Dr. Michael Rouland is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a senior historian for the Joint History Office. Previously, he served as the senior historian for the Chief of Staff, Army as well as a historian for the Navy and the Air Force. He has provided direct historical and analytical support to senior leaders of the Department of Defense and participated in several working groups to advance our understanding of key strategic challenges, including the U.S. Army’s European Strategy Assessment Team, the Mosul Study Group, and the Raqqah Study Group. Dr. Rouland has published extensively on Russian and Central Asian history and culture, most notably Cinema in Central Asia: Rewriting Cultural Histories(2013) and Great Game to 9/11: A Concise History of Afghanistan’s International Relations (2014). He has taught modern Russian, European, and Central Eurasian history at Georgetown, Miami, and Stanford Universities. Dr. Rouland holds a B.A. in History and Russian from Duke University and a Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University.
What is your academic background? And what are your current research interests? How have these evolved over time?
As a Duke undergraduate I studied Russian and Chinese history, and I studied Russian, Central Asian, and Chinese history for my doctorate at Georgetown. My research focus is nationalism, nation-building, and national consciousness in the early Soviet era. In my current academic research, I am interested in Russian military strategy and Russian grand strategy.
When did you come to Georgetown? And how do you balance your teaching with your other affiliations?
I began my studies at Georgetown as a doctoral student in the history department in 1997. I taught my first course, on modern Central Asian history, in the history department in 2003. I later taught Russian, European, Central Asian, and Eurasian history at Stanford University and Miami University before I returned to Georgetown in 2010. I find my teaching at Georgetown distinctly complementary to my duties as a historian for the federal government.
Your class on the Russian military is highly popular this semester. What is the profile of the average student in this class? Do different types of students bring different perspectives to the class?
This has been an exciting class to teach because the subject is evolving so quickly and scholarship is expanding every day. My students have been wonderfully diverse, bringing perspectives from Russian, Eastern European, German, and Middle Eastern Studies as well as the School of Foreign Service and the Security Studies Program. Georgetown graduate students are consistently excellent and rewarding to teach.
Which other courses do you teach? Which one is your favorite and why?
I have taught courses on Russian nationalism and imperialism, the Soviet century, and modern Central Asian history at Georgetown. I have also taught courses on the Great Game, cinematic empire, and world history. I do not have a favorite course per se, although I do prefer courses that inspire genuine debate, discussion, and interest in the students.
Having taught for such a long time, what keeps you motivated? And what would you say is the biggest difference to how we approach the study of Russian history (and Russia more broadly) today compared to the early stages of your career?
Russian Studies has been at a crossroads for thirty years: public interest has ebbed, regional studies programs at many universities have been cut or consolidated, and many prominent scholars have retired (or passed away). I would say that the enthusiasm for open archives and open dialogue of the 1990s has dissipated, and many unknowns remain in the field today. That said the next decade should be a fascinating time for Russian Studies.