Brevard College History Professor Honored with Young Alumni Award

Dr. Jordan Kuck receives Young Alumni Award

Dr. Jordan Kuck grew up on a farm near Kearney, Nebraska, and a fascinating story frames his professional career. He earned his PhD in History in 2014 from the University of Tennessee (UT) and taught at West Virginia Wesleyan College before coming to Brevard College in 2018. In February 2022, he received tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor. He recently finished a book chapter on interwar Latvia in an edited volume, Dictatorship and Daily Life in Twentieth Century Europe, set to be published this year by Bloomsbury. An upcoming book chapter in yet another volume centers on “Transnational Fascism,” a term Dr. Kuck contributed to coining. As a result of Dr. Kuck’s work, he was recently honored at his alma mater, UT, with the Young Alumni Award. Regarding the award, Dr. Kuck said, “It was a nice surprise, particularly since I was up for tenure this year.” 

His grandfather, who was a farmer and ran for governor of Nebraska, inspired him to study History. Dr. Kuck said, “I was born with a proclivity to non-farming things; I always wanted to read.” While studying abroad in his undergraduate years, he met in Riga the director of the Occupation Museum in Latvia. When the director learned Jordan was from Nebraska, he started singing the University of Nebraska fight song. Kuck thought, “‘This is totally bizarre.’”

It turned out that the director had also graduated from the University of Nebraska and he asked, “Surely as a Nebraska boy you know about Kārlis Ulmanis, our first Prime Minister?” That question became the impetus for Dr. Kuck’s career – studying and publishing as a major scholar on a Latvian politician. Kārlis Ulmanis lived in Nebraska for seven years as a political emigree fleeing the Russian government before Latvia got its independence. He began as a democratic Prime Minister, but in 1934, suspended Latvia’s constitution and ruled as a dictator.

“No one had ever written about him in English, so I had to learn Latvian. I made the argument that we should view him as a fascist, which was a controversial claim because no Latvian scholar had ever said that. I was worried I would get banned from the archives in Latvia, but I had all the documents to prove it.” Instead, the opposite happened. When Latvians celebrated their centennial in 2018, Dr. Kuck was invited by the Latvian government to write chapters for the volumes published to mark the country’s milestone.

Dr. Kuck’s professional career circles back to the farm, where his great-great-grandfather enjoyed writing letters to dignitaries and celebrities, often receiving letters in return. Occasionally, his grandmother dusts off the documents to reminisce. Recently, she called her grandson with surprising news. She had come across a return letter from Ulmanis, who had corresponded with Dr. Kuck’s great-great-grandfather decades before Kuck would become a premier scholar on his life and politics. 

In the classroom, he emphasizes the importance of discussing hard topics and encourages his students to be respectful in discourse. He said, “I know it’s uncomfortable, but we need to do this so they can learn it’s possible to talk about controversial things and to disagree without thinking ‘that person is an idiot’ or ‘they’re the enemy.’” Dr. Kuck creates a safe space where students know they can engage in debate and they respond well.

He said, “My favorite thing about Brevard College students is that on the whole, they are just good humans. They are hard working and it’s a pleasure to work with them. It makes coming to work every day fun.”