18th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute

Presentation of the 2009 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes

 

November 13, 2009, 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m.
Symposium at the GHI - Directions

  • Event Report

    The 18th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute featured the award of the 2009 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes to Alison Clark Efford (Marquette University) and Michael Meng (Davidson College). Efford received the prize for her dissertation "New Citizens: German Immigrants, African Americans, and the Reconstruction of Citizenship, 1865-1877" (Ohio State University, 2008). Meng was honored for his dissertation "Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Central Europe" (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008).The prize selection committee was composed of Mary Lindemann (University of Miami), Brian Vick (Emory University), and Jonathan Zatlin (chair, Boston University).

    The award ceremony was chaired by David Blackbourn (Harvard University), president of the Friends of the GHI. After the presentation of the awards, each of the Stern Prize winners gave lectures about their dissertation research.

    Alison Clark Efford provided an overview of her work on how German immigrants influenced the reshaping of American citizenship following the Civil War and emancipation (1865-1877). She explained that she began with questions that interest historians of the United States: How did African-American men achieve citizenship rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment? Yet why were those rights only intermittently enforced for a century? Historians have not investigated the role of German immigrants despite the fact that they made important contributions to the ruling Republican party, remained sensitive to events in Europe, and were acutely conscious of their own status as new citizens. Inspired by the failed European Revolutions of 1848, some German Republicans supported black men's demand for suffrage at crucial points. In the Missouri constitutional convention of 1865, for example, German-speaking Republican leaders argued that the United States could make citizens of black men the way it had transformed male immigrants from Europe. After 1870, however, the Franco-Prussian War and the creation of the German Empire captivated German Americans and loosened their commitment to Reconstruction. They expressed a new interest in civil service reform and reconciliation between northern and southern whites-regardless of the implications for African Americans. Because German Americans played a critical role in the Liberal Republican Party's challenge to the Republicans in 1872, their priorities entered American politics. The presidential campaign that year encouraged white Republicans to retreat from enforcing the rights of black southerners. German immigrants reinforced the notion that national unity would now come at the expense of equal citizenship.

    Michael Meng spoke about his dissertation, which explores the postwar history of Jewish sites from a transnational and comparative perspective. It analyzes Jewish sites in Warsaw, Wrocław, Berlin, Essen, and Potsdam from 1945 to the present. Based on archival research conducted in over thirty archives in Germany, Israel, Poland, and the United States, his study shows how different local, national, and political contexts shaped the shifting history of Jewish sites in shared and divergent ways across the region of East Central Europe. In the early postwar decades, urban planners, historic preservationists, and local officials completed the destruction of numerous damaged Jewish sites or allowed them to ruin by neglect despite numerous protests from Jewish leaders. Urban modernism and Stalinist socialist realism dominated urban reconstruction at this time in divided Germany and Poland. Both approaches had little regard for preserving much of anything, but many non-Jewish historic sites were reconstructed. Germans and Poles made deliberate choices about what to preserve from the ruins of war. In selecting what was culturally valuable, they were also making choices about what was not. In the 1950s and 1960s, many Poles and Germans rarely perceived Jewish sites to be part of the national or local heritage worthy of maintaining. They were also averse to confronting spaces that conjured up memories of a traumatic past. By the late 1970s, however, perceptions of Jewish sites started to shift as church groups, local residents, city officials, political dissidents, Jewish leaders, intellectuals, and tourists became interested in preserving the few material traces of Jewish life still left standing. A number of local and transnational reconstruction efforts emerged as a result in all five of the cities that I discuss. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, this attraction to Jewish sites has increased at an almost dizzying rate as Germans, Poles, Americans, Israelis, and others have searched for the vestiges of the "Jewish past" in the urban landscape. People both far and near have become attracted to Jewish spaces for a variety of reasons -- heritage tourism, growing transnational discussions about the Holocaust, postmodern fascinations with the historic, nostalgia for a lost past, and longings for cosmopolitanism in a globalizing world. While the motivations are varied, the effects are clear. Jewish culture has now become something to be touched, photographed, preserved, and displayed. In short, Jewish sites have become what they were not just a few decades earlier: pieces of "heritage" that must be saved, "historic monuments" marked for their importance and perceived authenticity.

    Fritz Stern commented briefly on both presentations, before the floor was opened to the audience for a lively discussion. Articles by both Stern Prize winners on their dissertation research will be published in the Spring 2010 Bulletin of the GHI.

    RFW

    from left: Michael Meng (Davidson College), David Blackbourn (President Friends of the GHI), Allison Clark Efford (Marquette University), Fritz Stern. (© Chester Simpson)
    from left: Michael Meng (Davidson College), David Blackbourn (President Friends of the GHI), Allison Clark Efford (Marquette University), Fritz Stern.  (© Chester Simpson)
  • 18th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute

    November 13, 2009, 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m.
    Symposium at the GHI - Directions

    Prize Winners

    • Alison Clark (Marquette University): "New Citizens: German Immigrants, African Americans, and the Reconstruction of Citizenship, 1865-1877" (Ohio State University, 2008)
    • Michael Meng (Davidson College): "Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Central Europe" (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008)

    Please RSVP (acceptances only) by Tel. 202.387.3355, Fax 202.387.6437, or E-mail.

    The Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute in generously supported by the Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius ZEIT Foundation

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