Student Reflections

Halfway There: What I Learned During Part One of My Twin Dialogue of Civilizations Program

Emerson Johnston
July 30, 2021

The Dialogue of Civilizations program I’m enrolled in is pretty unique. It is the only program at Northeastern that allows honors students to enroll in sixteen credits worth of classes in a little under seven weeks and have them walk out with a communications minor to boot. If we had gone in person, we would’ve visited ten cities in Europe, all related in some way to the rise and fall of Nazi Propaganda and the foundation of international human rights law. Needless to say, it is a very intense program.

The Dialogue is structured in two parts, each consisting of two classes. Part one dives deep into the rise and fall of the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany and teaches students about the propaganda and speaking techniques that made the party and its leaders successful. Part two takes us through the legal aftermath of the second world war and teaches about the foundations of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and more. As of yesterday, part one of my program and two of my four classes for the summer are done; this is just some of what I learned. 

Most notably, I learned far more about Nazism and its leaders than I ever would have in a normal class (after all, this program is 30 hours a week). Over the past three weeks, my professors took us on numerous virtual tours and hosted a number of fascinating discussions relating to them. My favorite was our virtual tour of the city center of Munich, where we got to see the remnants of where Adolf Hitler held party speeches and rallied his party. This tour was especially bittersweet because my fellow students and I knew that despite it being very impactful over Zoom, it would’ve been far more so had we gotten the chance to see it in person. Nonetheless, it showed me a lot about the strategy of military leaders at the time and introduced me to a very interesting topic I had never yet heard of: the politics of architecture. Our tour guide was quick to point out that Hitler, a leader that relied heavily on a subtle hierarchy with him at the top, ensured that whenever he spoke, he was both figuratively and literally, the tallest person there. This employed the use of pedestals as well as sitting and standing requirements for his men. He took “being looked up to” very literally and I found the consequences of that in Munich to be fascinating.

Other things that fascinated me over the last three weeks include the discussions we had about propaganda, arguments we had over our disputation topics, and, of course, our final debate topics. For context, the final assignment for part one of the Dialogue was to research and participate in a “Great debate” on a topic selected during one of our Dialogue pre-meetings.  My partner and I, knowing that the most controversial side would be the most fun, decided to debate the proponent of the question “Should the United States bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. We found the topic to be particularly interesting and thought we’d have an uphill battle trying to prove our side right. However, after doing some initial research on the topic, the question proved far more controversial itself, with arguments laid out well on each side. Because the debate itself was time blocked, meaning we were debating it as if the bombs had not yet been dropped and we didn’t know their after effects,  we had to act as though the only information we had about the bombings was what the military leaders themselves had at the time. This made our side far easier to debate than expected, and though we didn’t win the debate in the end, we were able to change some of our peers’ minds with regard to how obvious the answer was. That to me is what made this question, and this assignment overall, one of the best final projects I’ve done at Northeastern.

Most importantly, however, this Dialogue has taught me a lot about myself as a student, and as a future government worker. With regard to the latter, I came into this Dialogue assuming that the philosophical elements of it, aka the readings on Kant, Nietzche, etc, were going to be what most interested me, and that could not have been farther from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, these conversations were still very fascinating, but it was actually the history that proved most interesting. I’ve never taken a proper history course here in Northeastern, and I had no idea what to expect from one before starting this program. As a result, I was a bit scared I’d be bored by the content that wasn’t related to my major or personal passions. Surprisingly, however, this course, by virtue of the variety of mediums used to teach us about the subject at hand, really piqued my intrigue on the history of World War II. I found myself opting for more research on concepts said in passing during interviews and tours, and despite having very little time to myself this summer, by virtue of both participating in this Dialogue and working full-time, I often used this free time to learn more about the things that most interested me. 

Additionally, this newfound Passion for History has further contextualized the career I might want in the future. I am still deciding whether or not I’d like to go to law school or pursue a master’s in a related topic. This course has shown me that a program that will truly interest me will have a curriculum at the very least supplemented by history. Does it truly solve my initial question of where I should go after Northeastern? No, but it does help narrow down the programs I’ll be selecting from, which is still a far better place to be starting from than where I was before this Dialogue.