John Eicher is an assistant professor of modern European history. His research and teaching focus on the movements of people and diseases around the world.
In 2020, his prize-winning dissertation was published as a book titled Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age, with Cambridge University Press. This work was supported by the German Historical Institute-Washington DC, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the Religious Research Association, the Mennonite Historical Society, and the University of Iowa.
His current project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: A Cultural History of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe,” compares the cultural impact of the “Spanish” flu across ten European countries using 1,000 first-hand accounts of those who survived it. This work is supported by the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Eicher’s book, Exiled Among Nations, compares two groups of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia. One group was composed of voluntary migrants and the other was composed of refugees. The voluntary migrants traveled from Imperial Russia to Canada in 1870, and from Canada to Paraguay in 1927. The refugees traveled from Soviet Russia to Germany in 1929, and from Germany to Paraguay in 1930. Settling next to each other in Paraguay’s Gran Chaco, the voluntary migrants established the Menno Colony and the refugees established the Fernheim Colony. Although the groups shared the same language, religion, and ancestry, they refused to associate with each other for nearly two decades. While the Menno Colony remained isolated from the modern world, the Fernheim Colony proselytized to their indigenous neighbors, aided the Paraguayan government during the Chaco War (1932-1935), received aid from North America and Germany, and endeared themselves to the Nazi Party in Germany. Exiled Among Nations contrasts these dramatic case studies to shed light on how migrants and refugees negotiate loyalties to domestic and foreign governments, aid organizations, co-religionists, and other mobile populations. More broadly, it shows how mobile populations use (and abandon) national, religious, and racial identifications to aid their movements.
Eicher’s current project, “The Sword Outside, the Plague Within” is the first cultural study of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Europe. It is also the first study to compare average Europeans’ understandings of healthcare during the pandemic, their notions of what caused the disease, their perceptions of the flu as a global event, and the experiences of both urban and rural survivors. Accompanied by common strains of bacterial pneumonia, the 1918 flu sickened over a billion people and killed upwards of 100 million individuals worldwide. Notably, the pandemic occurred amidst Europe’s increasingly urbanized and “rational” social landscape, and in the final months of a global war that had already taken the lives of twenty million people. The project draws on nearly 1,000 flu survivors’ testimonies, from across ten European countries, to understand Europeans’ impressions of healthcare and disease at the beginning of Western medicine’s “golden age” and amidst the aftermath of the First World War. Using quantitative analysis for qualitative interpretation, it describes the experiences of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, and across a range of professions, from nurses and professors to milkmaids and gravediggers.
Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
“Rustic Reich: Nazi Impressions of South America’s German-Speaking Enclaves.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 60, no. 4 (2018): 998-1028.
“Comparative Narratives: Russlanddeutsch Migration Stories.” In Jenseits der "Volksgruppe": Neue Perspektiven auf die Russlanddeutschen zwischen Russland, Deutschland und Amerika. Edited by Victor Dönninghaus, Jannis Panagiotidis, and Hans-Christian Petersen. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017.
“A Sort of Homecoming: The German Refugee Crisis of 1929.” German Studies Review 40:2 (2017).
“‘Every Family on Their Own’?: Iowa’s Mennonite Farm Communities and the 1980s Farm Crisis.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 35 (2017).
Eicher’s teaching interests include the histories of modern Germany, the German Atlantic world, modern Europe, European nationalism, European colonialism, European religious cultures, modern Latin America, migration/displacement, race/ethnicity, and disease/public health.
In his courses, students use historical research to develop their discussion, writing, and citizenship skills with the aim of understanding that historical scholarship is a dialogue between scholars, and between the academy and the public. In general, Eicher’s approach to teaching shows students how historians “do history,” even as it prepares them to be engaged scholars and citizens.
- German America: The Largest Minority
- Europe Since 1848
- History of Western Medicine
- Modern Latin America, 1820-present
- Western Heritage II, 1500-present
- Europe in the Age of Nationalism
- First World War: Art, Memory, and the (Re)Making of History
- Germans Beyond Germany, 1500-1918
- History, Mythology, and Narrative
- Holocaust in History and Memory
- Migrants and Refugees in Modern Europe, 1917-2011
- Twentieth-century Europe: The Cold War and After