Welcome to my personal homepage here at UMass-Amherst. I am an Associate Professor in the Department of History. My primary research interests involve issues of memory and historical consciousness in modern Germany, especially in post-1945 East Germany. My first book,Tailoring Truth was published by Berghahn Books in 2015. In that book, I explored attempts by the East German regime to manipulate perceptions of the past by examining different monuments, museums, and commemoration festivals.


My current research focuses on East Germans going on vacation. My manuscript is tentatively titled Visa-Free to Hawaii and explores the experiences of East Germans carving out areas of privacy in which to relax and recuperate from thier jobs. One might not think of communist countries placing a high value on personal vacations, yet East Germany made it a priority. The "right to rest and relaxation" was embedded in its very first constitution and granted workers 12 days of vacation a year. This quickly rose to 15 and eventually most received over 21 days each year. The state, however, also had a vested interest in controlling that time off and influencing the experience of vacationing. I explore that power dynamic and the negotiations made by individuals and families to carve out and make that experience one that had meaning for themselves. While some East Germans did have opportunities to travel abroad (mainly to the neighboring East European countries of the Warsaw Pact), about 90% of the population remained within its borders each year and spent thier vacations at lake-side resorts, up on the Baltic Sea, or hiking in the mountains of Thuringia and Saxony. City tourism was also popular - taking in museums, concerts, and shopping in a larger city. In the end, however, the desire to travel even further abroad and retake more control over how, when, and where they could travel elevated the demand for the freedom to travel to be one of the main issues of protest when East Germans took to the streets in 1989.



My teaching interests build on my areas of research. I teach courses in our Public History program (primarily at the graduate level) that deal with new media, digital history, and theories of memory culture and historical consciousness. I also teach courses on German and European history at both the undergraduate and graduate level.


As a student, I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I earned a B.A. in German, Russian Studies, and History at St. Olaf College in 1993. After my undergraduate studies I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Mannheim. I then continued my studies at Georgetown University, earning an M.A. in German and European Studies. During the years 1997 & 1998 I was a fellow of the Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany, which allowed me to work as a speech-writer and advisor to Markus Meckel - a member of the German Parliament and East Germany's last Foreign Minister. Mr. Meckel was at the time his party's (the SPD) spokesman on a special parliamentary commission looking into the crimes of the East German dictatorship. I also worked at the Haus der Geschichte on the planning staff for a new museum (Zeitgeschichtliches Forum) in Leipzig, Germany that focuses on the history of East Germany. Following my stay in Germany I returned to the U.S. to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I completed my Ph.D. in German history in 2004.


Before coming to UMass I was a post-doctoral fellow at George Mason University, where I also was the editor of an online e-learning project commemorating the 1989 revolutions of Eastern Europe. You can visit that site here. I have also held Visiting Assistant Professor positions at the College of William and Mary and at Texas Tech University.


I spend my summers in the Northwoods of Minnesota, where I am the director of Waldsee, the German language and cultural immersion program of Concordia Language Villages.




Jon Berndt Olsen

Department of History

161 Presidents Drive

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Amherset, MA 01002


Telephone: 413.545.6767

Email: jon[at]history.umass.edu

Web: http://people.umass.edu/jon

Twitter: jonberndtolsen

Blog: http://blogs.umass.edu/jon