Tag Archives: Howard M. Sachar

  • From Management Consulting to Medieval History: How I Became a History Editor at University of Toronto Press

    By Natalie Fingerhut

    I didn't see this career coming. It wasn't on my radar after completing my MA in History at the University of Toronto. It wasn't on my radar after I left the PhD program in Genocide Studies at Concordia University either. From there, I took all of my sharply-honed reading and writing skills and set off on a totally different career path. First, I became what was then called a Technical Writer. I wrote computer manuals to help people use complicated software programs. My background in communicating complicated events in Cambodian history to a less-knowledgeable audience was surprisingly helpful. From there, I moved into the area of Business Analysis where the interviewing skills I had learned during my MA evaluating settlement programs for newcomers to Toronto came in handy. Business analysts interview people on what they need to do their job and then communicate those needs to computer programmers who try to create useful tools to help these people. (It’s not so different from what I do now as an editor in Higher Education where I ask people what they need for their courses and then work with others to deliver useful materials.) From Business Analysis, I moved into Management Consulting where I helped senior-level professionals strategize on how to improve their hospitals, government ministries, and insurance companies. Here, I used my toolkit of reading, writing, and analysis: skills that I had learned through studying history. In this position, I improved my people skills, taught others how to give effective presentations, and learned how to project manage—all of which are necessary in my current position.

    But something was missing. I felt like I wasn’t contributing. I wasn’t making the world a better place. Jews have a phrase for this: Tikkun Olam—the improvement of our world. As a Jewish child, the obligation of Tikkun Olam was central to my religious education. And here I was in my mid-30s not fulfilling my mandate.

    After I had my first child, I decided that I needed to revisit that mandate. I went to a career counsellor who assessed my skills. I had originally considered teaching, public relations for not-for-profits, or human rights law. After three sessions, the counsellor wrote in big red letters on my file: Editor!

    I went back to school to take courses in publishing. Not since graduate school had I been so focused and so engaged. I was privileged to be offered an internship at Random House Canada where I learned the ropes. I enjoyed trade publishing and became known as the intern who would read all the non-fiction manuscripts. Soon after, a dream job appeared: History Editor at Broadview Press, which later became the Higher Education Division at University of Toronto Press. The rest, as they say, is history. My job is the perfect marriage of my history background, my business skills, and my fulfillment of Tikkun Olam.

    History BooksMy first ever author meeting was with the late Jill N. Claster at NYU. We were discussing her upcoming book with us: Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396. Jill impressed upon me my obligation to create materials that help undergraduates understand the past to create a better present. History is a teacher, she told me. And like all teachers, it isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean you don’t listen to it. Those words from a decade ago are a daily reminder to me of my obligation as a history editor.

    Our recently published political history, The Assassination of Europe, 1918-1942 by Howard M. Sachar, shows students how the voice of extremism can silence those of moderation. Our upcoming reader, Muslim and Christian Contact in the Middle Ages edited by Jarbel Rodriguez, illustrates a history of conflict but also—and this may surprise students—a history of co-existence. I recently received a timely proposal for a microhistory about a businessman caught in the crosshairs of religious violence in France. Not last week, but in the sixteenth century. We need to read these books, learn the lessons that are contained in their pages, and communicate them to future generations. As educators, this is not just our job, but our responsibility.

    Every morning, I look up at all the books I have published over the years (Jill Claster’s book sits front and centre) and I think about their dedicated authors, who are a constant source of inspiration. I also think about my colleagues, whose dedication, competence, and mutual love for our books transform “work” into “pleasure” and allow a moment of gratitude to pass before I open my inbox.

  • Why Reading History Matters

    Since the beginning of the most recent Israeli/Palestinian crisis, my social media feeds have become a disheartening list of opinions. Many of these opinions are unbalanced, knee-jerk responses to whatever “side” the author or poster subscribes to at that particular moment. The hatred behind these postings is alarming.

    Assassination of EuropeThis past year, I had the privilege of working with one of the most prolific historians on European, Jewish, and Middle Eastern history: Howard M. Sachar. In his forthcoming book, The Assassination of Europe, Sachar explores how key assassinations between 1918 and 1942 hurled Europe into the maelstrom of World War II. When I initially read the manuscript, three thoughts crossed my mind: first, why is it so easy to hate? Second, why is hate so powerful? And lastly, I was reminded that hate can be very dangerous.

    The Assassination of Europe describes one particular act borne out of hate: political assassinations. Europe, after World War I, believed that it could fix itself. After all, it had the experience and the political and economic leadership to repair the racial, ethnic, and religious hatreds that tore it apart in the first place. However, as Sachar writes, hatred was more powerful than European arrogance:

    The glowering hatreds that engendered the late war—Germans against Slavs, Roman Catholics against Eastern Orthodox, Gentiles against Jews, poor against rich, conquerors against conquered—were neither trivial nor susceptible to assuagement either before or after the armistices of 1918. Rather, the demons survived and intensified. If they were incapable of wreaking their havoc in the immediate aftermath of the postwar “peace” conferences, there were other, equally functional paths to “rectification” and revenge.

    One of these “equally functional paths to rectification and revenge” was the silencing of moderate voices—often with bullets—by hate-filled extremists in Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Austria. Their removal from power led to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini among others. And we know where they led the world. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, reflecting on this is crucial.

    We have all just lived through a summer filled with hate. A decade ago, students may have been able to avoid the minute-by-minute reports of devastation in Gaza, dead Israeli teenagers, or the beheadings of American journalists, but not today. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds don’t give them much respite. Many of them, just like many of us, have been overwhelmed by the opinions on social media and given in to their emotions. They have taken sides, and sometimes when people take sides, hate creeps in.

    Sachar’s book is a terrifying and violent lesson in what happens when hate creeps in. Given what has happened in the last few months and what is likely to keep happening, there is something of a moral obligation for educators to counter the often thoughtless opinions expressed on social media. If you are a professor teaching a course in modern European history and you assign a basic textbook, I would suggest that you replace the chapters in that textbook that deal with the years between 1918 and 1942 with Sachar’s book. Your students will appreciate the break from the conventional text. Or, if you frequently assign more popular histories by such authors as Robert Service, Ian Kershaw, Michael Marrus, Primo Levi, or Eli Wiesel, assign The Assassination of Europe as well.

    After your students have read the book, ask them what it has taught them. Although most of your students will not become professional historians, some will become lawyers, policy analysts, and community leaders. Most of them will become parents. The Assassination of Europe is a history lesson, and a necessary reminder that hate is not only powerful but also murderous.

    Reading books like The Assassination of Europe is a key first step in stopping the current side-taking that dominates discussion of current events on social media. I know personally of what I speak. Years ago, as an impressionable, Jewish female entrenched in the North American Reform Jewish community, I took sides, and my posts reflected that side. And I hated. But then I started to read books like The Assassination of Europe to remind myself of the power and dangers of hate. Today, I avoid extremist opinion on social media and when I do post, it is in support of peace. As Howard Sachar educated me, so can he educate your students.

    -Natalie Fingerhut, History Editor

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