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Glenn Penny

Professor and Henry J. Bruman Chair in German History


Contact Information

Email    gpenny@history.ucla.edu
Office  5363 Bunche Hall
Phone  310-825-3568

Glenn Penny studies histories of belonging, knowledge, and migration from the middle of the eighteenth century until the present by pursuing German speakers and German communities all over the world.  He is also deeply engaged in the workings of ethnological museums.


Ph. D.  Department of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999. 

M. A.  University of Colorado at Boulder, 1991. 

B. A.  University of Colorado at Boulder, 1987.


  • John Simon Guggenheim Fellow (2021-2022)
  • Senior Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin) (2017-2018)
  • Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Humanities Research, Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (2015)
  • German Academic Exchange Service--Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) book award (2015)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Fellowship (2012-2014)
  • Visiting Fellow, Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, Berlin (2011)

Selected Publications

“Reflections on (Post)Socialist Curated Environments,” in Philipp Schorch and Daniel Habit eds., Curating (Post)socialist Environments 329-37 (Oldenbourg:  De Gruyter, 2020).

“Diversity, Inclusivity, and Germanness in Latin America during the Interwar Period,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., 61 (Fall, 2017): 85-108.

“From Migrant Knowledge to Fugitive Knowledge?  German Migrants and Knowledge Production in Guatemala, 1880s-1945,” Geschichte & Gesellschaft 43 no. 3 (2017): 381-412.

“Material Connections: German Schools, Things, and Soft Power in Argentina and Chile from the 1880s through the Interwar Period,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 3 (2017):  519-49.

“Historiographies in Dialog: Beyond the Categories of Germans and Brazilians” German History 33 no. 3 (2015): 347-366.

“Germans Abroad:  Respatializing Historical Narrative,” co-authored with Stefan Rinke, Geschichte & Gesellschaft 41 (2015): 1 – 24.

“Performing Indigeneity: Emergent Identity, Self-determination, and Sovereignty,” co-authored with Laura R. Graham, in Graham and Penny ed., Performing Indigeneity (2014), 1-40.

“Latin American Connections:  Recent work on German Interactions with Latin America,” Central European History 46 no. 2 (2013): 362-394.

“German Polycentrism and the Writing of History,” German History, 29, no. 2 (2012): 265-282.

“The Insistence of World History: Jürgen Osterhammel’s Die Verwandlung der Welt,” German History 28, no. 2 (2011):  505-511.

“Red Power:  Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich and Indian Activist Networks in East and West Germany,” Central European History 41, no. 3 (2008), 447-476.

“The Fate of the Nineteenth Century in German Historiography,” The Journal of Modern History 80 (March 2008): 81–108.

“Elusive Authenticity:  The Quest for the Authentic Indian in German Public Culture” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 48, no. 4 (2006), 798-818.

“The Politics of Anthropology in the Age of Empire:  German Colonists, Brazilian Indians, and the Case of Alberto Vojtech Fric,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, no. 2 (2003) 240-280.


Glenn Penny’s work explores the relationships between Europeans and non-Europeans from the eighteenth century to the present. He is particularly interested in Germans’ broad engagement with the wider world. His first book, Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany (2003), was the first comparative study of German ethnographic museums as well as the first in-depth analysis of the international market of material culture that took shape during the late nineteenth century. His second book, Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800 (2013), explores the striking sense of affinity for American Indians that has permeated German culture for two centuries. It shows how those affinities stem from German polycentrism, notions of tribalism, a devotion to resistance, a longing for freedom, and a melancholy sense of shared fate. It also uses those interconnections over the longue durée to directly engage the relationship between continuity and rupture in the metanarratives of modern German history and to underscore the perils of historians’ reliance on political periodizations. Listen to a New Books in History podcast interview regarding this book here

As a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2017-18), Glenn completed In Humboldt’s Shadow: A Tragic History of German Ethnology (German version:  Munich: C.H. Beck, 2019/English version:  Princeton 2021). It directly engages the public controversies swirling around ethnological museums in Europe today. Written for a broad audience, it explains why there are more than a half million non-European objects in the Berlin Ethnological Museum and millions more in similar museums across Germany. It explains how those objects came to German cities; what the people who collected those objects thought they were doing; and what we could and should be doing with them today. Ultimately, it argues that German ethnological museums are treasure troves filled with the traces of human histories that have yet to be written, and it pleas for the objects to be released from their long confinement and the museums returned to their original focus on the production of knowledge. Listen to a New Books podcast interview regarding this book here.

In June 2022, Glenn’s most recent monograph appeared with Cambridge University Press. German History Unbound: 1750s to the Present offers readers a polycentric German history that pointedly decenters the nation-state.  It includes communities of Germans far beyond its borders, and it emphasizes that for generations many who considered themselves to be German also felt themselves to be other things.  Taking up a decidedly counter-hegemonic position, Glenn calls for a greater integration of mobilities, migration flows, and pluralities of belonging into our narratives of Germans’ histories. He also argues for greater attention to the transcultural spaces many Germans helped to fashion and the various networks that tied them together. Listen to a Historically Thinking podcast interview regarding this book here

Over the last few years, Glenn has been working closely with ethnologists at the Ludwig Uhland Institute at the University of Tübingen, where he has been pursuing a new project on belonging in the southern German borderlands:  the southern German borderlands, essentially the region that spans from Salzburg to Basel, but was never only “German.”  That very designation is a provocative problem, which he is using to explore the many affinities, interconnections, mobilities, and transcultural spaces that have long animated this region as well as Germans’ many histories.