Saturday, August 27, 2016

Books: Interview with expert historian Christopher Berg


We are fortunate to introduce Christopher Berg on the blog today, who is a writer and an expert in History! We invite you to read on to find more about his exciting background and work.

Christopher, can you tell us a little about you?

I’m from the United States and my educational background includes an undergraduate degree in Medieval and Renaissance studies, advanced degrees in Religious studies and Comparative World history, and a doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching.  My teaching includes all areas of history with majors-level courses in modern Europe and military history, as well as the humanities and world religions.

Wow, that's impressive. I love history, too, it can teach us so much. Tell us about your book.

The book is a collection of essays I wrote on various aspects of the British empire. Generally, they look at specific moments in time, such as the creation of the Boy and Girl Scout movements in sub-Saharan Africa, through the lens of “empire” and “imperialism.”

That sounds very interesting and a different look at this time period. What's your target audience?

The book was written as a popular history, so that it would appeal to a wide readership. The narrative resembles more of a story line rather than a dry retelling of events that are standard fare in many historical studies. The content does not presuppose a level of familiarity with the topic; in fact, necessary background information is often woven into each short essay to make the reading more accessible and, perhaps even, enjoyable. This book would make an excellent companion to a majors-level course in British history but would, no doubt, be beneficial to anyone interested in transnational themes, such as international history and the rise and fall of empires.



I'm sure the book is very enjoyable! Why did you choose to write a book with this subject, though?

When I was a graduate student, certain courses were only offered on a rotation basis and one of the courses I had wanted to take for some time was open when my own course load was light, so I took “Great Britain and the British Empire” as one of my exit courses.  It was undoubtedly the most difficult course of my graduate career as the reading and writing loads were unlike anything I had ever taken before. But, this course, and the professor who taught it, pushed the boundaries of what I thought was humanly possible, or even desirable, and it led to a period of intellectual growth I had not experienced since my time at New College. Much of the content for this book was produced, in preliminary form, during this time.

That shows how a teacher can influence learning so much! And now you're spreading your love of history and making it accessible for all. Is there a historian that you think that has influenced you?

Several come to mind but only a few have really influenced my own educational and professional path and the way I see the world. Will Durant, in his Story of Civilization, showed me the lofty heights of good style and prose.  The first volume I ever read of his award-winning multi-volume work was The Renaissance and it profoundly influenced the way I see history and how I try to communicate it in my own writing.  If there is one historian who rivals, or even surpasses, the grand style of Gibbon it would be Durant. Daniel Boorstin’s trilogy on civilization, too, is one of my favorites to read as it blends the best of academic and popular history.  Boorstin’s The Seekers is one of my favorites as it was the first to introduce me to a number of topics outside of Western Civilization as well as cultivate an appreciation for good quotes.  Niall Ferguson is one of the few living historians that continue to influence the way I see the world; his award-winning book The Pity of War was not read once, but twice, as it was on the syllabi of two different courses I took in grad school. Ferguson has become quite an intellectual luminary for his conservative and, often, contrarian positions on economics, history, politics, and the rise and fall of nations. He is particularly relevant today because he uses the past as a measure and standard for the present but also as a means to discern the future. And, if you’ve never seen him speak or debate, I encourage you to do so because you’re promised a stimulating tour de force on the intersection of history and current events.

Thanks for the suggestions. History lovers will be thrilled! What made the British Empire, in your opinion, stop being an Empire?

Winston Churchill’s vision during World War II was to not only survive the war and the Nazi threat, but also to maintain, if possible, the grandeur of the empire. He had grown up during the Victorian age at the height of Britain’s empire and imperial position. But, as an aged prime minister, Churchill saw that the empire had slipped the grasp of the British and in order to make it through this ordeal, they would have to relax their positions towards their colonial brethren. This was especially so in Africa and India. World War II, essentially, brought the end of the British empire and, in the post-war world, a new balance-of-power emerged with new superpowers and a new wave of paranoia in the dawn of the nuclear age. Britain would not play a key role and would be resigned to focusing on social and welfare matters at home. Two world wars had crippled continental Europe and Great Britain; the only vestiges of the empire remaining reside in historical memory and in the title of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

I'm learning a lot with this interview! Are there any other subjects that interest you?

Ancient and medieval history, in general, and military history, in particular, are my favorites. One of the problems of attending university in the United States is that you must have a good idea of what you want to study and then specialize and declare majors/minors but I never did so until the last minute when the matter was forced upon me as I just couldn’t bear to pass up a class because it wasn’t in my specialty. I still feel that way, even now. I earned a degree in Comparative World history mainly because the scope of my program was too diverse to “fit” in any other major at my university.  

That's true. There are so many interesting courses to take. What are you working on now?

I’m presently completing my dissertation on World history education in public and private schools and how teachers negotiate historical significance intellectually and instructionally in the classroom. 

I hope you will write more books on history. Where can we find out more about
you and your work? 

My website is christopherberg.org and I have author’s pages at Amazon.com, Ancient History Encyclopedia and Historical Quest online.You can read about my books at www.quest-publications.com

Thank you so much for spending some time here letting us know more about your work and your book! We wish you lots of success and keep making history available to all! 

For more about Christopher's work, visit: 




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