Pioneering History on Two Continents - June Alum of the Month

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Jill Kruidenier
June 10, 2014

Our June Alum of the Month is Dr. Bruce F. Pauley (Vienna, 1957-58), an award-winning historian, retired professor, and author. Raised in Nebraska, Pauley earned a B.A. from Grinnell College, an M.A. from University of Nebraska, and a Ph.D. from University of Rochester. He was also a Fulbright scholar in Graz, Austria, in 1963-64.

Pauley’s impressive career includes more than 40 years as a history professor at several U.S. colleges and universities and multiple awards and distinctions for his research, teaching, and books. He has traveled extensively and returned to Austria many times to do research and give guest lectures.

His sixth and latest book, an autobiography titled Pioneering History on Two Continents, will be available for purchase later this month at a 20% discount via Potomac Books, Inc. Read on to learn how Pauley’s passion for international education has shaped his life and even inspired Chapter 6 of his autobiography.

IES Abroad: You mention in your newest book that you heard about IES Abroad from a friend at Grinnell.
Bruce F. Pauley:
I heard that he had been in Vienna the year before, and he happened to have a little brochure containing a general description of the program, a list of courses, and the costs. I got excited about that, took it to my parents, and talked to them about it. They were open to the idea immediately; fortunately, both of my parents were internationally minded.

They were strongly in favor of me going for just one semester, but I finally won the argument [of studying abroad for a longer time]. I thought that I would have a better chance of learning German if I were there for a full year. I was already thinking in terms of becoming a college history professor.

IES Abroad: Why Vienna?
I went there in part because it was so close to communist countries. I thought, I want to be some place that’s just a little bit dangerous, a little bit extra exciting. It was an especially fascinating place to be from a political point of view at that time.

IES Abroad: How did your year abroad have an impact on you?
The year had a profound influence on my life and career. I had already been to Europe with my parents and had fallen in love with Europe and European History, but I knew very little about Vienna. Vienna turned out to be so fascinating, and I learned all about its empire and multinational past.

I think my experiences there has made me sort of a model of what international education can do for a person, and I don’t just mean professionally—although it had an enormous impact in what field I would choose and being able to use German from the get-go.

What I think so many Americans lack is an ability to see the United States as other people see us. If you’ve never been exposed to another country you can’t imagine that there is another point of view and way of life. That’s what a liberal arts education is all about. You’re not just reading about in a book or hearing about it from your professors, but you’re living it.

IES Abroad: How did you immerse yourself in the Austrian culture?
BP: The fact that IES Abroad lined me up with an Austrian [roommate], the nephew of Paul Koutny, Walter Siegl, was just a gift from the heavens—one of the best things that ever happened to me. He invited me to spend Christmas vacation with his family. (Walter Siegl later had a distinguished career as an ambassador in the Austrian Foreign Service; I was able to visit him twice in Moscow, once in Belgrade, and several times in Vienna.) There was also some sort of international club in Vienna that I went to that was mostly Austrians. I also frequently attended concerts, operas, operettas, movies, and dances.

IES Abroad: It’s obvious not only you benefited from your year in Vienna, but likewise your family and the students you’ve taught.
I’ve constantly been able to refer to places that I’ve visited, people that I’ve interviewed, show them slides that I have taken. This makes history so much more alive for students than if you just recite something that you’ve learned in a book.

Recently, I said to my granddaughter, Alena, who just graduated sixth in her class of 600 from the best high school in Nebraska: “When I look back over my life,” and I’m 76 now so there’s a lot to look over, I ask myself, “What has characterized my life?” And then I said, “It’s a love of adventure: wanting to do new things…exciting things. Not just do the same thing over and over again.” And she said, “That’s what I want.”

IES Abroad: What advice would you give current college students who want to study abroad?
Try to figure out a) where your abilities lie and b) where your passions are. Hopefully those will be the same or intermesh. Even in today’s difficult times, if you’re really good at something and you’re passionate about it and you’re willing to put in the time, chances are you’re going to be successful. The common denominator is an ability to stick with long-term projects and not be discouraged. No matter what, you better like what you’re doing. I think a year or semester abroad helps you make that decision. You will discover what you’re interested in.

IES Abroad: What are the three main themes in your latest book?
1. Importance of Dates in a Person’s Life
I was born at a time that made me way too young to fight in World War II, too young to fight in the Korean War, and too old to fight in the Vietnam War. By being born in 1937, I avoided a lot of problems.

In 1955, when I started at Grinnell College, schools were hurting for students. It made it easy for me to get into college. Same for graduate school. On the other hand, when I got out of graduate school in 1964, students were flooding into undergraduate schools, and colleges and universities were desperate to hire new professors. So the job market for professors was better in the mid-1960s than it ever was either before or since in history. This was all due to my having been born at the right time.

2. Adventure
My ancestors were very adventuresome to go first from Germany as pioneers, invited by Catherine the Great to settle in the Volga river valley area. A little more than a century later, they became pioneers again on the Nebraska frontier. That’s where the title comes in, Pioneering History on Two Continents. Its intended to have two different meanings: that my ancestors were pioneers on two continents, and I’ve pioneered history on two continents, pioneered as in delving into new subjects that had not been explored before or had not been adequately explored.

3. Hard Work and Just Plain Luck
Sometimes, people are very lucky. I was very lucky to have parents who were interested in international education. I was very lucky to have an Austrian roommate when I was in Vienna.

IES Abroad: In addition to your travels, what’s next? Any future books on the horizon?
BP: I don’t know. (Laughs) Usually what I do after I finish a book is some general reading for a time. I really haven’t made any definite decisions. Right now I want to just enjoy the fruits of my labor for a while.

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