New Faculty Spotlight
Welcome Jeff Eden!
We are so pleased to have Assistant Professor Eden join The History Department. Geraldo Cadava, Professor of History, Wender-Lewis Teaching and Research Professor, as well historian of the US and Latin America, takes a moment to interview new faculty member, Assistant Professor Jeff Eden, historian of Russia and Central Asia (Ph.D from Harvard University, 2016).
Image: Prof. Jeff Eden cuts into Genghis Khan cake during Cakes and Classes Winter 2023!
Jeff Eden (Ph.D., Harvard, 2016) is a historian of Russia and Central Asia. His books include God Save the USSR: Soviet Muslims and the Second World War (Oxford, 2021), Slavery and Empire in Central Asia (Cambridge, 2018), and Warrior Saints of the Silk Road (Brill, 2018). Before coming to Northwestern, he was Pandion haliaetus (Seahawk Honorary) Assistant Professor of History at St. Mary's College of Maryland, and before that he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University's Society for the Humanities. He is currently working on two book projects, one about the Pugachev Rebellion in Russia (1773-1775) and the other about the Caucasus during the Second World War. At Northwestern, he teaches classes on Russian, Central Asian, and global history. Links to some of Eden's articles (etc.) can be found on this website.
How did you get into Russian and Central Asian history, and why do you take your particular approach to those fields?
I got into Central Asian history as an undergrad, thanks to a class about Central Asian music. Ten seconds of a Kazakh lute master shredding on the dombra (two-stringed lute) was all it took. You know that feeling when you try a food that's new to you and find a blend of flavors you've been waiting for your entire life? It was kind of like that. Soon after, I started taking Uzbek classes with an inspiring man named Kagan Arik. My first voyage outside North America, a couple years later, was a trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan with my friend Patrick Baron (now an epidemiologist who lives in a beautiful Central Asian-style yurt in the Carolina mountains!).
Tell us about your academic travels that have landed you at Northwestern.
It was a long nerd-odyssey! I grew up in the northwest Baltimore suburbs, went to undergrad in Hyde Park, and fell in love with Chicago. I moved up to Edgewater after graduation, flew off for grad school the next year, and spent the next decade nostalgic for the city. In the intervening years I lived in Indiana, Massachusetts, upstate New York, and back home in Maryland-- all very great places in their own right, but Chicago has a unique & incredible charisma that can't be replicated. And unlike most places, being a nerd is actually considered cool in Chicago. Well, not cool, necessarily, but more acceptable. Anyway, in my last years of grad school I moved back to Baltimore to be with my wife Ashley, who is a fellow Baltimoron. (Baltimore people can only marry other Baltimore people-- that Law is in the Bible.) After graduation I stayed in MD, teaching as an adjunct at UMBC and U of MD-College Park. I loved the students and the universities; I didn't love the adjunct salary or the job market hustle. I'm still salty about it, to be honest. In retrospect, though, it was relatively smooth sailing after that: the next year I got a postdoc at Cornell, and the year after I got a tenure-track job at a beautiful place called St. Mary's College of Maryland, where I settled for the next four years. Ashley and I bought a house in Alexandria, Virginia, had a most wonderful Virginian baby (William, AKA Raffy), and expected no further plot-twists. Until suddenly, one day, a fateful & very auspicious job ad appeared...!
What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
Students say the darndest things, and the smartest things, and the most original things. It's fun to hear them figure out things they didn't realize, but it's even better hearing them figure out things that *I* didn't realize, which happens more often than I'd care to admit. My favorite thing besides flapping my jaws at them is simply listening to them like a fly-on-the-wall when we have student-led exercises ("pretend I'm not here!").
And wow, you’ve written a lot, and on a lot of different topics: religion, slavery, war, and other topics. What are some of the threads that connect your various projects?
The main reason for the diverse projects is that I have the attention span of a goldfish. It turns on and off like a strobe light, so I tend to have a lot of different projects going at once. I try not to talk about projects-in-progress, though, because jinxing is an ever-present workplace hazard in our business.
What are you working on now?
Friends don't jinx friends!