Helga Welsh


Office: Kirby 310
Phone: 758-5452
Email: welsh@wfu.edu

Areas of Expertise: European Politics, German politics, Transitional Justice, Democratization, German Education Policy


Helga A. Welsh is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University. Her publications have focused on the history and politics of the former East Germany, German unification, transitional justice, the reform of higher education in Germany, and democratization processes in Central and Eastern Europe. She has published a book on denazification in the former East Germany and co-edited a book on German unification. Her most recent book (co-authored with Christiane Lemke) is Germany Today. German Politics and Policies in a Changing World (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). Her articles have appeared in journals such as Comparative Politics, European Journal of Education, Europe-Asia Studies, German Politics, German Politics and Society, and West European politics. She is one of the editors of “German History in Documents and Images,” a project administered by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. She served as co-editor of German Politics from 2013-2018.

MA    1978, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (Germany)
PhD   1985, Ludwig Maximilians-University Munich (Germany)

Academic Appointments 

Professor, Wake Forest University, 2009-Present
Associate Professor, Wake Forest University, 1997-2009
Assistant Professor, Wake Forest University, 1993-1997
Research Fellow, Center for Contemporary Research, Potsdam, Germany, Summer 1996 and 1997
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Arizona, 1990-1993




POL 114 Comparative Government and Politics
This course provides an introduction to key approaches and methods in the study of comparative politics. We will examine the impact of historical, political, and socio-economic characteristics on how political systems are organized, function, and perform. Basic concepts such as political culture, socialization, political participation, interest articulation and interest aggregation will be applied to diverse political environments. By studying political systems and policies across a variety of settings, we will explore how political processes work and sharpen our understanding of basic principles of political life that often transcend territorial boundaries. Student will be acquainted with the necessary tools to study different political systems around the world.  The countries that will be covered reflect a conscious choice to include liberal democracies (Great Britain, Japan), post-communist (Russia) and communist societies (China), newly industrialized countries (Mexico, India), as well as less developed countries (Nigeria). The increasing importance of Islamic countries is reflected in the inclusion of Iran.

POL 231 Western European Politics
Compared to most other parts of the world, the United States and the countries of Western Europe have much in common.  They are stable democracies with established political institutions and policies, and they are postindustrial, affluent societies that have experienced significant political, societal, and economic change in recent decades. They also encounter similar challenges.  Yet, the countries of Western Europe also differ in important respects from the United States. Their historical evolution has had important consequences for the set-up and workings of political institutions, the content of public policies, and their place in the world.
The setting of Western Europe will introduce us to democratic institutions and policy-making patterns that differ in many ways from the ones that we are accustomed to in the United States.  Although the dominant form of our inquiry will be cross-national, we will also delve more deeply into historical, political, and economic characteristics of selected countries as diverse as France, Great Britain, Germany, and Spain. Europe is the home of the nation-state. Yet, at the same time, integration efforts in the form of the European Union have advanced considerably. As a consequence, European politics can no longer be interpreted solely from the perspective of individual states. The topic of European integration will be a recurring theme in our discussions.

POL 232 Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe
In 1989 the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe unraveled. Within a short period of time communism as a leading ideology collapsed in Europe; the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated; Germany unified while Czechoslovakia separated into two countries. The period of the Cold War had come to a close. The developments have been heralded by many as a triumph of democracy but the initial euphoria has given way to more somber assessments. In all countries, the political, economic and social changes have been dramatic, often painful, and always complex. Today, the degree of divergence among the post-communist countries is remarkable: some were able to consolidate democratic systems swiftly, while others reinstituted new forms of authoritarianism.
This class will provide a survey of the politics of Russia and Central/Eastern Europe. We will begin by analyzing the development of communism in Europe, its spread and ultimate demise.  Russia and Eastern Europe will serve as a springboard to explain regime change and the transition processes that ensued.  We will then address the major challenges, among them, state-building, institutional development, economic reform, nationalist revival, and international engagement. The overall objective of the course is to acquaint students with a highly diverse set of countries and to provide them with the methodological tools necessary to critically analyze and understand the spread of communism, its decline, the dynamics of political regime transitions, and issues of governance during transitions and consolidation.

