Traveling with the U.S. Department of State
A six-country tour will focus on history and social media's roles in geopolitics
I’m very pleased to share that on May 1st, I’ll be departing for a 6-country, 5-week speaking tour with the U.S. Department of State.
I’ll be traveling to Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Georgia, meeting with government officials, journalists, civil society leaders, scholars and students to discuss a wide-range of issues, including social media, disinformation, media literacy, historical literacy, artificial intelligence, the distortion of historical narratives online and how all are affecting our current geopolitics.
Some readers may be aware that the U.S. Department of State has an active speakers program. The purpose of the program is to bring American experts into dialogue with leaders from around the world to share knowledge, learn from each other, and strengthen international alliances.
I’ve been fortunate to participate in this program twice before. In 2017, I traveled with the State Department to Lithuania and spent a week meeting with Lithuanian government officials, universities, museums and U.S. Embassy staff discussing questions of media and historical literacy. It was an amazing experience, and the beginning of a lasting relationship with the Lithuania government; I subsequently spoke on a panel at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington in 2019, and in 2022 the Lithuanian Embassy in D.C. was kind enough to host a book talk with me about History, Disrupted.
In 2019, the German Marshall Fund, through a State Department grant, invited me to spend a week in France discussing similar subjects. While in Paris I met with French Members of Parliament, government officials, business leaders and young professionals, then traveled south to deliver lectures at Science Po Bordeaux and the University of Poitiers.
The pandemic brought these exchanges to a halt, but fortunately these activities have now resumed. I’m honored that the State Department has once again entrusted me with the privilege and responsibility to represent the United States overseas in important dialogues with our allies.
Readers of this newsletter may recall that I traveled to Belgium last year for meetings with the European Union in Brussels and presentations at KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven).
I’m delighted to be returning to Brussels this year to meet with colleagues at the U.S. Embassy, as well as the U.S. Mission to the E.U. and the U.S. Mission to NATO. I’ll also be speaking with journalists at Belgium’s largest newspapers.
While in Brussels, I’ll also continue my dialogues with the European Parliament and European External Action Service, as well as deepen the relationship with the Lithuanian government and KU Leuven. On Wednesday evening, May 3, the Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU will host a special program and reception in my honor in recognition of World Press Freedom Day; and on Friday, May 5, we will hold a series of meetings at KU Leuven to discuss strengthening the transatlantic partnership between Leuven’s Corvus historical consultancy and my History Communication Institute.
From Brussels I’ll travel to Tbilisi, Georgia, where I’ll meet with U.S. Embassy personnel on the front lines of Russian influence campaigns in the Caucasus.
Georgia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and applied for membership in the European Union in 2022. However, its path to a democratic and open society continues to be an uneven one, evidenced most recently by protests over proposed legislation that would have forced organizations in country that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
Georgia’s past, and the weaponization of historical narratives, play a critical role in the debates about its future. As the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and with continuing historical and political ties to Russia, America and Europe are keen observers of how Georgia will align itself. As part of my visit, we’ll discuss how history and social media affect these issues, and I’ll participate in a conference hosted by the Soviet Past Research Laboratory, Sovlab, that seeks to stimulate honest analysis and debate on these complex subjects.
Georgia also has a strong tradition of writers and authors. I’m very much looking forward to visiting Tbilisi’s Writer's House museum and learning more about that history.
From Georgia, I’ll travel to Germany, for programming with the U.S. Consulate and the Technical University of Munich (TUM).
I’ve been in conversation with the think tank at TUM for several months about a potential partnership with my History Communication Institute. At TUM, they take very seriously the intersections between the humanities and tech, understanding that both are critical to our societal future.
At TUM, I’ll share insights from History, Disrupted, particularly around artificial intelligence and its effects on historical knowledge and understanding. We’ll then discuss with the Consulate and other stakeholders what a useful intervention for historians and humanities scholars could look like on artificial intelligence research and products moving forward, with an eye towards joint transatlantic projects.
From Germany, I will travel to Bulgaria to meet our American and Bulgarian colleagues in Sofia and Varna.
Bulgaria is a country that we, in the U.S., hear little about in the news. Yet, it is a country in the midst of a complex political situation. Located on the Black Sea approximately 500 miles from Odessa, Ukraine, the current war is, quite literally, in Bulgaria’s backyard.
Domestically, Bulgarians recently voted in their fifth parliamentary election in two years, creating a sense of political paralysis. Amidst that instability, an ultra-right party has seen a rise in support. There have also been threats to journalists and a consolidation of state-controlled media.
History and historical narratives once again play a large role in shaping the situation on the ground. As part of my visit, I’ll have the chance to meet with civil society stakeholders, NGOs and universities. I’ll also be a featured speaker at an international conference hosted by The Institute for Global Analytics at the Sofia Hotel Balkan Palace, titled Central and Eastern Europe on the Frontlines.
From Bulgaria, I’ll travel across the border to North Macedonia.
North Macedonia also achieved independence in 1991 during the breakup for the former Yugoslavia. However, it has been beset by discord with its neighbors for many years, in part due to a decades-long dispute over the name of the country. In 2018, the country signed an accord with Greece to resolve the dispute, and in 2019, Macedonia's name officially changed to the Republic of North Macedonia.
Relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria continue to face hurdles. Bulgaria, which previously had supported North Macedonia’s entrance into the E.U., in recent years has challenged it on account of disputes over history, language, prior borders and past conflicts. History from the Ancient Greeks, World War II, and the war in Kosovo have been invoked at various times by elected officials, political parties, scholars and citizens. How history and social media figure into these questions will be fascinating to discuss with American and North Macedonian colleagues.
Readers may not be aware, too, that North Macedonia currently holds the Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organization that dates from the 1970s and which aims to prevent conflict and promote human rights.
My final destination will be Hungary, a country that has received press coverage in the U.S. due to the rise of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Orban is a complicated figure who makes many appeals to history and historical narratives in his speeches. In recent years, the U.S. and E.U. have criticized Orban and the Hungarian government for alleged democratic backsliding, restriction of press freedoms, corruption and coordinated online influence campaigns. While Hungary remains part of the E.U. and NATO, it also openly courts Russian oligarchs and Russian government investment. The New York Times has reported that elections in Hungary may be “free,” but they are no longer “fair,” according to election observers.
It will be interesting to speak with American officials, journalists and university colleagues to learn what is happening in Hungary and how history and social media play a role.
What it means for this newsletter
I will post updates from my trip on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, so please connect with me on those platforms. If time permits, I may even do a livestream on YouTube or Clubhouse. However, I will likely not have the opportunity to publish until I return.
To my new subscribers, welcome! This newsletter has grown by 36 percent already this year, and I am so glad you are with me. I apologize for taking a pause in writing, but the good news is: (1) when I return, there will be fascinating insights to share with you and; (2) there is an archive of content for you to catch up on. Over the past two years we’ve covered a wide range of topics, including disinformation, historical literacy, artificial intelligence, and Elon Musk. Here are some of the top articles:
There’s also an entire selection of podcasts for you to listen to 🎧.
The insights from the next few weeks will reveal much about the state of the world and history’s role in it. It promises to be fascinating, and there will be much to talk about once I return. I’m looking forward to doing so with all of you.
My gratitude to the U.S. Department of State, our diplomats, and our international partners for the chance to once again represent our country overseas.
Speak to you from the road!
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