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 discard national, religious, and racial identifications to aid their movements. 

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My current research project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe” is the first cultural history of the 1918 flu pandemic in Europe, and the first translocal, comparative history of this critical event.

The project draws on over 1,000 flu survivors’ testimonies, gathered from across ten European countries, to compare how Europeans interpreted the pandemic’s cause and spread and how they placed the event within the context of WWI. My methodology rests on archival research in a searchable database and interactive map of the survivors that I created with the help of seven student researchers at Penn State and the University of Freiburg between 2018 and 2021. 

Beyond its scope, sources, and methodology, the project is significant for its argument and relevance. For instance, my research shows that the flu was largely interpreted as a local event, which enhanced social stability and inhibited blaming minorities and foreigners. I also show that unlike WWI, the pandemic ended individual lives, but it did not significantly alter collective ways of life, which made it easier to accept (and forget) than the war. 

Altogether, I argue that unlike WWI or COVID-19, survivors of the 1918 pandemic did not see their society’s aspirations or failures mirrored in the flu, so they did not remember it as a collective event, despite collective effects on society.

For a discussion of my findings, check out my interview on the “Infectious Historians” podcast (episode #114, August 25, 2023) available on:



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

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


“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.


MCC and Nazi Impressions of Paraguay’s Mennonite Colonies.” Intersections 9, no. 4 (2021): 27-32.

“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.

  • Emma Lou and Gayle Thornbrough Award for Best Article in the Indiana Magazine of History, Indiana University and the Indiana Historical Society, 2011.


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

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


As a 2023-24 NEH Fellow, I created a public humanities lecture series for YouTube titled: “Western Civilization (1500-Present): From Dawn, to Decadence, to Disillusionment.” The series argues that the growth of bureaucracies in “the West” created a world in which abstractions eclipse reality. I explain and explore this argument through the development of what I call the “ABCs” of modern Western history: Abstraction, Bureaucracy and Control. Visit:

Promotional Music Video 

500 pictures of 500 Years of Western History in 5 minutes set to Handsome Furs’ “Repatriated.”

(Age-restricted owing to historic photos of violence.)

Introductory Lecture

A 17-minute summary of the series’ overarching themes and theses.

(Navigate to the channel to view the lectures.)

Professional Links


jpe14 (at) psu (dot) edu


Smith Building C129D, Penn State Altoona 

3000 Ivyside Park, Altoona, PA 16601