Performing Germanness: Laughter and Violence in Nazi Germany

Martina Kessel looks at the meaning and role of humor as an identity practice in Germany during the time of National Socialism in Germany. One theory that she will explore in her lecture is that non-Jewish Germans disguised violence as 'art' to justify their failure to comply with international or humanitarian beliefs.

Martina Kessel is a Historian of Modern Germany at Bielefeld University, Germany, with particular interest in inclusion and exclusion, the history of violence, international relations, gender and cultural history. She has written on British and French policy towards Germany after 1945; a History of Boredom in the 19th century, and on questions of theory and historiography. Her forthcoming book is titled Gewalt und Gelächter. ‚Deutschsein‘ 1914-1945 (Laughter and Violence. ‘Being German’ 1914 – 1945).

This lecture is part of the Gerda Henkel Lecture Series, organized by GHI West, the Pacific Regional Office of the Germany Historical Institute, Washington DC, in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The program brings German historians to the West Coast where they present their research at up to four different universities with the goal to facilitate the general dialogue between German historians and their colleagues in the U.S. and Canadian west. 

The Gerda Henkel Foundation was established in June 1976 by Lisa Maskell in memory of her mother Gerda Henkel as a private, non-profit grant making organization. The Foundation has its headquarters in Düsseldorf. The sole object of the Foundation is to promote science at universities and research institutes, primarily by supporting specific projects in the field of the humanities that have a specialist scope and are limited in time. A special concern of the Foundation is the advancement of postgraduates.



  • October 2, 2018, 4 pm (PST)
    Gerda Henkel Lecture at University of California, Los Angeles (6275 Bunche Hall)
    Speaker: Martina Kessel, Bielefeld University
  • October 3, 2018, 12 pm (PST)
    Gerda Henkel Lecture at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles (Social Sciences Building (SOS) 250; sponsored by the Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies and co-sponsored by the Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the Shoah Foundation
    Speaker: Martina Kessel, Bielefeld University
  • October 9, 2018, 5 pm (PST)
    Gerda Henkel Lecture at GHI West, 180 Does Library, University of California, Berkeley
    Speaker: Martina Kessel, Bielefeld University
    Register Online
  • October 11, 2018, 12 pm (PST)
    Gerda Henkel Lecture at University of British Columbia, Vancouver (1197 Buchanan Tower)
    Speaker: Martina Kessel, Bielefeld University