History department holds book launch

Whitney Clum

Amidst a celebration thrown by Washburn University’s history department, Ben Goossen, Harvard student and Topeka native, launched his book “A Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era.”

Goossen opened the event by explaining the seven year journey he had embarked on to explore Mennonite communities around the world, as well as giving a brief outline of the content in the book. The Mennonites are a sect of Christianity with a current population of almost 80,000 in the United States. The event ended with a book signing and a cake with the cover of the book printed on it.  

The crowd, a mix of students, faculty and members of the local Mennonite church, listened as Goossen explained how Nazi Germany was both attracted and put off by the Mennonite Christians.

Historical documents and quotes from leaders of the Mennonite church were presented to help illustrate how the various locations of Mennonite settlements impacted how they reacted to the Third Reich. The presentation also explained how a portion of the Mennonite community in Soviet Russia sympathized with the Nazi regime’s anti-Communist leanings and fled to Germany. 

The presentation also included photographs, clips from old Nazi propaganda films and stories about Goossen’s own experiences in different Mennonite communities around the globe.

“What’s interesting about Ben is that this isn’t even his dissertation,” said professor Tom Prasch, chairman of Washburn’s history department. “It is unusual to write a book before finishing your dissertation. He strikes me as an amazingly good historian with an ability to formulate good questions. He has been to Paraguay, Poland, which used to be German, and Newton (Kansas).”

Not only does the history of the Mennonites have nothing to do with Goossen’s dissertation, Goossen’s chosen field of study has nothing to do with history at all. His work for his doctorate revolves around environmentalism in third-world countries.

When asked about how he connects the two completely different topics, Goossen said that it all had to do with nationalism.

“I study the way nationalism changes and is expressed across geological differences,”  said Goossen. “One of the main reasons that the world as a whole has not addressed climate change is because of nationalism.”

Book launches are generally only held if there is a personal connection to the university. In this case, Goossen is the son of Rachel Goossen, professor of history at Washburn. They are also held to highlight contemporary issues in the news. According to Prasch, the topics that are featured “vary by semester.”

Although this particular book launch was scheduled before the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Goossen was able to make connections with that event with the core theme of his book. According to Goossen, understanding nationalism is the key to understanding what happened with some members of the Mennonite community in the midst of World War II, as well as understanding why the Charlottesville protests happened.