#ElliottExpert: Hope Harrison

#ElliottExpert: Hope Harrison

Hope Harrison smiles. She is wearing a white sweater and sitting in a restaurant. Hope Harrison, Professor of History and International Affairs, #ElliottExpert

Hope M. Harrison is Professor of History and International Affairs. She served as Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council for 1 year and was the Director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies for 4 years. Dr. Harrison has written two books about the Berlin Wall and created a 9-part podcast for Audible about the Wall. She teaches courses on Germany, the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and uses and misuses of history in international affairs. Dr. Harrison has appeared on CNN, C-SPAN, the History Channel, the Science Channel, the BBC, and Deutschlandradio. She serves on the board of three institutions in Berlin connected to the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and is the co-chair of the advisory board of the History and Public Policy Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Hometown:  Albany, NY

Program/Institute: Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies

Areas of expertise: Germany, Russia, the Cold War, the Politics of History

Institutions Attended: Harvard and Columbia

Teaching courses this or next semester:  Germany Since 1945; The Soviet Union in the World, 1917-1991; History and its Uses in International Affairs; The International History of the Cold War

What made you interested in your field of study/area of expertise?

I fell in love with Russian literature in high school reading Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. That made me want to know more about culture and politics in Russia. Then in college in a course on Soviet foreign policy I learned about the international crisis that led up to the building of the Berlin Wall. I couldn’t believe that a major world metropolis was divided in two. I was fascinated and wanted to know more about the Wall. In order to tell the story of why the Berlin Wall came to be built, I learned Russian and then German so I could read formerly top secret communist government documents that became accessible after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

Just one?! That’s hard. And it changes over time. My class on Germany certainly has a special place in my heart, since I have spent a lot of time there over the past 30 years. I love exposing students to how Germany developed first when it was divided between the communist east and the democratic west and then how it grew into the powerhouse of Europe since unification 3 decades ago. Germany is also the country in the world that has most directly faced up to its dark past, primarily the crimes of the Nazi period but also the communist past. And they are engaged in confronting their colonial past as well now. The U.S. could learn a lot from the German approach. Russia, however, is a whole other story. It is fascinating to take students on the journey of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and sadly Putin’s war on Ukraine shows that we’re still dealing with the fallout from the 1991 Soviet collapse. This also makes the course I teach on the Cold War incredibly relevant today, since the current conflict between Russia and the West has many roots in the Cold War. I have to say that the course I teach where I consistently hear from many students years later is the one on uses and misuses of history in international affairs. Students email me telling me about pieces in the news that remind them of issues we discussed in class. This is another course that is sadly incredibly relevant today in a world where leaders manipulate historical narratives to suit their purposes, with Putin being just the most bellicose example of this.

If you could have the attention of any head of state for a one-hour lecture, who would you choose and what would you lecture on?

Although I wouldn’t really want to be in the same room with him and think he’s impervious to reason, I would probably try to lecture Vladimir Putin about how Ukraine is a separate country and about how his war is hurting his own country, setting Russia on a serious downward trajectory for decades to come.

What skill/piece of knowledge do you hope students take away from your class and why?

In all of my classes, I hope that students learn to analyze what they read in a sophisticated way; to raise questions about what they read. (Yes, reading is essential!) When I worked at the National Security Council, advising Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush about foreign policy, it became very clear to me that the 3 basic skills I learned as a student and have honed as a scholar and professor are the ones necessary to succeed in the policymaking world and in most careers: knowing how to gather reliable information; to assess that information; and to communicate that information.

What is your favorite dish to prepare at home and why?

I doubt anyone will think this is fun, but my answer is: salmon with green beans and a salad, followed by fruit. Why? Because it’s easy, quick, and makes me feel good–and it’s nutritious!

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The #ElliottExpert profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current professors to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.