23rd Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI

Nov 14, 2014

Award of the Fritz Stern Prize at the GHI | Prize Winners: Chase Richards (Freie Universität Berlin) and Ned Richardson-Little (University of Exeter)

Prize Winners

  • Chase Richards (Freie Universität Berlin): Pages of Progress: German Liberalism and the Popular Press after 1848 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2013)
  • Ned Richardson-Little (University of Exeter): Between Dictatorship and Dissent: Ideology, Legitimacy and Human Rights in East Germany, 1945-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013)

Event Report

The twenty-third Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI featured the award of the 2014 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes to Chase Richards (Free University of Berlin), for his dissertation "Pages of Progress: German Liberalism and the Popular Press after 1848" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2013), and Ned Richardson-Little (University of Exeter), for his dissertation "Between Dictatorship and Dissent: Ideology, Legitimacy and Human Rights in East Germany, 1945-1990" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013). The prize selection committee was composed of Jess Spohnholz (chair; Washington State University), Susan Crane (University of Arizona), and Timothy Brown (Northeastern University). After introductory remarks by Hartmut Berghoff, director of the GHI, the award ceremony was chaired by Peter Jelavich, President of the Friends of the GHI. After Peter Jelavich read the citations of the prize committee, the two Stern Prize winners gave brief lectures about their dissertations.

Chase Richards gave an overview of his dissertation on German Liberalism and the popular press after 1848. He began by explaining the nature of his main source, the Familienblätter, or "family papers," a genre of illustrated general-interest magazine produced for domestic consumption in post-1848 Germany on the model of the British penny press, among other influences. While these publications delighted millions of readers with a mixture of entertaining and educational content, they also represented an enterprise that originated in a chastened postrevolutionary liberalism. The most notable of these "family papers" was Ernst Keil's influential Gartenlaube, whose success competitor publications sought to replicate. Those of the cultural brokers behind these publications who were politically motivated sought to further the cause of liberalism by conveying the right kinds of knowledge in an appealing manner - and in a way that was less likely to provoke official repression. His dissertation, Richards argued, aims to show how German liberalism, seen in unusually concrete practice, could in fact lend itself to "popular" applications and thus open a space for liberal-democratic public opinion in Germany; and also how such an applied politics proved susceptible to a number of structural, ideological, and textual constraints.

Ned Richardson-Little spoke about his dissertation on human rights, ideology and legitimacy in East Germany. While 1989 and the end of the SED regime are often, he argued, framed as the inevitable collapse of a system founded on the violation of human rights, Richardson-Little proposed that the idea of human rights in East German history was far more complex. Although the concept of human rights was central to the opposition in 1989, decades earlier the SED and intellectual elites had adopted the language of human rights to legitimize state socialism and dictatorship both at home and on the international stage. The SED posited an alternative socialist conception of human rights, which they claimed was superior to the Western ideals of individualistic liberal democracy. Only in the 1980s did dissidents bring together the diverse strands of the opposition under the umbrella of the idea of human rights to demand democratic reforms. In conclusion, Richardson-Little argued that the struggle over the meaning of human rights and its transformation from a discourse that legitimized dictatorship to one that fueled dissent is crucial to understanding both the stability of the GDR and its rapid demise in 1989.

The event concluded with the award of the prizes, the reading of greetings from Fritz Stern, and an extensive question-and-answer session about both papers.