Dr. Karl P. Benziger

Karl Benziger
Department, Office, or School
Department of History
  • Professor

Karl Benziger teaches courses in American Foreign Policy along with a broad range of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level that accord with his research interests. His publications on Hungarian history and politics were fostered through several Fulbright Teaching Scholarships and a Civic Education Project grant funded through the Soros Foundation. His research and writing are focused on problems of History and Memory, the Cold War, Vietnam and Civil Rights, and History Education. Benziger's current project is entitled, "From the Ashes to the Flame: Hungary, Lost Causes, and the Allure of the Strong State." A complete list of publications, presentations, and grants can be found in his c.v.


B.M., Performance, State University of New York, College at Fredonia
M.A. and Ph.D. New York University

Selected Publications

Karl P. Benziger, "Civil Society and the Resurrection of Strong State Politics, or. ...It Can't Happen Here," in Why History Education? Peter Gautschi, Nadine Fink, Markus Funer eds., (Frankfurt am Main: Wochenschau Verlag) forthcoming, June, 2023,

Karl P. Benziger, "The Strong State and Embedded Dissonance: History Education and Populist Politics in Hungary," Yesterday and Today, 18 (December, 2017).

Karl P. Benziger, Imre Nagy Martyr of the Nation: Contested History, Legitimacy, and Popular Memory in Hungary (Lexington Books: Lanham MD, 2008).

Karl P. Benziger, "The Trial of Lászlo Bárdossy: World War II and Factional Politics in Contemporary Hungary," Journal of Contemporary History, 40, 3 (July, 2005).

Karl P. Benziger, "The Funeral of Imre Nagy: Contested History and the Power of Memory Culture" History and Memory, 12, 2 (Fall/Winter, 2000).​


History 107 (History Gen Ed): "Witches, Aliens, and Other Enemies: The United States in the World"
This course begins with an examination of the deep-set tensions between reason and belief as exemplified by the Massachusetts Bay Colony set in the context of the Atlantic World. Belief systems imported from Europe shaped the colonists understanding of both their environment and the indigenous peoples who occupied land the colonists considered rightfully theirs. The colonists' belief in predestination coupled to an increasingly hostile relationship with the indigenous peoples and an environment beyond their control only fueled their sense of uneasiness and helped lead them to turn against each other in a witch-hunt centered around Salem in 1692. How does this event and its aftermath help us understand the attraction to rational legal law embraced by many in the eighteenth century? The promise of a constitutional state however did not erase Americans occasional unease with reason. The Cold War ushered in a new period of tension that included the ability of those in possession of nuclear weapons with the ability to eradicate humanity. The contest between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their allies was framed not only as a contest for domination of the global system, but for the survival of the human race. Once again, these tensions set off a "witch hunt" for America's enemies within, that cast rational legal understanding of law to the side. How and why did this witch-hunt abate, or did it? Are there lessons to be learned from the past in the political climate that we live in today?

History 201: United States History from the Colonial Period to 1815
Our story begins with the Global context of colonization in which empires struggled with one another for world dominance. How did this story dramatically influence British colonization of North America and set the stage for a chain of events that ultimately led to the establishment of the United States and a political system based on rational legal law as opposed to monarchy? The establishment of the Republic was in many ways incomplete, and political, economic, and social questions left unanswered by the first Revolution would ultimately lead to Civil War. Grand narratives as found in textbooks and politicized accounts of America's early years portray this period as seemingly preordained and always leading to greater progress and triumphs. Leading many Americans to ask the question, who wouldn't want to be like us? But what of those left out of the narrative? Slaves, indentured servants, women, and indigenous peoples played a critical role in this story.

History 218: American Foreign Policy: From Cold War to New World Order
The Cold War set the political and economic ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union in vivid contrast as world affairs that included the development of the former European colonies dominated this contest. Both Superpowers that later included the People's Republic of China engaged in a struggle for Hearts and Minds and made promises to those living in the periphery that would later come back to haunt them. We will examine how American interest was projected through large-scale operations involving our military and financial institutions andat a more local level through covert operations, health and educational programs, among others. An examination of how the American Modernization School informed the construction of American foreign policy is pivotal to understanding this process. The ending of the Cold War has revealed an uncertain world and left the United States wlnerable to challenges only hinted at by events such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, 1979-8L We will examine the consequences of globalization, regional conflicts, and pay close attention to American policy towards Central Asia and its War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere in the world. The venerable Mark Twain said that "history doesn't repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes." As the recent events surrounding the Russia's War of Aggression in the Ukraine and the American/NATO departure from Afghanistan have demonstrated there are lessons to be learned.

