International History and Politics
21 September 2023

From Geneva to St Andrews: Alumnus Becomes Senior Lecturer

Geneva Graduate Institute alumnus Dr Bernhard Blumenau has been appointed as Senior Lecturer in International History and Politics at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Dr Blumenau earned both his master's degree and his PhD in International History and Politics (IHP) from the Institute, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Today, Dr Blumenau looks back on his decade with the Institute and discusses how his experiences changed his life's trajectory.

Tell us about your time at the Geneva Graduate Institute. What did you study? Who did you study with?

I spent nearly a decade at the Institute. I began my Masters in International History and Politics 2006, when it was still the Institut de hautes études internationales. During my first year, it merged and became the Graduate Institute. After completing the two-year Masters program, I continued on to pursue a PhD in International History, working on international efforts against terrorism in the 1970s. Following that, I spent another three years at the Graduate Institute as a postdoc working on a project led by Jussi Hanhimäki, who also served as my PhD supervisor.

What is your most valuable experience from your time at the Institute? What is the most important thing you learned? 

It's difficult to single out one specific experience as the most valuable. Undoubtedly, having a student cohort that represented a diverse international mix was a remarkable aspect. Certain classes (and parties) often resembled a scaled-down version of the United Nations General Assembly. While the lectures and seminars imparted crucial knowledge that is often still relevant to me today, it's perhaps the personal connections and friendships I've forged that I consider the most invaluable takeaway from my years at the Graduate Institute. As for the most significant lesson I've learnt, it was certainly the global perspective on history that I found particularly captivating. Having previously studied in Germany, historical education there predominantly centred around German experiences and issues. In contrast, within the IHP department, I found a much broader, more diverse, and more expansive expertise.


Tell us about your career path after graduation. Was it what you expected as a student? Was it helped by your time at the Institute?

My time at the Institute certainly influenced my future career trajectory. When I arrived in Geneva, my initial goal was to enter the German diplomatic service upon completing my Masters. However, while conducting archival work for my dissertation, I discovered a genuine passion for this type of research, and this prompted me to pursue a PhD. My doctoral thesis primarily revolved around diplomatic efforts during international terrorist crises and conventions. It was partly because of my research — going through thousands of pages of reports from diplomatic agents —  that I came to the realisation that the day-to-day work of a diplomat might not really be what I wanted to do in the future. I also worked as a Teaching Assistant during my PhD and liked this job. As a result, since I enjoyed both research and teaching, I made the choice to continue my career in academia. My professional journey has indeed diverged from the path envisioned by my younger, slightly more naive self in 2006, but I am very pleased with the way it has unfolded.


You are currently a Senior Lecturer in International History and Politics at the School of International Relations and the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at the University of Saint Andrews. What does your work entail?

In the UK, a university role typically encompasses administrative duties, teaching, and research. My teaching primarily focuses on the history of terrorism and international efforts against terrorism as well as classes on German foreign policy, all of which are areas of interest I've been working on since my PhD. I am affiliated with a Centre that offers its own Masters programme in Terrorism and Political Violence and I teach Masters students, both in-person and online, in our distance-learning track. Moreover, I lecture on research methodologies, particularly archival research, and cover topics related to German foreign policy for our undergraduate students within the School of International Studies.

Regarding my research, I'm currently working on three distinct fields of enquiry. Firstly, I'm continuing my work on international antiterrorism efforts while concurrently developing a new project that explores how insights from historical negotiations in this domain can inform present-day negotiations on issues such as climate change or pandemics. Secondly, I'm in the process of writing a book that delves into the extensive history of state terror, tracing its roots back to the Middle Ages, including periods such as witch hunts and the Inquisition. Lastly, I'm researching German foreign policy, with a current project that contextualises the significant shifts in policy that followed the 2021 Ukraine invasion, epitomised by the term Zeitenwende, within the broader historical patterns of German foreign policy traditions.


What is the most enriching part of your career thus far? 

I believe there are two key aspects that truly stand out for me: the first big perk of my job is the opportunity to work with very smart people all the time — both students and colleagues — which makes for stimulating and thought-provoking discussions. Secondly, I can predominantly focus on topics of my own choosing, ones that genuinely intrigue me. There are few jobs that grant you this level of freedom.

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International History and Politics

Situated in the heart of international Geneva, the International History and Politics Department is ideallly positioned to monitor and examine the making of international policies and the global history that stands behind them.