Professor of History Max Paul Friedman, who led the College of Arts and Sciences through the Covid-19 pandemic as interim dean, will be spending this summer and fall on sabbatical in Berlin, Germany. He will be working at the Ibero-Amerikanisches-Institut, the world’s largest library on Latin American history, and as a visiting scholar at the Lateinamerika-Institut at Berlin’s Freie Universitaet.
During his tenure as interim dean, Friedman was responsible for 402 full-time faculty and 107 full-time staff in 19 departments, 1,939 undergraduates and more than 900 graduate students, and 39 percent of all enrollments at the university. He skillfully navigated the intersecting crises of a viral pandemic, a challenging financial landscape, and a long-overdue national reckoning with systemic racism.
“I cannot tell what impressed me more during Max’s term as dean: his knowledge, his fairness, or his soft-spoken power. Probably the rare combination of all of them,” says Michael Brenner, AU’s Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and director of the Center for Israel Studies. Stacey Snelling, professor and chair of the Department of Health Studies, adds, “Max brought a deeply humanistic approach to leading the College, asking probing questions to understand issues and demonstrating empathy while respecting the boundaries of what he could or could not do.”
During Friedman’s term as interim dean, the College welcomed its first Afghan Scholar-in-Exile and will welcome its first Ukrainian Scholar-at-Risk — reviving an AU tradition that first began when it welcomed refugee scholars from Nazi Germany, like Ernst Posner, who went on to chair the Department of History, and Fritz Karl Mann, who chaired the Department of Economics.
There were other firsts. Friedman established inaugural grants to support anti-racist curriculum development. When elementary and middle schools closed during the pandemic, Friedman launched a virtual tutoring program that paired up AU federal work-study students with the children of faculty and staff, ensuring that children had free tutoring, and AU students continued receiving their work-study funds. Friedman also launched the College’s very first Wellness Week this spring, filled with activities to promote both mental and physical health awareness. And under his leadership, the College recently signed contracts with nine new tenure-line faculty members across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
Empathetic and Strategic Leadership in Difficult Times
“Just imagine being the dean of the largest college at AU during a pandemic, with all the attendant uncertainties, dread about health and safety, and the vagaries of public guidelines about masking, in-person gathering, and travel,” says Professor of Economics Mieke Meurs. “That is the equivalent of being a dean with two hands tied behind your back. Max, though, relished the challenges. For him, it was more than embracing the Challenge Accepted theme. For him, it was ‘Challenges Welcome: Bring ‘em on. Make my day.’ And he handled them expertly and with alacrity.”
Associate Dean and Professor of Economics Walter Park says that Friedman had a strong vision for CAS that resonated with faculty and staff. “Max is especially good at thinking about the space of alternative solutions. Present him with a difficult choice or challenge, and just when you think there are limited or no options, he’ll present his uncanny ability to expand that search space and identify feasible pathways.”
Núria Vilanova, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies and associate professor of World Languages and Cultures, recalls talking to Friedman about the large number of messages he regularly receives. “Max said he didn’t mind getting them. He always wanted to help and do something for people, and this was his opportunity. This tells you about his joy in the work and his unfailing efforts and ongoing support to everyone: students, staff, faculty.”
Professor of Sociology Celine-Marie Pascale had a similar conversation with Friedman. She asked how he liked being dean, and he replied that he loved how much he could help people. Pascale says she will not forget “the tangible joy that seemed to permeate Max’s entire being in that moment. That desire to serve defined his leadership style. As a result, he earned respect and deep affection from faculty, staff, and students. We are all a bit better for his time as dean.”
An Award-Winning Academic Career
Friedman is an award-winning historian, author, scholar, and teacher, who specializes in 20th-century US foreign relations. He joined the Department of History at American University in 2007 and holds an appointment as Professor of International Relations in the School of International Service. Among his many honors, he is a recipient of the Bernath Article Prize and Bernath Lecture Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He has been a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, and the American University Scholar/Teacher of the Year. In 2020, he completed a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
Friedman’s first book, Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2003), won the Herbert Hoover Prize in US History and the AB Thomas Prize in Latin American Studies. He also wrote Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and co-edited Partisan Histories: The Past in Contemporary Global Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Most recently, Friedman co-edited The Cambridge History of America and the World Volume 4: Since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, March 2022).
Dedication to Scholarship and Service
The Humboldt Foundation’s Bessel Prize was awarded when the Foundation judged that Friedman’s scholarship has changed the field of diplomatic history and contributed to debates about crucial ethical and historical issues. Rethinking Anti-Americanism draws on archival and public record research in several languages and countries to reveal how the concept of “anti-Americanism” has been misused to stifle domestic dissent and dismiss foreign criticism. “It is a model of the new international history in the way it steps out of the American context and thoughtfully examines a key concept from multiple perspectives, giving each careful and full consideration,” says Eric Lohr, Professor of History and Dr. James H. Billington Chair of Russian History and Culture. “The book has gotten rave reviews not only for its scholarly contribution, but also for its serious engagement with a term commonly used in political discourse.”
Friedman’s sense of civic duty and teaching extends past the classroom, adds Lohr. “From teach-ins on the Iraq War, to training mid-career State Department officials, Max pours his boundless energy into teaching and raising the level of discourse in the classroom, through his publications and in his wide-ranging civic engagement.”
During his sabbatical, Friedman will be working on his latest book, The Containment of the United States: Latin America and the Limits of Principle. It tells the story of Latin American diplomats, jurists, and intellectuals who sought to counterbalance US power from the late 19th century through the Cold War, not by mobilizing military or economic power, but by working to change international norms in law and diplomacy to raise the reputational costs of intervention. Max will also be working on an edited collection with AU’s Núria Vilanova and Stefan Rinke of the Lateinamerika-Institut, titled Transnationalism and Transnational Humans in the Americas, based on workshops held in Washington, Barcelona, and Berlin.
And of course, Friedman will be spending his free time running after his son Martin through some of Berlin’s 1,850 playgrounds.