‘Member Spotlight’ Interviews

As a means of highlighting the recent publications and scholarly work of current members, the SSA will post ‘Member Spotlight’ interviews at regular intervals.

Interested in sharing your current work? Please email us at slovakstudies@gmail.com.

Kevin McNamara

I am an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia, PA, and currently serve as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences, Washington, DC.  I am a former journalist and congressional aide.

When and how did you first develop an interest in Slovak or Slovak-area studies?

During a trek across Siberia in 1993, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, I became vaguely aware of the legend of the Czecho-Slovak Legion, which, among other things, seized the entire Trans-Siberian Railway in 1918.  The story was dramatic and also consequential, so I assumed I could acquire a book or two about this historic episode back in the States.  Once home, I could not find a serious history, in English, that was still in print.  Years of research led me to a trove of Czech-language, first-hand accounts by the legionnaires, which had been published in Prague in the 1920s, but then suppressed.  I arranged to have these stories translated into English, and I then proceeded to write a narrative history of the Legion, Dreams of a Great Small Nation, which was published by the Public Affairs imprint of the Hachette Book Group in 2016.  It was translated into Czech and Slovak and reissued by Slovart Publishing Ltd., in Czechia and Slovakia in 2020.  Among other things, the book prompted the U.S. State Department to sponsor my speaking tour of five Czech and Slovak cities in May 2018.

What is your current research/work project?  (Please include a link to any new publication.)

I continue to write essays and book reviews about Central and Eastern Europe, the European Union, nation-states vs. transnationalism, empires vs. nationalism, and about sovereignty and national identity, using history, geography, and culture to shed light on international affairs.  One of my more recent articles was published in The National Interest:

Please say a few words about any activities or projects you’re involved in that link academia with society at large (i.e., any digital/podcast projects, community lectures/publications, etc.)

I was interviewed about my book, Dreams of a Great Small Nation, by three Czech television news programs (CNN-Czechia, Česká Televise, and Seznam Zprávy); two Slovak news magazines (Tyzden and Slovenka); a Slovak news website (Aktuality.sk); two Czech newspapers (Hospodářské Noviny and Lidovky); and twice by Radio Prague.  

The book was excerpted in three American periodicals, Military History QuarterlyRussian Life, and Slovo: A Publication of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.  It was also excerpted in a journal in the Slovak Republic, Historická Revue.  Another excerpt will soon appear in a journal, elaborately named The Bulletin of the Laboratory of Ancient Technologies, published by Irkutsk National Research Technical University, Irkutsk, Russian Federation.

The book also inspired a museum exhibit, Guts & Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation, at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, IA, which ran from April 7, 2018 through December 31, 2018, and for which I served as the consultant.

Finally, it led to two dozen speaking engagements at venues like the Woodrow Wilson International for Scholars, Washington, DC; Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences, New York, NY; Embassy of the Slovak Republic, Washington, DC; Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, Pittsburgh, PA; Czech Center New York, NY; and World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, PA; National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Cedar Rapids, IA; and at overseas venues like the Slovak National Museum, Bratislava; and Masaryk University, Brno.  

What Slovakia-related book or article would you recommend to readers who wish to learn more about some of Slovakia’s most pressing issues?  

SSA faculty would probably have better answers to this question than I, but an undergraduate might profit by reading the following books, and in the following order:

  • The History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival, by Stanislav J. Kirschbaum.
  • The Slovak National Awakening: An Essay in the Intellectual History of East Central Europe, by Peter Brock.
  • Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe, by Kevin J. McNamara.
  • National Conflict in Czechoslovakia: The Making and Remarking of a State, 1918-1987, by Carol Skalnik Leff.

What is your favorite place in Slovakia to visit and why?

I’ve been only twice, and the first time the U.S. State Department staff whisked me from venue to venue and – while I said much – I saw very little.  The second visit was a much-needed vacation, and I just wandered Bratislava. Bratislava is an overlooked gem, and I want to return to both the Slovak and Czech republics to explore the many other smaller cities and towns.  

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