Ever since he became an Eagle Scout at the age of 14, Devin Pendas, an associate professor within the history department, knew he wanted to be a history professor. Perhaps these early inclinations derived from his mother, who was pursuing a graduate degree in history during his early childhood and, rather than tell typical bedtime stories, would read selections from her history books to then-8-year-old Pendas.
“I was doomed from the beginning,” he joked. Today, Pendas specializes in modern Europe; German history; the history of war and genocide; the history of war crimes trials after World War II; legal history; and the history of human rights.
Born in Colorado, Pendas moved around often until age 8 due to his mother’s graduate studies, living in places such as London, San Francisco, New York, and both Tubingen and Frankfurt, Germany. From age nine on, however, he spent the remainder of his youth in Colorado Springs, Colo.
For his undergraduate education, Pendas traveled to the Midwest to attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. In 1986, he studied abroad in East Berlin when East and West Germany were separated during the Cold War. “It was an incredibly interesting time to be there, obviously,” Pendas said.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he had been in Paris-his mother married a French man and had moved there-but was hesitant to travel to Germany with his friends for the barrier’s destruction and the ensuing celebrations. “Nobody saw it coming, the reunification, and all the sudden, boom, there it was.” Pendas considers his apprehension one of his “biggest regrets”-“There are times in life when you shouldn’t be that practical,” he said.
After graduating from Carleton in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Pendas continued with his education at the University of Chicago for his graduate and doctoral studies, obtaining his M.A. in 1993 and his Ph.D. in 2000.
Subsequently, he worked for three years at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of social sciences and a Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. From 2001 to 2003, he served as an associated faculty member, instructing two core classes on social theory within the history department: Wealth, Power, and Virtue, and Power, Identity, and Resistance.
Following his postdoctoral fellowship in Chicago, he moved to the East Coast and came to BC in 2003 amid much excitement in his family life.
“I’ll never forget-my daughter was just two weeks old,” Pendas said. At BC, he offers German and international history classes, including a year-long introduction to German history; a class on Nazism and the Nazi Regime; Human Rights as History; War and Genocide; and War Crimes Trials, a course that examines trials following WWII-such as Nuremberg, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
At present, Pendas teaches the history core and Human Rights as History-one of his favorite courses to instruct.
“It’s a really tricky issue-it gets very complicated very fast, which makes it intellectually very interesting,” he said. “I really like teaching that class and the Third Reich class, and I think the students get a lot out of those courses.” Since 2008, he has also served as a faculty affiliate and co-chair of the German Study Group at the Center for European studies at Harvard University.
Alongside teaching, Pendas is currently working on Law, Democracy, and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1945-1950, a book to be published by Cambridge University Press that provides a history of trials for Nazi crimes conducted strictly in German courts, which he hopes to finish by the end of this summer. Additionally, he is researching and constructing a synthetic account of law and mass violence within the modern period.
Fluent in German and competent in French, Pendas also travels abroad for his work and research. This past fall, he spent time in Germany for a series of TV and radio interviews. “It was an interesting test of how good my German was,” he said.
About his initial interest in and experience at BC, “Well, within the academics job market, it was where I was offered a position, and I was very grateful for that,” Pendas said. “Especially for humanities faculty, there aren’t often many competing opportunities. When I was searching for employment, it was the best job in the country that year for German historians.
“In addition, while I was in grad school, I knew I wanted to teach at a research university dedicated to undergraduate education-BC is one of the very small number of schools that fits that category almost exactly, with such a focus on research and undergrads. I love it.”