During the 1978-79 academic year, Cioc attended Johannes Gutenberg Universität, in Mainz, (West) Germany, on a Fulbright scholarship. “At the time I was more interested in nineteenth- century France than in Germany,” Cioc recalls, “and during my Fulbright year I conducted research on Heinrich Heine and Ludwig Börne, two of Germany’s most famous Francophiles. But by the end of my stay, I had decided to concentrate on Central Europe. Nineteenth-century Germany was a powerhouse of intellect, music, and culture. Twentieth-century Germany was the incubator of National Socialism and the Holocaust. Like so many other historians, I became fascinated by the catastrophic course of modern Germany and wanted to discover how the Germans, who had contributed so much to European civilization, could have succumbed to the barbarism of Hitler and the Nazis.”
Cioc enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in History at UC Berkeley, and trained under Gerald Feldman, Walter McDougall, and Tony Judt. “It was old-fashioned history at its best,” Cioc recalls. “Lots of political, military, diplomatic, and economic history. My research has moved far afield from those topics, but I’m still grateful for the training I received from those great scholars.” His first book, Pax Atomica: The Nuclear Defense Debate in West Germany during the Adenauer Era, is a product of that period of his scholarly life.
In the early 1990s, Cioc joined the American Society for Environmental History and began retraining himself as an environmental historian. “The transition was easier than I thought it would be,” says Cioc. “I especially enjoyed reading the literature on river biology and river engineering, so I decided to focus on the German river I knew best from my Fulbright days, the Rhine.” In 2002, Cioc published The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000, a scholarly examination of how Europe’s most “romantic river” was transformed into a world-class shipping canal. A Chinese translation of The Rhine appeared in 2013.
In 2005, the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society selected Cioc as the Editor of their jointly published scholarly journal, Environmental History. Cioc served a five-year term before stepping down to become the Interim Vice Provost & Dean of Undergraduate Education here at UCSC in 2010-11. During this period he also published two more books: How Green Were the Nazis?, a co-edited anthology about Germany in the 1930s and 1940s; and The Game of Conservation, which focuses on international treaties to protect elephants, whales, and other key migratory species.
Most recently, Cioc has been exploring topics related to the U.S.-Mexico border. “At first, I intended to write an environmental history of the Rio Grande, similar to my book on the Rhine. But then I became fascinated by the border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. With 2 1/2 million people, the two cities form the largest international conurbation in the world and they exhibit a host of environmental problems (air pollution, water pollution, hazardous materials, traffic congestion, etc.) that are particularly difficult to solve because they require the cooperation not only of the U.S. and Mexican governments but also of Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua.”
Although his research over the years has been far flung geographically, Cioc has always made European history his teaching priority. And he plans to return to writing on German history once his border project is finished.