Tara Zahra ’98, a professor of East European history at the University of Chicago, is among the newest recipients of MacArthur "genius grants." The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.
Zahra is the author of two books, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900-1948 (2008) and The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (2011). The MacArthur Foundation describes her as “a historian who is challenging the way we view the development of the concepts of nation, family, and ethnicity and painting a more integrative picture of twentieth-century European history.”
Zahra is currently at work on a history of emigration from East Central Europe to Western Europe and the United States between 1889 and the present, which will be published by W.W. Norton Press in 2015. She is also working on a book with Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations Pieter Judson ’78 on World War I and its aftermath in Austria-Hungary, which will be published by Oxford University Press.
As in years past, Zahra will return to Swarthmore this spring as an Honors examiner. She credits her own experience as an Honors student with setting her on her career path. “[H]istory got under my skin through the Honors Program," she says. "I spent more and more time on fascism and less on everything else, including sleeping. It was incredibly exciting. I started to think of myself as someone who might be able to contribute something to the field eventually.”
In an interview with the History News Network, Zahra says, "I would not be a historian if not for my professors at Swarthmore College." She specifically cites Judson as the person who inspired her to study the history of Central Europe.
"I fell in love with Central Europe in his courses," she says. "My freshman year, I took a course on Modern German history and he wrote on a paper, 'Please be a history major!' I still have that paper. And then there was the legendary fascism seminar my senior year, which has produced at least a dozen professional historians. Pieter somehow produced more Ph.D. students as an undergraduate teacher than many people do in a lifetime as a graduate advisor!"
Zahra graduated with high honors in history and economics from Swarthmore and earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Chicago, Zahra was a fellow with the Harvard Society of Fellows.