Professor James Ward

Curriculum Vitae

James Ward is a lecturer in modern European history at the University of Rhode Island, having held term appointments at Stanford University, DePauw University, and Queen's University of Belfast. His first monograph, Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia, 1887-1947, is a political and intellectual biography of Hitler's ally Jozef Tiso, a Roman Catholic priest and the president of Slovakia during the Second World War. The work received honorable mention for the 2014 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, awarded by the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2008 and has M.A. degrees from there and the University of Washington. He is also the recipient of several fellowships, including from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Mellon Foundation, the International Research and Exchanges Board, and the Fulbright-Hayes Program.

Research Project at the Kolleg

My current research is a general history of modern expropriation in Central Europe, tentatively titled The People's Property. Framed as a voyage through time and space from Josephist Vienna to Stalinist Budapest, this project investigates a series of episodes of or debates about expropriation. The book's premise is that expropriation has an inner, radicalizing logic that has served as a driver for modernity. During my fellowship at the Kolleg, I will be working on the twentieth-century chapters. 

Current scholarship on expropriation fails to understand it as an integrated modern European process. Individual episodes of expropriation are linked causally and also embedded in core modern European developments, such as secularization, democratization, and genocide. Students of expropriation have tended to focus on individual episodes (such as the despoiling of Jews during the Holocaust), while those few works that investigate connections between episodes (such as in land reform or collectivization) have typically confined themselves to the Twentieth Century. I argue that episodes of expropriation (broadly understood) often facilitated succeeding episodes across the entire modern period. The common antisemitic claim that Jews had enslaved Aryans and Christians, for instance, repurposed the moral logic of nineteenth-century emancipations. In other words, the expropriation of Jews in the Holocaust perversely drew on the expropriation of aristocracy as serf-holders. Liberals had persuasively argued that the ownership of human beings was immoral and justified expropriation, but this then empowered antisemites to allege enslavement as moral capital in pursuit of new expropriation. Works that investigate expropriation as a reflection of changing notions of property indeed capture it better as a modern process, but tend to see it as targeting the thing owned (such as forests) or practices of ownership (such as private property). As my above example demonstrates, however, owners are also a key object of expropriation. The People's Property focuses on this side of expropriation, seeing these attacks (which range in intensity, scale, moral legitimacy, and form) as part of a larger project to transform societies and polities to fit the perceived demands of the modern state, and to probe the boundaries of the sovereignty of the "people" - be they class, nation, or race. My goal is to uncover the diverse and subtle "logics" that linked episodes of expropriation and that worked to radicalize it, both as individual episodes and as modern practice. This trend towards radicalization was disrupted by the rise of a human rights discourse during the Cold War, after which expropriation became less persuasive as a tool for making the people "masters in their own house" and was more commonly understood as a crime against humanity.

Main Areas of Research:

  • Expropriation
  • Political Catholicism
  • Nationalism
  • Mass Violence
  • Collaboration, Resistance, and Retribution
  • The Habsburg Empire and Its Successor States 

Positions and Memberships

  • Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Rhode Island