20 November 2023

A Passion for History and Politics

What makes us passionate about what it is we study, or even, passionate enough to dedicate our lives to our studies? Professor of International History and Politics and head of the Interdisciplinary Master in International and Development Studies (MINT) programme, Davide Rodogno shares what made him dedicate himself to the study of international history and politics, first as  a graduate student, and then as an academic.

I am an alumnus of the International History and Politics department of the old Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales. As a graduate student, I was driven by the desire to know more about Italy’s history and politics, the country my parents had left in 1990 in order to seek a brighter future. I started a Master's in 1994 and a PhD project, completed in 2000, on the history of fascism and more specifically Fascism’s European occupations. Being in Geneva and at the Institut meant my focus was on international relations.

Among other events, the early 1990s were tragically marked by the Yugoslav Wars. I could easily connect the events I studied as part of my  PhD with contemporary events. From 1940 to 1943, Fascist Italy had brutally occupied vast parts of this country from Slovenia to Croatia, from Serbia to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Studying military occupations entailed learning not only on the history of Italy but also on the history and politics of the Balkans. More broadly speaking, military occupations were, then as now, a controversial international practice.

Through my studies, I could better understand what was going on in the Middle East, another region that greatly interested me in the 1990s, at the time of the Oslo agreement and the first Intifada. In fact, through the study of fascism and its occupations in Europe, I acquired keys to make sense of current international politics.

History connected me to the epoch I lived in. Thanks to the professors of the International History and Politics department, I could connect the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to the history of anti-Semitism and the history of the genocide of European Jews. Racism and anti-Semitism, colonial and imperial history became centres of interest that have remained with me until the current day. The interest in the history of genocides and massive violations of the most basic human rights, eventually, brought me to the history of the Armenians and sparked my interest for Ottoman history.

When I started my PhD, I had not imagined an academic career. I saw myself working for an international organisation or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I knew, however, that the PhD was providing me with tools that I would later use in whatever professional career I would undertake : critical thinking, the management of long-term projects, commitment and perseverance in the face of adversities were invaluable skills that would serve me well.

Right after earning my PhD, I worked for the World Bank.  Out of academia, I understood that  my passion  for history and politics was greater than I had previously realised,  with its unparalleled flexibility and creativity in study, not to mention the intellectual freedom it offered.  And so I returned to academia.

Throughout the 1990s, humanitarian interventions were a highly debated international practice; studying their history and politics, their legal, political and moral history was a leap that made sense for me. After contemporary military occupations, I could move back in time and study another controversial international practice. Without being fully aware of it, I was connecting further dots: learning Ottoman history meant deepening my knowledge of the history and politics of contemporary Near- and Middle-East, of the Balkans and of the Mediterranean. Issues related to human rights and their massive violations, conflicts, political violence, massive forced displacements, the so-called ‘exchange’ of populations between Greece and Turkey became new centres of interest, passionately so.

And, again the leap from humanitarian interventions to international humanitarian aid programs made sense. I became interested in the history of humanitarian organisations, NGOs, and philanthropic foundations, their visions of the world and practices from relief & rehabilitation to development programs, their visual politics, and back to colonial gaze, civilizational posture and racism.

What am I interested in now? I have a growing, quite irresistible passion for the history and imaginaries of fears…  a theme I am starting exploring now as a passionate, absolute beginner.

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International History and Politics

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Discover what it's like studying for a Master or PhD in International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, with Jussi Hanhimäki, Chair of the International History and Politics Department.