I’m a historian of the left in Europe and the Global North, and I analyze the development of radical ideologies, social movements, and emancipatory politics from the 19th century to the present. Currently I’m a visiting researcher in the Department of History at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where I’m on a postdoc fellowship funded by the Volkswagen and Mellon Foundations. Prior to that I was a postdoc and lecturer in the Humanities Program and Department of History at Yale University. I received my Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley.
My current book project is called New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition, 1920-1970. In it argue that the New Left activism sweeping across the Global North during the 1960s actually drew on the radical precedent of interwar antifascism. During the crisis decades of the 1920s and ’30s, eccentric left militants in Germany, France, Spain and elsewhere rejected the bureaucratic party structures of Social Democracy and Communism. They wanted to create a new kind of left politics free from the party form and sensitized to modes of oppression in everyday life. By analyzing the historical process by which “new lefts” emerged out of “old lefts,” this book identifies the patterns of militant behavior, forms of organization, and recurrent theoretical problems that constituted the phenomenon of neoleftism. The remarkable case of one German organization called New Beginning shows how not only generational conflict, but also frustration at the institutionalized left gave rise to neoleftist small groups on the margins of mainstream politics. These antifascist and anti-authoritarian avant-gardes made the last century’s most creative attempts to transcend capitalism. Today’s activists in Antifa, Podemos, or Occupy Wall Street face the same challenge as past generations of neoleftists: how to sustain the radical novelty of a grassroots movement without succumbing to hierarchy, centralized leadership, and banal political routine.
I’ve also started a new research project on the subversive metaphor of “the underground.” Beneath the surface of everyday life lies a substratum of clandestine deals, conspiracy, and crime. During the era of industrialization, people in the West began to imagine society as a hierarchically layered structure — and the dangerous classes lived below. In 1819, the German publicist Joseph Görres transposed social fears into a political key when he warned of a Jacobin “fire that burns underground.” This project explores the spatial imagination of resistance to oppression from the early 19th century to today’s dark web.
My work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Aeon, The Point, H-Ideas, H-Diplo, The Historical Journal, Modern Intellectual History, and New German Critique. Download my CV here.