History 268 (Connections, Gen Ed): *Civil Rights and National Liberation Movements"
This course emphasizes a global approach to the American narrative that demonstrates the intimate connections between the demand for Civil Rights in the United States and global movements of National Liberation from the ending of World War I to the contemporary period. The Atlantic Charter which became the foundation of Allied war aims on January l, 1942, offered a sense of hopefulness to peoples throughout the world system with its promises of self-determination and the expansion of rational legal law at the end of World War IL These promises undergirded demands for liberation among colonial peoples throughout the world as exemplified by the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, September 2, 1945, and the Freedom Movement in the United States that insisted on a Double V campaign, initiated by the Pittsburgh Courier in 1942, that would bring victory over the Axis and the equally oppressive policies of Jim Crow in the United States. The dreams of independence across the world system were subomed however, by the contest between the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China as they battled for the hearts and minds of those within their sphere of influence and those of the fast-disappearing colonial world. Though a direct war between the superpowers was avoided, anagoniztng series of conflicts erupted throughout the developing world as exemplified by the War in Vietnam and the liberation struggles in places like Cuba, Congo, and Guinea Bissau. Violence was not confined to the periphery. Despite red scare politics in the United States that consciously attempted to diffuse and slow down the demand for Civil Rights, the "long wait" only fueled the demand not only for equal access to the law, but an end to the oppressive policies inherent in American racism that were likened to the neo-colonial critique voiced by those in the periphery. Understanding these connections is pivotal to understanding the history of radicalization within large sections of the Freedom Movement in contrast to American Foreign Policy and its relation to the developing world after World War II

History 281: History Matters: Methods and Skills
History is often used to justify political platforms and fortify national myths creating the illusion that the discipline is set in stone and not open to challenge. In this way it becomes the realm of necromancers and though creating a certain excitement through the resurrection of the dead, it leaves no room for critical thinking and investigation, making for a rather dull experience for all except the necromancer. History is about argument and debate, not names and dates. History requires the active participation of all comers. This methodology is meant to be rigorous but atthe same time is easily accessible. In this course we explore the philosophy, practice, and significance of history, learning to think, read and write critically about the past.

History 336: The United States and the Emerging World: The American War in Vietnam
The Vietnam War or as known to the Vietnamese, the American War, remains fertile ground for a study of contested memory and history for the Vietnamese and American people, among others. Separating myth from historical memory remains a critical problem when confronting what remains America's longest war. In an article found in Foreign Affairs former Secretary of Defense under Richard Nixon Melvin Lafud claimed that, oowe snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." Whereas, Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense and major architect of the war declared in his book, Arguments Without End that the war might have been avoided altogether. By 1968 in the wake of the Tet Mau Than offensive the Joint Chiefs of Staff were recommending troop levels in Vietnam that neared eight hundred thousand soldiers. Echoes of the Vietnam debates have been raised by politicians as they attempt to draw lessons from the war in their assessments of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Vietnamese continue to debate the political results of this conflict as well. In the aftermath of the conflict, authors such as Duong Thu Huong have argued against the model of communism propagated by the Vietnamese govemment in spite of its worthy goal of national independence. In order to understand the issues surrounding this war, we will examine the history of the American involvement in Southeast Asia and the foreign policy decisions that led to the insertion of over 500,000 American military personnel. We will analyze the conflict not only from the point of view of the major players on the world stage, but also from the various points of view of the Vietnamese people. Further we will take into account popular interpretations of the Vietnam War in the United States and evaluate the impact of these interpretations in the shaping of American policy.

History 561: Research Seminar, "History, Memory, and National Identity: The American Civil War and the War in Vietnam"
The American Civil War and War in Vietnam ripped the American political fabric apart and set in motion conversations about the nature of American national identity that continue to this day. In both cases "lost cause" narratives have evolved that only underscore the difficulty of separating myth from historical memory. The current debates over the fate of Confederate monuments and American success on the global stage only underscores the importance these continued debates have both in American politics and our understanding of these contested histories. A study of the interrelationship between history, memory, and politics provides away to study these two seminal events in American history and at the same time assess the impact these events have had over time on critical American themes including class, race, and the projection of American notions of freedom at home and abroad.

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