Cohen, Deborah 1968–

views updated

Cohen, Deborah 1968–


Born 1968. Education: Harvard-Radcliffe College, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1990; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1996.


Office— History Department, Brown University, Box N, 190 Thayer St., Providence, RI 02912. E-mail— [email protected].


American University, Washington, DC, assistant professor of history, 1997-2002; Brown University, Providence, RI, associate professor of history, c. 2002—.


Mellon fellowship, 1991-95; Berkeley fellowship for graduate study, 1991-94; Council for European Studies fellowship, Columbia University, 1993; German Academic Exchange Service Fellowship, 1994-1995; James Bryant Conant postdoctoral fellowship, Harvard Center for European Studies, 1996; Senate Research Award, American University, 1997-1998; German American Research Network Grant, 1997-1998; Mellon Research Award, American University, 1998-99; Conference Grant, German Historical Institute, 1999; Senate Research Award, American University, 2000; National Endowment for the Humanities summer fellowship, 2001; Allan Sharlin book prize, Social Science History Association, 2002, for The War Come Home; Salomon Research Award, Brown University, 2003; Howard Foundation fellowship, 2005.


The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2001.

(Editor, with Maura O'Connor)Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.

Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2006.

Editorial board member,Journal of Modern History,2006-09.


Deborah Cohen is a historian who has written and edited books focusing on British and European history. On the Brown Research Web site, the author noted: "In my work to date, I have sought to place the history of Britain within a wider frame—to compare what happened in Britain to developments in Europe and the United States in order to understand which aspects of British history are truly distinctive, and which are broadly shared."

In her first book,The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939, the author explores why German veterans of World War I opposed the Weimar Republic even though they received good benefits and social services, while British soldiers remained loyal to the British empire despite poor treatment by their government in terms of benefits and services. According to Cohen, neither the consequences of victory and defeat nor different political cultures account for the differences in loyalties between the Germans and the British toward their government. Rather, the author points to British civil social networks as the key to the British veterans' strong loyalties. For example, many British volunteer and philanthropic organizations provided attention to the veterans and thus fostered a good relationship between them and their government. However, the author notes that, although the German government instituted a vast welfare culture made up of various large organizations, much smaller charities were disbanded due to the Bundesrat decree of 1917. As a result, Cohen argues that German veterans were not reintegrated as well into society as the British veterans, resulting in the German veterans having a much less favorable view of the general public than the British government, which enjoyed the gratitude of the British citizens. In addition, the German public grew to resent the way many official government resources targeted German veterans as opposed to the meager resources available to the general populace.

"Brilliantly written and immediately accessible,The War Come Home offers a long overdue interpretation of philanthropy's essential role in mediating between the individual and the state during the first half of the twentieth century," wrote Jeffrey S. Reznick in the Journal of Social History. "In doing so, it paves a new avenue in the historiography of the Great War and, indeed, in critical thinking about how future voluntary sectors will (or will not) play mediating roles during war and its aftermath." The War Come Home also received several other favorable reviews. Frank Biess wrote in German Politics and Society: "Deborah Cohen's new study on disabled veterans in Germany and Great Britain pushes the historiography on the aftermath of Europe's prime catastrophe to new frontiers. Beautifully written and based on an enormous amount of research, the book offers a compelling and highly original argument about the different approaches that both countries took in confronting one of the most intricate problems resulting from the Great War." Albion contributor J.P. Anderson called the book "readable and well researched" and also commented: "Through extensive archival research, Cohen is able to put a human face to disabled war veterans bound up in the wheels of bureaucracy."

Cohen turns her attention from veterans to the British public at large in Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions, which Victorian Web contributor Jacqueline Banerjee called "a hugely informative book which is also a delight to read." Specifically, Cohen explores how the British came to believe that their personalities and identities were personified in their homes and home furnishings, from the wallpaper they chose to the furniture in their rooms. "While revising The War Come Home for publication, I became interested in countervailing experiences of plenty," the author noted on the Brown Research Web site. "In my second book,… I examined the material culture of the British middle classes from the mid-nineteenth century through the Second World War."

The author focuses primarily on the disparities between the Victorians' austere religious codes and the grandiosity of their houses and furnishings. In the process she explores how the British middle class reacted to unprecedented prosperity with an insatiable appetite for material goods and how they reconciled the moral teachings of good with material plenty. Finally, the author reflects on why the British came to believe in the Victorian era that their homes reflected their individual personalities. In addition to substantiating her work with references to findings from unpublished diaries, trade journals, and magazines, the author includes 150 illustrations.

Noting that the author "writes with great wit and clarity," Timeout London Web site contributor John O'Connell also wrote that " Household Gods has a fascinating story to tell about suburbia and middle-class self-fashioning." Ligaya Mishan commented in the New York Times Book Review that the author tells a "witty and beguiling history of a hundred years of British domestic interiors."



Albion, spring, 2003, J.P. Anderson, review of The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939.

American Historical Review, June, 2007, John R. Gillis, review of Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions, p. 928.

British Heritage, May, 2007, review of Household Gods, p. 63.

Central European History, spring, 2003, Young-Sun Hong, review of The War Come Home, pp. 295-297.

English Historical Review, November, 2002, Trevor Wilson, review of The War Come Home, p. 1294.

German Politics and Society, fall, 2002, Frank Biess, review of The War Come Home.

History Today, May, 2002, Joanna Bourke, review of The War Come Home, p. 85.

International Review of Social History, August, 2003, Sabine Kienitz, review of The War Come Home, p. 283; August, 2006, review of Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective, p. 324.

Journal of Social History, winter, 2003, Jeffrey S. Reznick, review of The War Come Home.

New York Times Book Review, January 14, 2007, Ligaya Mishan, review of Household Gods.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of Household Gods.

Times Higher Education Supplement, March 16, 2007, John Storey, "The Relentless Rise of the Coffee-Table Cults," review of Household Gods, p. 23.

Times Literary Supplement, February 9, 2007, Paul Barker, "By the Yard," review of Household Gods, p. 36.


Brown Research Web site, Brown University, (October 19, 2007), biography of Deborah Cohen.

Brown University History Department Web site, (October 19, 2007), faculty profile of Deborah Cohen.

History News Network, (October 19, 2007), profile of Deborah Cohen.

Timeout London, (October 30, 2006), John O'Connell, review of Household Gods.

Victorian Web, (October 19, 2007), Jacqueline Banerjee, review of Household Gods.