Interview with Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow Maximilian Klose

February 13, 2024

We recently caught up with Maximilian Klose, one of our Visiting Fellows, who will be leaving us at the end of February. We sat down with him to discuss his academic career, his work and of course his time at the GHI.

Maximilian Klose specializes in modern foreign relations and diplomatic history, with a particular emphasis on US, German, and Japanese history spanning the late 19th to the mid-20th century. He earned his degree in History and North American Studies from the Freie Universität Berlin and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Subsequently, he obtained his doctorate from Freie Universität’s Graduate School of North American Studies.

Before joining the GHI (German Historical Institute), Klose held various teaching and research positions at FU’s John F. Kennedy Institute, the Cluster of Excellence “SCRIPTS,” and the University of Freiburg’s graduate school “Empires.” His doctoral research delved into the motivations of US donors involved in the humanitarian efforts of the organization CARE in postwar Germany. This thesis received recognition, including the dissertation award in International History from the German Historical Association and the GHI’s Franz Steiner Prize for Transatlantic Historical Studies.

Currently, Klose's research is centered on examining the role of masculinity in the context of US-German-Japanese diplomacy leading up to World War I.

Can you tell us a little about your academic career and your research interests?

I describe myself as a historian of U.S. diplomatic relations, although I take a broad view of diplomacy that includes both state and non-state actors, political relations and cultural diplomacy, and the role of ideology and knowledge in foreign relations. In my dissertation, I looked at humanitarian aid in German-American relations, and in particular at people's motivation to provide such aid, which I traced in ethnic and gender identification, in political attitudes, and in prominent cultural and social discourses in the United States during the early Cold War. In my current project, as you know, I am trying to understand how the logics of masculinity and imperialism interacted in U.S.-German-Japanese diplomatic relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In both projects, I am not so much interested in how particular actions influenced diplomacy as I am in understanding where those actions came from. I am trying to understand how historical actors perceived themselves and others, how they understood their position in society, and how they tried to make sense of the historical moment in which they acted.

What got you interested in the history of the three imperial powers?

I have always been interested in German-American relations, especially the development of the transatlantic alliance during the Cold War. After completing my Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to pursue these relations further. We tend to ignore the fact that both countries shared a vibrant history even before the world wars, and I wanted to better understand what that history looked like. So I looked at the decades immediately preceding World War I. What I found were striking parallels in terms of economic development, newfound confidence on the world stage, and, of course, imperialist aspirations. Both countries became colonial empires in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and their mutual rise as imperial newcomers shaped the way policymakers began to perceive themselves and their countries' roles in global affairs. I then discovered that they were not alone, as Japan was undergoing very similar developments at the same time. This broke my hitherto very Western focus and introduced me to the existence of shared imperial identities that transcended geographical and cultural borders and boundaries.

Can you tell us more about your project “Masculinity in US Diplomatic Relations to Germany and Japan from the late 19th Century to World War I What made you choose this research topic?

I have always been interested in masculinity as an object of analysis. Men's and Masculinity Studies are not a new field, but have been around since at least the 1990s, including in historical scholarship. Only diplomatic history, despite some brilliant exceptions, has been very slow to recognize how strongly masculine logics have shaped foreign relations. Diplomacy was, and still is, very much coded as masculine, which means that we think of "man" almost as the default gender of a diplomat. I suspect that the self-evidence that diplomatic actors were men, especially in the nineteenth century, is why historians have been so reluctant to acknowledge the role those masculine ideals and expectations played in their interactions. But as I looked at my three empires and at the way policymakers behaved and talked to and about each other, it became very clear to me that their actions were strongly influenced by very similar gendered logics. Now I wanted to understand how and why this was the case.

You said that your project talked about the role that masculine rhetoric and demeanor played in the diplomatic relations between the three countries. Could you go a little deeper?

As I said, all three countries emerged together as imperial newcomers and had a special place in each other's geopolitical aspirations. I also found that gendered logics strongly influenced the behavior of diplomats from all three countries. What I mean is that policymakers in all three countries began to create very similar images of themselves. Take, for example, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilhelm II, and the Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito. All three presented a militaristic and youthful masculine image that signaled dominance, strength, and entitlement. Their rhetoric was heavily influenced by newly popularized Darwinian logics of competition and natural selection that demanded masculine virility. Such similarities are not accidental. They were the result of a shared identity among rising empires that needed to find and defend their place in the world order.

What challenges do you face at the GHI, and did you achieve all your research goals?

One challenge was deciding where to start and with whom. Many people are involved in diplomacy, so who are the actors I need to look at? What date/moment/period do I use as a starting point? More challenging than that was actually understanding what to look for. Masculinity is not only present when people talk about it or use words with strong gender connotations. Gendered logics are always implicit. They influence our language, our behavior, our reactions to others. It is not always easy to trace these logics in writing, especially when your actors' ideas of masculinity are likely to be very different from yours because they lived in very different times, places, and cultures. I am still trying to figure out how to make the implicit visible. It also does not help that some of my actors had terrible handwriting.

What do you like about Washington DC?

DC has a lot to offer. So many museums, parks, and interesting neighborhoods. There is so much you can do for free, which is very helpful in a place with such exorbitant rents. The city is also full of interesting people. There are so many universities, research institutes, and think tanks that you can always meet someone with a fascinating story to tell