Infield Interview

It is such an amazing privalage that the University of Hawaii Honors 101 students have the opportunity and responsibility to interview research professors at the university. Through this opportunity one has the ability to gain newfound insights into acedmic research. I thought it would be apropriate and much easier to conduct the infield interview first; my intended major is political science. Thusly, I pursued the political science faculty page  and focused on the professors with their research and interests listed on their faculty webpage. I came across Professor Manfred Henningsen and noted that he his research interests listed were, “question of how regimes of terror come into being.” When Prof. Henningsen was contacted to setup an interview he promptly emailed back and sent an english translation of a book he’s worked on called: On the Ruins of Civilizations: the Regimes of Terror. Prof. Henningsen was asked a series of questions and his responses are central to understanding how political science researchers might find inspirations, resources, and how one’s research interests might evolve or change over time. When one walks into the office of Prof. Henningsen in the College of Art’s and Sciences building, you will see a collection of books on politics, history and political theory with notable authors such as Marx and Engles, and Lenin to name a few.

One might ask, how does a political science researcher conduct research? One way of doing political science research is the use of political texts. When I asked Prof. Henningsen what kind of sources does he use for his research he started off by saying that in the beginning of his acedemic research voyage he, “was primarily in political philosophy,” and would then use texts that have been around for many years; such as Greek philosophy texts. Prof. Henningsen’s early research was theoretical rather than empirical; he said, “I… primarily was in the business of using texts and interpereting texts.” At such a time in his research journey, many of his publications were on interpretations of political texts.

The next question that Prof. Henningsen was asked was, what is the source of your interest in the rise of regimes of terror? He responded by saying that in the late 1980’s he became interested in the impact of the Holocaust on German society. He began to write and do research on how the German people deal with the terror their society inflicted on European Jews and other ethnicities and societies. His upbringing and experience in pre and post Nazi Germany was influential on this new topic of research. Prof Henningsen touched on a subject that is shied from in American society. He shared that his late-wife’s family, who is African-American, told him how can he look at the injustice, genocide, and terror of Nazi Germany and ignore what the southern Americans did to the Africans with slavery and the treatment of African-Americans with separate but equal ruling and community lynching? I asked him why he thinks a regime of terror did not rise up in the United States. What did The U.S. have that Germany didn’t; the constitution? He explained that the reason a genocide did not occur, though there was a hatred for African-Americans, was that there was no political backing or agenda for a regime of terror to reign in the U.S.  He touched upon how Germany confronted their past. He said, “When you compare the capital of Germany with other capitals in the world, I think it is the only one where you have a society commemorating the victims of their terror.” This statement was made comparing the Holocaust with the enslavement of Africans.

When the final question that was presented to Prof. Henningsen, what is some advice you might give a political science major such as myself, he responded by saying to, “be open, be curious, read as much as you can, not only about your own society but [also] others.” Prof. Henningsen added to his advice, what he had said was quite profound, though it may seem obvious some fall victim to; “don’t become a victim of clichés.” I asked him to elaborate on what sort of clichés one might fall victim to. He used the example of the idea that the settlers that voyaged to the Americas from Europe were “freedom fighters.” He added that, yes the immigrants came here for religious freedom, but took the freedom of the native Americans in the process. Prof. Henningsen went on to compare the use of the word savage that the European settlers in North America used to describe the native Americans, despite the native Americans taught the European settlers how to survive and cultivate the lands, to modern American’s idea of people in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important, as a political science researcher to not let clichés influence one’s research.

As one can see, a researcher’s interests might change to new topics or evolve to include other areas of a given topic. What you research may be an image of what has affected you personally, such as Prof. Henningsen’s upbringing in Germany. The advice the professor gave should be heeded by political science majors as they begin their journey of Political Science research, they must be open to the world around them and be curious, as well as cautious. The interview conducted with Prof. Henningsen, could be described as a one on one lecture filled with insights of history and research. It can be said that Prof. Henningsen is a person whom students of all majors can aspire to be like; a person who has a deep understanding and knowledge of a particular subject.

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