Just a few short weeks ago, Dr. Jeffrey Eden joined the ranks of St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s (SMCM) History department, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and an engaging teaching style. Though well-versed in history as a whole, Eden specializes in Russian history, providing his students with insight on an area that is shrouded in mystery but has become increasingly relevant to American foreign policy since the 2016 presidential election.
Eden focuses on three main spheres of study including Russia, the former Soviet Union and Central Asia, with a special interest in the Iranian and Chinese Empires. He employs a teaching method that focuses on the social history of Russia, drawing in the student through elaborate examples about daily life. For him, teaching social history allows students to “include the individual day to day experiences as a window into broader political issues.” He also notes that “often times there is a disconnect of awareness between rules developed at the highest levels of governance, versus what people in the hinterlands are experiencing on a day to day basis.” Eden argues that “social culture can show us how governance spreads,” allowing his students to better understand complicated periods in history.
Though new to St.Mary’s, Eden is no stranger to teaching. Prior to SMCM, he taught at University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland College Park and Cornell University. He has also travelled extensively to the places he studies, and has lived in Kazakhstan for periods of time, as the area provides crucial access to documents and sources for his work. He elaborates on his experience there, noteing that not only is Kazakhstan “a chamber of wonders for manuscripts,” but that “everyone is pretty much family there when you show up as a foreigner.” He plans to travel to Moscow this winter to pursue more research.
When asked why he wanted to be a professor of Russian history, Eden cited the importance of the good teachers he had as a student. He reminisced on his time as an undergraduate student, back when he was unsure what he wanted to do and most things looked unappealing, a feeling many students are intimately aware of. The change came when he took a history course with an extremely charismatic professor who Eden said exemplified a person who “truly and passionately loved his job.” From that point onward he said things clicked, stating “from that time on I wanted to do exactly what this man was doing.” The rest as they say, is history.
When he isn’t teaching at the College, Eden enjoys the simple life with his wife and their rescue dog Bella. He noted that “her majesty Bella” figures prominently in their life, as they spend lots of time playing with her and exploring the neighborhood. A typical weekend is spent enjoying each other’s company at local Korean bakeries and coffee shops where he likes to spend hours and hours reading and working on presentations for his class. He also enjoys playing multiple instruments, including guitar, banjo, fiddle and Central Asian loots, though he notes that “most of my spare time is purely dog related.” He and his wife also deeply enjoy the show “Vikings,” though he notes it may not be 100% historically accurate.
On top of focusing his academic research and teaching on Russia, Eden has a personal connection to the area as his family roots trace back to Eastern Europe and Russia. He mentioned that his family even has a document where his great-grandfather renounced the Russian Tsar! This makes him even more passionate about the area and culture. On this note, he mentions his love for the Russian staple of buckwheat, saying “personally I’m a ‘buckwheataholic.’ I eat it every single morning for breakfast!” Besides this he also enjoys cooking Varenikes, a dish that is very similar to perogies. Though delicious, he says “the hardest part is making the dough, something Russians can always get right.”
Currently Eden is teaching Russian Civilization and Twentieth Century World, but he spoke extensively of his excitement to teach a new course being offered next semester on Soviet history. The course will “survey the Soviet Union, starting at the fall of the czars, going through the rise of the Bolsheviks and Lenin, and hopefully all the way into more modern day, where we will get to meet Putin.” He explains that he also wants to draw in Central Asian connections due to it being understudied and one of the specialties he can offer.
Eden expressed his excitement to be teaching at St. Mary’s. He also spoke of his satisfaction at how inviting and hungry to learn the student body is, noting that the College has a spirit that is rare to find elsewhere. Look out for his Soviet Union course next semester.