Ralph Guentzel, Ph.D.

“I aspire to create a learning environment in which I can challenge my students, and in which they challenge each other, and in which we remain good friends even if we disagree. I aspire to bring to my students novel ideas, and to entice them to develop novel ideas of their own. I aspire to prompt my students to think differently, to hone their creativity, to discover facets of life, the society in which they live, and even of their own persona.”

Title

Associate professor of history

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.,McGill University – Montréal, Québec, Canada
  • M.A., McGill University – Montréal, Québec, Canada
  • B.A., Free University – Berlin, Germany

Year joined Franklin

1999

Expertise

Guentzel teaches global history, Canadian history, and European history. He specializes in modern and contemporary history and takes a keen interest in questions of political economy.

Why should one study the history of Canada, France, Germany, and other developed countries?

We should study the history of Canada, France, Germany, and other developed countries because these countries, which in many ways resemble the United States, have found different answers, than the U.S. has, to crucial questions such as, “How can we reconcile growth and environmental protection?” “How can we create an inclusive society?” “How can we to combat poverty?” “How can we to provide for social justice?” Even in the end we must all find our own answers, by being exposed to other nations’ answers we begin to think more deeply. Students who have been exposed to these answers have become more aware of the world around them and grown as intellectuals and as citizens.

Why should one study the history of political ideologies?

Since the 1990s, in most developed countries political participation has declined noticeably. In European countries as well as in North-American ones, fewer and fewer citizens become members of political parties, cast their vote election days, or identify with a particular political ideology. The reasons for this trend are manifold. They include a growing distrust of politicians and rising skepticism about the effectiveness political institutions in a globalized economy as well as a sense of being badly informed about political matters. Many voters have difficulty making sense of the differences between candidates, parties, and election platforms. They are particularly confused when it comes to the political ideologies that inform the different election platforms.

The confusion is understandable. Political ideologies are abstract. They are about big ideas. They deal with the role of government and the ways in which government ought to be run. They are based on beliefs about what is right and what is wrong and how the members of society should ideally interact. They tackle thorny issues such as how work should be divvyed up and how the material wealth that results from this work ought to be shared.

Not everybody is spontaneously drawn to these subject matters. Not everybody enjoys pondering issues of power and powerlessness, prosperity and poverty, economic development and underdevelopment. However, there is tremendous value in gaining at least a basic understanding of the different political ideologies. Such an understanding can serve as a wonderful compass that helps navigate the labyrinth of parties, politics, and elections. Moreover, it makes for better-informed citizens and, ultimately, stands to reinvigorate democratic practices and strengthen the social fabric of society. The study of the history of political ideologies is an excellent way to gain this basic understanding.

Selected Professional Accomplishments

Prior to joining Franklin College faculty, Guentzel has taught at Concordia and McGill Universities in Montréal, Québec/Canada. In the fall semester of 2009, he has taught in Salzburg, Austria, as part of Alderson-Broaddus College’s European Studies program.

Guentzel has published four books and eleven articles that have appeared in anthologies or scholarly journals in Canada, Germany, India, Russia, and the United States. His recent monographs include:

The Demigod’s City: A Short History of Kassel, Marburg, Germany: Tectum, 2012.
This book traces the history of Kassel, the author’s place of birth. Located in the heart of Germany, Kassel is the home of the Brothers Grimm (of fairy-tale fame) and of the Hessian soldiers who fought for the British during the American War of Independence. For many centuries, Kassel was the capital of the independent country of Hesse, which is now a German state. Kassel is known for its fine palaces, castles, and public gardens, which were created during the Baroque and Classicist Ages. Among art aficionados, the city is known for “documenta,” arguably the world’s most important art show, which began in the mid-1950s, takes place every five years, and displays all that’s new and happening in the world of contemporary art.

Understanding “Old Europe”: An Introduction to the Culture, Politics, and History of France, Germany, and Austria, Marburg, Germany: Tectum, 2010.
This book examines the major customs and institutions of contemporary society in France, Germany, and Austria, and explains their historical roots. It adopts a transnational approach and treats France, Germany, and Austria as a unit. It shows that the three countries share a common identity and highlights the lasting impact that court culture and working-class unrest have had on this identity.

The book has been critically acclaimed. As one the review noted, “Güntzel’s style is elegant and easily understandable for students and teachers of French or German Studies, history, political science, or European civilization. Americans planning a trip abroad, be it as informed tourists or for professional reasons; and Austrians, French, and Germans interested in their own culture and the historical roots of many of the customs and policies in place today would likewise profit from Güntzel’s narrative.” (Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German vol. 44, no. 2 [November 2011])

What Students Say

“You have truly changed my perspective on a lot of things, and for that I thank you.” – Emily Roberts ’15

In My Spare Time…

One of my favorite books is the novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak. Set against the background of late imperial and early Soviet Russia, the novel portrays the lives of a group of people that include, among others, Yuri Andreievich Zhivago, a poet and medical doctor, and Larisa Feodorovna and Tonia Alexandrovna, the two women whom he loves. The story – which British director David Lean turned into a cinematic classic in 1965 – has sometimes been seen as a mere indictment of Soviet brutality. In reality, however, things are not that simple. And there is so much more to the story. The characters in the novel force us to ponder life and human relationships. Just consider what Larisa Feodorovna says to Yuri Andreievich at one point:

“I have always disliked men of that kind, I have nothing whatever in common with them. These resourceful, self-confident, masterful characters – in practical things they are invaluable, but in matters of feeling I can think of nothing more horrible than all this impertinent, male complacency! It isn’t my idea of life and love!”

And consider what Yurii says to her:
“I don’t think I could love you so much if you had nothing to complain and nothing to regret. I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”