Stephen G. Rabe

Stephen G. Rabe

University Professor of History, Arts & Humanities, University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas
Discipline: U.S. History
Lecturing: U.S. Foreign Relations; Vietnam War; American Slavery; Inter-American Relations
Host Institution: Renvall Institute, University of Helsinki
August 2005 to June 2006

The 2005/06 academic year was a big Fulbright year for me. I held the Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki. The Bicentennial Chair is part of Fulbright’s Distinguished Chairs Program.

In the summer 2006, I also served as a Senior Specialist in Argentina, teaching courses on modern U.S. history for mid-career professionals and university students in Buenos Aires and in Rio Cuarto, a small university city on the western edge of the Argentine grasslands, the Pampas.

The Fulbright program has been a special part of my career. I teach the history of U.S. foreign relations, with a special emphasis on U.S. relations with Latin America. Given my field, it is essential that I teach and do research abroad. There is also a intense interest internationally about the course and conduct of U.S. foreign relations.

I have had the privilege of teaching and lecturing in twelve countries either under the auspices of Fulbright or the U.S. State Department. In 1990-91, for example, I had another Fulbright Distinguished Chair, serving as the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History at University College, Dublin in Ireland. I could go on and on about how these experiences have shaped my teaching and writing.

But let’s focus here on my time in Finland. Immediate questions arise about Finland? Is it too cold? Were you not bothered by the dark? Well, look at the first two photos here. That is Genice, my wife, and I at the harbor just down from our apartment. (Incidentally the Bicentennial Chair came with a grand European-style apartment in a choice part of Helsinki). It looks like we are living in San Diego.

Finland has four seasons. Temperatures can get into the 80s F. in the summer. Even way up North it can be temperate in the summer. That is me at the Arctic Circle in early September. That night, my wife and I saw the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).

As an undergraduate at Hamilton College in upstate New York, I experienced winters that were far more challenging than in Helsinki. I never saw more than 6 inches of snow on the ground in Helsinki. Most winter days, temperatures were in the 20s.

Yes, it gets dark early in the winters—with only about six hours of light in Helsinki on 21 December. But the change is gradual and you are compensated by near endless light by mid-June.

But even the dark can be exciting. During winter break, we traveled to a skiing resort, Saariselka, which is about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun rose at 10:00 a.m. and it was dark by 2:00 p.m. But the last half hour of light was magnificent—what the Finns call “the blue moment.” And there was plenty of time for skiing, because the Finns had put lights on the trails. We cross-country skied at 9:00 p.m.

At Saariselka, I went dog-sledding, acting like Sgt. Preston of the Royal Mounted Police, yelling “Mush, Mush.” (Finnish dogs are multilingual). Those noble Siberian Huskies in the photo were part of my dog team.

Of course, I was in Finland to teach, not just to fulfill childhood dreams. I taught a variety of lecture courses and seminars on issues in U.S. foreign relations and a course on slavery at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku, Finland’s other leading university. In one course, I had ninety students, with students from twenty different countries. The highest grades went to students from the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland, and Poland.

Finns speak excellent English. Most students had facility with five languages. One Finnish student could work in eleven languages. International students flock to Finland, because of the country’s impressive educational standards and high-performance economy. In the photo of students in my seminar on the Vietnam War, eleven countries are represented.

My year in Finland offered me the opportunity to lecture to a variety of Finnish learned societies and to lecture at universities in Berlin, Prague, and Sofia, Bulgaria. An address I gave on perceptions of the Vietnam War became the subject of an “op-ed” piece on the front page of the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading Finnish newspaper.

Professor Markku Henriksson, the genial head of North American Studies at the University of Helsinki, and the humane Dr. Keith Battarbee of the English Department at the University of Turku facilitated my teaching efforts. All Fulbrighters in Finland can count on the support of the wonderful Terhi Mölsä, the head of Finland’s Fulbright Program, and her able staff.

Since returning in 2006, I have kept up my association with Finland. In May 2007, I attended a North American Studies conference in Tartu, Estonia with faculty and students from the University of Helsinki. I will return to Finland to speak at a conference at the University of Helsinki in May 2008. And three of my students from Finland have spent time with me and my wife at our house in Dallas. They were working on projects in U.S. history.

Reviewing my photo album on Finland always evokes fond memories. The last photo is a party organized by students in my seminar on inter-American relations. Appropriate to the cosmopolitan nature of teaching in Finland, we had the food of many countries and Latin American wines.