Treitel installed as the William Eliot Smith Professor of History

During her installation address, Corinna Treitel, the William Eliot Smith Professor of History, discussed “disenchantment.”

Corinna Treitel, the William Eliot Smith Professor of History, talks with Peter Kastor, the Samuel K. Eddy Professor (left). (Photo: Rebecca Clark for Washington University)

On March 28, Corinna Treitel was installed as the William Eliot Smith Professor of History. The program included a welcome from Feng Sheng Hu, the Richard G. Engelsmann Dean of Arts & Sciences and Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor; an introduction by Peter Kastor, the Samuel K. Eddy Professor; and the installation and medallion presentation by Dean Hu.

In her installation address, Treitel discussed “disenchantment,” a term made famous by the German social theorist Max Weber who defined it as a state in which “one can, in principle, master all things by calculation.”

Treitel explained that the concept has shaped her approach to history. “I’m interested in how disenchantment plays out at the interface of science, medicine, and popular culture as experts and laypeople wrestle with the possibilities and limits of belief, imagination, creativity, and even reality,” she said. She pointed to specific trends in German history, including the embrace of natural foods, the rise of health consciousness, and the dueling forces of science and occultism.

About Corinna Treitel

Corinna Treitel is the William Eliot Smith Professor in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis.

Treitel earned a master’s degree in history and philosophy of science at Indiana University and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. She studies German-speaking Europe from 1800 to the present and teaches courses on modern German and European history, on the world history of health and disease, and in the new interdisciplinary area of health humanities.

She has published numerous articles and two books, "Eating Nature in Modern Germany: Food Agriculture and Environment, c. 1870-2000" (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and "A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). Her current book project, "Gesundheit! Seeking German Health, 1750-2000," explores changing ideas and practices of health in German lands from the mid-18th century to the present.

Treitel enjoys collaborative and transdisciplinary work. In 2015, she co-founded the Medical Humanities minor at Washington University in St. Louis and continues to work with scholars around the world on health humanities.

She co-leads Science in the Public Square, a program of the Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures, a signature initiative of the Arts & Sciences Strategic Plan. The group brings together faculty and students from the natural and social sciences, humanities, and fine arts to study (mis)trust in scientific authority as a recurrent social phenomenon.

Treitel joined Washington University’s Department of History in 2005. She is currently chair of the department.

About Alice E. Smith and William Eliot Smith

Alice E. Smith established the William Eliot Smith Professorship in History in 1921 to honor her husband, William Eliot Smith, an Alton, Illinois, businessman and philanthropist, in recognition of his life’s work.

Mr. Smith, born in St. Louis in 1844, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis in 1864 and 1867, respectively. His father was a close friend of William Greenleaf Eliot, and his uncle, James Smith, was one of the 17 charter members of the Board of Directors.

After graduation, Mr. Smith pursued a successful career in fruit growing. In 1873 he and a friend purchased a small glass factory in Alton and moved it on rollers to a location with better access to the river and railroads. Illinois Glass Works grew to cover 50 acres and generate millions of dollars’ worth of product yearly. Mr. Smith became president of Illinois Glass Works, as well as owner and president of a number of subsidiaries connected with the manufacture and marketing of his glass and bottle products and of businesses ranging from railroads to manufacturers of paper and boxes in Chicago and San Francisco. With his interest in history, Mr. Smith enjoyed traveling.

Mr. Smith’s wife and two daughters shared his interest in supporting Washington University. In addition to the professorship, their gifts established the William Eliot Smith Memorial Fund for scholarships and significantly contributed to the construction of the Women’s Building.