HED:Ole Miss director seeks understanding of an increasingly complex world
By Jennifer Ginn
UNIVERSITY - If there's one thing that Michael Metcalf has learned during his years as a global traveler, it's that Walt Disney might be right.
It truly is "a small world after all."
Metcalf, a native of upstate New York, is the first director of the new Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi.
Designed to give students a look into the life of other countries, the institute will welcome its first class of students this fall. It was established in 1997 from the largest higher education gift in the state's history - $60 million from the Joseph E. Bancroft Charitable and Education Fund.
All things European
Metcalf graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in history. He earned a master's and doctorate in history from the University of Stockholm in Sweden.
Metcalf traveled across Europe during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He is fluent in Swedish, German, Danish and Norwegian and has a working knowledge of French, Russian and Spanish.
His mastery of things European began in a rather odd manner.
"I began to get connected with international issues and questions as a high school senior when I fell in love with a Norwegian foreign exchange student," he said laughing. "Subsequently, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I spent the summer with her in Norway.
"As is the case frequently when one is young and impressionable and one is exposed to a different culture and is confronted with the problems and challenges of negotiating that culture, you are deeply impressed and your life is changed. I became deeply involved with international studies from then on."
Metcalf's world travels came at a risky, yet revolutionary time. At the height of the Cold War, he visited such places as East Germany, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
The Cold War lasted from about the end of World War II until the 1980s. Although it was a nonshooting war, it was a very real battle over political ideologies, military dominance and power.
Metcalf's wife of 29 years, Eva-Marie, was born shortly after World War II in the communist-controlled former East Germany.
"One of the first things we did together was to go to Czechoslovakia," he said. "It was the amazing spring of '68. It was the opening up of Czechoslovak politics. It was followed up later that summer by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact powers.
"My wife's grandmother continued to live in her hometown in East Germany and we visited there frequently. I did research in East Germany. I did research in the Soviet Union as well.
"There was that tension in the air. That was of course fascinating and interesting, some of it was exciting too. But it had unpleasant aspects to it as well. Those were exciting years, interesting years, years of growth."
The changing world
Metcalf returned to the United States in 1977 when he was hired to teach Scandinavian history at the University of Minnesota. When he took over leadership of the Croft Institute on July 1, he was assistant vice president for international education and director of the Institute of International Studies at Minnesota.
Metcalf said international studies has changed drastically during the last 20 years.
"They were more focused on Cold War issues," Metcalf said. "They were most frequently cast as international relations programs. They looked at and dealt with issues of national security, diplomacy and so forth.
"What's happened in the '80s and '90s is that contacts have begun to change with the decreasing tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. International studies has become a field with larger dimensions.
"Essentially, the difference is international studies pays attention not only to interstate relations, but global phenomena. For example, many changes taking place in the world are driven by the globalization of the economy and by the revolution in information technology. That's changed the nature of the world."
Importance of understanding
Metcalf said as the world continues to change it becomes more important for people to realize how and why countries are connected.
"The portion of the United States' economy which is affected by international commerce and trade is growing," he said. "The economic development of East Asia and Latin America has and is creating enormous new markets. We are becoming more and more impacted on a daily basis by what's going on in Malaysia, Thailand, the European Union, South Africa and China.
"We need to know who we're dealing with. We need to understand the varieties of cultures - political cultures, business cultures. In the 21st century, the arena in which people are going to be living their lives ... is going to be international, multicultural. We are now operating in a world society."
- Name: Michael Metcalf
- Age: 54
- Position: Director of the Croft Institute for International Studies
- Family: Wife of 29 years, Eva-Marie; and two children, Jessica, 24, and Thomas, 22.
- Education: Bachelor's degree in history from Harvard University, master's and doctorate in history from the University of Stockholm in Sweden.