By Suzanne Bowness
As Donald Trump stepped into office, he manifested the latest evidence of a new wave of populism that seems to be sweeping the world. To help people educate themselves on the origins and development of this tide, Carleton History Prof. Jennifer Evans and collaborator Lisa Heineman at the University of Iowa have started a project called the New Fascism Syllabus which aims to collect and curate news and academic articles on populism.
The project was inspired by similar activist-scholar initiatives, including the Charleston Syllabus and Ferguson Syllabus projects that crowd-sourced readings around the topics of racial violence after incidents in those cities.
Evans’s initiative includes the syllabus, a closed Facebook page with more than 400 followers, and a Twitter handle @NewFascSyllabus. It also incorporates an existing blog Thehistoryinquestion.com, which looks at online civic opposition to the populist far right in Germany and North America.
“Through the act of collecting, curating, and making public this sampling of news media sources that analyze the Trump moment through an historical lens, as an American phenomenon but also as part of a global populist turn, we are hoping to provide tangible opportunities for discussion and debate in the classroom and beyond,” says Evans.
At least part of that debate will happen in the collaborators’ own classrooms. Heineman is teaching a course that looks at how the radical right took power in Germany in 1933, and will borrow from the syllabus for a unit on how historians use their studies of past fascism to understand contemporary events. Evans will offer a third-year lecture course next winter called Themes in Transnational History: Populism. “I’ll explore how contemporary parties and groups re-write history in the service of their own political goals. The end result is to provide students with a skill set to be able to navigate current events critically, with the lessons of the past,” she says..
While Trump provides a current hook for the courses, Evans emphasizes that she expects the conversations to go beyond America. “This is also a global issue, which forces us to ask bigger questions about how authoritarian language, attacks on juridical democracy, and exclusionary forms of patriotism and nationalism gain broad-based appeal. It forces us to think about the conditions that allow such ideas to gain traction.’’