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Feature

Assistant professor Ron Krebs

Assistant professor of political science Ron Krebs

Musty archives shed light on democracies at war

McKnight Land-Grant Professors get critical support for early careers

By Gayla Marty

Brief, March 29, 2006

In 1971, a constitutional amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. If you were old enough to die fighting for your country, people reasoned, you were old enough to vote. That's just one example of the relationship between military service and the rights of citizenship that assistant professor of political science Ron Krebs explores in his forthcoming book, Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship, to be published this July.

Researching the book, Krebs dug into archives of the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries and archives in Washington, D.C., and Israel--some of them very musty. And he liked it.

For his next big research project, Krebs will get some additional help. This month, he and nine other junior faculty members engaged in critical and timely research were recognized by the Board of Regents as McKnight Land-Grant Professors for 2006-08 (see box, below). The awards provide financial support, beginning July 1, as well as a research leave in the second year. For Krebs, simply getting the leave time is critical.

2006-08 McKnight Land-Grant Professors

Awards support the University's most promising junior faculty at a crucial time in their professional careers. They are made by the Office of the Provost and the Graduate School.

* Demoz Gebre-Egziabher, aerospace engineering and mechanics
* Yongdae Kim, computer science and engineering
* Efie Kokkoli, chemical engineering and materials science
* Ronald Krebs, political science
* Angus MacDonald III, psychology
* Steven Manson, geography
* David Rapp, educational psychology
* Stergios Roumeliotis, computer science and engineering
* Mark Thomas, neuroscience
* Cynthia Weinig, plant biology

For more information, see the award Web site.

"And $30,000 for research is a substantial sum for somebody doing the kind of research I do," he says. "I'm deeply grateful to the University of Minnesota for recognizing the value and quality of my research."

That kind of support will make it easier to travel to key archives and spend time poring over hard-to-access documents.

"My understanding of different Arab groups and their relationship to the state was completely reshaped by access to files in the archives of the Israel Defense Forces and various ministries," Krebs says about his first book. He also researched personal archives of government bureaucrats that other researchers had never seen. He found that, in addition to extending rights to those who serve on the battlefield, military service gives minority groups a potentially powerful claim for citizenship rights and may lead them to mobilize for fuller integration into society.

Now Krebs is setting out to study the broader question of how war and war mobilization affect democracies. How do democratic states negotiate emergencies and continue to be democratic? How can leaders know when authority is needed? And how can citizens know when to contest or resist?

"What makes war so complicated to study is distinguishing its effects from those of other large processes, such as industrialization," Krebs says. "Another complication is separating its short-term and long-term effects."

Krebs already had a year lined up to spend on his research as a Harrington Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. Now he's mapping out potential research sites abroad to conduct interviews and visit archives.

In one conversation, Krebs talks easily about the Roman farmer Cincinnatus who served as dictator during an emergency, liberal and illiberal democracies, classic political theory, the meaning of 9/11, and counterterrorism.

He describes himself as East Coast, born and bred. His parents were immigrants from war-torn Europe, "acutely conscious of how wars wreak havoc on a nation." He grew up around books, got his bachelor's degree at Princeton, spent three years at Harvard on fellowships, and earned his Ph.D. at Columbia.

"Minnesota was not on my radar at first," says Krebs, though his wife's family originally hailed from Winnipeg. But when he started job hunting in his field of political science, the University of Minnesota popped up. "It's a wonderful department," he says.

Krebs landed the job in 2002, and his wife landed her own at Target headquarters. They bought a home in St. Louis Park and now they're finding the Twin Cities a good place to raise their two young children.

During the next two years, he'll be commuting from Minnesota to Texas and other sites on his emerging itinerary. He will remain part of a biweekly seminar series on international relations, organized by the political science department's graduate students, and continue to serve on graduate students' committees. But he's looking forward to those musty archives.

"What I enjoy is a blend of the immediate and the timeless, the present and the past," he says. "The past is our proving ground."