Pol 233  The Politics of Modern Germany

In the twentieth century Germans experienced the collapse of three forms of dictatorship and one democratic system. When the formerly communist East Germany and democratic West Germany unified in 1990, questions were posed as to how successful the new nation would be in maintaining political and economic stability. How would it adjust to new domestic and international circumstances?  In the long view of history, the period of separation into a communist-governed eastern Germany and a democratic western Germany turned out to be no more than an interlude. Today German politics is most often analyzed as the continuous development of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, the sense of continuity is deceiving; new transitions caught up with the unified Germany. Unification, Europeanization, and globalization have affected policies, institutions and identity. The impact of these developments will inform our discussions throughout the semester.
The legacy of history continues to be an important reference point to this day. We will start with a brief historical overview of Germany prior to 1945. The major section of the course, however, will focus on the period after 1945. We will analyze the structure of government, the role of political parties, citizen participation, and the special characteristics of the German economy. We will consider the process of unification and its impact on Germany’s identity, economics, and politics. We will then look at two specific policy areas, immigration policy and foreign and security policy, to investigate more closely the impact of political structures on political outcomes.

Pol 235  European Integration

Since World War II new forms of regional cooperation have gained political and economic significance. This trend is particularly evident in Europe where the process of regional integration has been far-reaching and, by most accounts, successful.  Not only has it led to a unique institutional structure in the form of the European Union but it has also taken forms of political, legal, economic, and cultural cooperation that are new to the international arena.
The course aims at combining different approaches to the study of Europe by analyzing European integration through the lenses of history, culture, politics and economics. We will look at Europeanhistory, highlight economic and monetary integration in a changing global environment, emphasize the interplay of international and national political forces, and stress cultural factors thatpromote and hinder the process of building a more united Europe. The class is located at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations.

Pol 244 Politics and Literature

“Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history,” wrote Friedrich von Hardenberg (later called Novalis) at the end of the 17th century. Jacques Barzun stated that “[t]he function of art is to help us remember.” Starting from these premises, we will explore the connections between history, politics, and literature. What can we learn about history and politics through the medium of literature? What are the strengths and weaknesses of novels as compared to scholarly texts in understanding selected political systems? What are the approaches used by different authors?  How are the authors’ lives connected to the topics of their novels?
Novels will provide the basis for a better understanding of important events in European history and politics during the twentieth century and acquaint students with prominent examples of European literature. Equally important, we will address the impact of key ideologies on politics and individuals. Ideologies shape individual and collective memories, identities, and perceptions of guilt and innocence that, in turn, influence public and private action. What has been termed “transitional justice” – how a difficult political past is being dealt with at the international, national, and personal level – is a recurring topic throughout the semester.

Pol 290  Comparative Democratization

The study of democratization has become an important sub-field in comparative politics, catapulted by the interest of politicians and scholars in what has been termed the third wave of democratization. The number of democracies has increased substantially since the onset of this wave in the mid-1970s but many transitions from dictatorship to democracy have failed or have resulted in hybrid regimes that combine democratic with authoritarian features. Why do some transitions succeed while others fall short of introducing liberal democracies or result in a return to authoritarian rule? What are the issues in measuring democracy? What are the major challenges that former dictatorships face in the transition process? These questions will be at the heart of the seminar.
The first goal of this seminar is to introduce students to the major issues, theories, concepts and arguments in the literature of democratization. For example: How crucial are structural factors such as socio-economic conditions, the role of the masses or the role of elites in the downfall of authoritarian regimes and the transition to democracy? What is the role of democracy assistance by western powers such as the United States and the European Union? The second goal is to apply theories and concepts to empirical case studies. The third goal is to help you write a substantial research paper.

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