Gustavus History Professor Publishes Essay in the Washington Post Posted on January 12th, 2023 by

Kathleen Keller

Kathleen Keller

Professor Kathleen Keller of the history department published an essay in the Washington Post on Tuesday January 10, 2023, titled “China’s Increased Surveillance Capacity Could be Dangerous.” The essay appeared in the Made by History section of the Post which provides historical context to current events.

Connecting to recent news about surveillance in China related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Keller’s essay recounts episodes of state surveillance in the past. She writes, “Surveillance is insidious, secret, often silent — and incredibly dangerous, with the potential to tear societies apart.” She goes on to discuss the role of surveillance in the French Revolution, the United States during and after World War I, in French colonial Africa, and East Germany.

Keller describes the power of state surveillance, writing, “In all of these cases, whether they relied on citizen denunciations or professional agents, states exercised power in secret to identify dissidents in the interest of the self-preservation of the state. Never knowing if one is being secretly watched is part of the power of surveillance, both past and present.”

The essay draws on Keller’s expertise in the history of surveillance, particularly her book Colonial Suspects: Suspicion, Imperial Rule and Colonial Society in Interwar French West Africa. Prof. Keller also drew from her experience teaching a First Term Seminar called “Surveillance, the State, and Society” in which students grapple with the role of surveillance in the past and present. In the FTS students read George Orwell’s 1984, learn about the Stasi in East Germany, and study surveillance in the contemporary world.

This is the second time Prof. Keller had an essay published in the Post. Her essay on the British monarchy and royal tours was published in March 2022.


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