Jeremy Best

Modern Europe & the World, Modern Germany


Office:603 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


My research is on the history of race, religion, and culture in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. I am especially interested in the history of imagination; the construction of meaning by people and institutions in the past through fantasy, the articulation of those fantasies through cultural expression, and the transformation of that meaning into concrete policy behavior and goals. This interest began with the imaginary internationalism of Protestant missionaries and now turns to military and political policymakers in Germany in the wake of the Holocaust.

My book, Heavenly Fatherland: German Missionary Culture in the Age of Empire (University of Toronto Press, 2021), is an analysis of the interaction among German Protestant missionaries, missionized Africans in the colony of German East Africa, and white Protestants in Germany. In this work I investigate the theological, cultural, and political activities of missionaries, missionary societies, and missionary intellectuals in the wider context of Western imperialism and globalization. Missionaries imagined themselves part of a global, international project to evangelize the world. I argue through their imagined internationalism missionaries mediated much of ordinary Germans’ experiences of globalization, ultimately endorsing a cosmopolitan internationalism over German nationalism in the decades before World War I. In 2021, Heavenly Fatherland won the Best First Book Award from Phi Alpha Theta, the academic honor society for history.

I have also begun a new research project, tentatively titled “Toy Soldiering: West German Rearmament, the Holocaust, and the United States.” In this project, I ask how German and American military planners and wargaming hobbyists imagined the recent past (World War II and the Holocaust) and conceived of the future (the Cold War). How did they imagine warfare and security policy through the invented worlds of tabletop warfare? The answers to these questions will shape and inform a study of German-American relations and cultural exchange during the early Cold War, 1945-55. This period hosted the birth of modern tabletop board- and role-playing games in the United States and Germany and the simultaneous creation of the German-American military, economic, and cultural alliance. As part of the creation of this alliance, German military might had to be “domesticated” and the Holocaust had to be forgotten. The creation and propagation of the Clean Wehrmacht Myth assisted in the remaking of German military power from existential threat to reliable ally. My developing project is to investigate the role played in this process by gaming culture and how the origins of gaming and the hobby’s continuing fascination with Germany’s World War II military might has enabled Holocaust forgetting through popular culture.

As a Holocaust educator I have been a Fellow at the Summer Institute of the Holocaust Educational Foundation and a participant in the Jack and Anita Hess Faculty Seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In summer 2019 I joined the Iowa Council for Holocaust Education. Since fall 2017 I have lectured to audiences in Iowa and beyond on white nationalism on campuses, including my own, and recently had an article on the topic published in Perspectives on History, the magazine of the American Historical Association.

My work has appeared in Central European History and other fora. My research has been supported by the German-American Fulbright Commission, the German Historical Institute, and the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities at Iowa State University among others.