James Krapfl

James  Krapfl
Contact Information

Department of History

855 Sherbrooke West
Montreal, Quebec
H3A 2T7

514-398-4400 ext.00971
Email address: 
James.Krapfl [at] mcgill.ca
Associate Professor
Leacock, Rm 631

PhD (University of California, Berkeley)
MA (Central European University)
AB (Stanford University)

Specialization by time period: 
1450 - 1800
1800 - 1900
1900 - Today
Specialization by geographical area: 
Office hours: 

On sabbatical from Sept. 1, 2022 to Aug. 31, 2023.


James Krapfl is a historian of political culture. He is the author of a revisionist history of the central European revolutions of 1989, which systematically investigates the words and deeds of the millions of citizens who mobilized to build “a new society.” Not initially opposed to “socialism,” citizens in their local milieux strove to create a humane, fair, and non-violent society that would mix direct with representative democracy in both political and economic spheres; the neoliberal Europe that ultimately ensued was thus not a direct consequence of the revolutions, but of a refined counter-revolution in the early 1990s. Revolution with a Human Face won the George Blazyca Prize for best book in East European studies, as well as the Czechoslovak Studies Association book prize. In subsequent work Prof. Krapfl has foreshadowed and psychoanalyzed populist reactions to the “democratic deficit” that succeeded civic engagement in 1989, and he has chronicled grassroots initiatives to reinvigorate democracy.

While continuing to write and lecture on the history of Europe since 1989, Prof. Krapfl is preparing a new book on the political cultures forged in the collective effervescence of 1968. He focuses on popular experiences of the late 1960s in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland, comparing them with contemporaneous struggles over the meaning of democracy across the Iron Curtain. Research for this project has been supported by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and by Czech, German, and Slovak funding bodies. Prof. Krapfl is also part of an interdisciplinary team based at Charles University in Prague, working to develop a global historical anthropology of revolution.

In his teaching, Prof. Krapfl emphasizes creative problem-solving and the relevance of history to navigating the present. He has been awarded the H. Noel Fieldhouse Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Arts Undergraduate Society’s Excellence in Teaching Award. He is the editor of Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue canadienne des slavistes, and previously he co-edited a special issue of East European Politics & Societies and Cultures to mark the fortieth anniversary of Václav Havel’s landmark essay The Power of the Powerless. For his work on this collection, Prof. Krapfl received the Michael Henry Heim Prize in collegial translation. Prof. Krapfl sits on the executive board of the Canadian Association of Slavists and has previously served on the board of directors of the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He has co-organized the Montreal Central European Studies Workshop, and he has been a visiting fellow at universities and research institutes in Bratislava, Jena, Olomouc, and Prague.

Graduate supervision: 

Modern central European history, history of political culture and mentalities, history of ideas

Selected publications: 

Revolution with a Human Face: Politics, Culture, and Community in Czechoslovakia, 1989-1992. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2013.

Revolúcia s ľudskou tvárou: Politika, kultúra a spoločenstvo v Československu po 17. novembri 1989. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2009.

The Power of the Powerless Today.” Special issue, East European Politics & Societies and Cultures 32, no. 2 (May 2018). Co-edited with Barbara J. Falk.

The Revolution Continues: Memories of 1989 and the Defence of Democracy in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.” Cultures of History Forum (May 2020). Co-authored with Andrew Kloiber.

Centennials of the 1918 Revolutions in Austria-Hungary’s Successor States.” Austrian Studies Newsmagazine 32, no. 1 (Fall 2019/Spring 2020): 17-18, 33.

“Czechoslovakia’s Year of Decision: From the Socialist Revolution of 1989 to the ‘Real’ Revolution of 1990.” In From Revolution to Uncertainty: The Year 1990 in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Joachim von Puttkamer, Włodzimierz Borodziej, and Stanislav Holubec, 80-102. London: Routledge, 2019.

Boredom, Apocalypse, and Beyond: Reading Havel through Patočka.” East European Politics & Societies and Cultures 32, no. 2 (May 2018): 278-84.

Passing the Torch, Despite Bananas: The Twentieth-Anniversary Commemorations of 1989 in Central Europe.” Remembrance and Solidarity 3 (June 2014): 63-101.

Sites of Memory, Sites of Rejoicing: The Great War in Czech and Slovak Cultural History.” Remembrance and Solidarity 2 (March 2014): 109-46.

“The Discursive Constitution of Revolution and Revolution Envy.” In The 1989 Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe: From Communism to Post-Communism, edited by Kevin McDermott and Matthew Stibbe, 271-84. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013.

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