Chancellor’s Professor of History
Professor of European Studies
PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 1989
History of the social and ethical implications of technological change; twentieth-century European history.
Office Hours: On leave 2012-2013
Office: 208 Benson Hall
Michael Bess is a specialist in twentieth-century Europe, with a particular interest in the social and cultural impacts of technological change. He is the author of three books: Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (Knopf, 2006); The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000 (U. of Chicago Press, 2003; French Translation, 2011, Champ Vallon), which won the George Perkins Marsh prize (2004) of the American Society for Environmental History and an Honorable Mention (2004) from the Pinkney Prize committee of the Society for French Historical Studies; and Realism, Utopia, and the Mushroom Cloud: Four Activist Intellectuals and Their Strategies for Peace, 1945-1989. Louise Weiss (France), Leo Szilard (United States), E. P. Thompson (England), Danilo Dolci (Italy) (U. of Chicago Press, 1993).
He is currently writing a book entitled Icarus 2.0: Justice and Identity in a Bioengineered Civilization. This book project explores the ethical and social implications of new technologies for human biological enhancement. These technologies, designed to reconfigure or boost our physical and mental capabilities, are developing rapidly in three distinct but interconnected domains: pharmaceuticals, prosthetics/informatics, and genetics. Over recent decades, as innovations in these fields have accumulated, they have begun reaching into our lives with increasing force, raising profound questions about what it means to be human.
Bess has received fellowships or grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Institutes of Health / National Human Genome Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Fulbright research grants program, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
Bess has been teaching at Vanderbilt since 1989. He teaches undergraduate courses on World War II, twentieth-century Europe, and Western Civilization, as well as specialized seminars on environmentalism, the boundaries of the human, or utopian thought. His graduate courses include a survey of the historiography on twentieth-century Europe, and a semester-long workshop to train graduate students for teaching history at the college level. Bess has been awarded the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Ellen Gregg Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching, and the Vanderbilt Chair of Teaching Excellence.
Please link here to my home page.