Transatlantic Doctoral Seminar: German History in the Twentieth Century

May 29, 2013 - Jun 01, 2013

Conference at Historisches Kolleg, Munich | Conveners: Margit Szöllösi-Janze (University of Munich), Anna von der Goltz (Georgetown University) and Richard F. Wetzell (GHI)

The nineteenth Transatlantic Seminar brought together sixteen doctoral students working on dissertations in twentieth-century German history at universities in North America and Europe. The seminar was organized in eight panels, featuring two papers each, that opened with two comments by fellow students, followed by discussion of the pre-circulated papers.

The first panel featured two papers that placed German history in transnational perspective. Sarah Ehlers's paper "Kolonialmedizin ohne Kolonien: Deutsche Schlafkrankheitsforschung zwischen internationalen Netzwerken und nationaler Politik nach 1919" examined German research on "sleeping sickness" after Germany‘s loss of its colonial possessions. Ehlers showed that the development of the first effective medication against this disease by German medical researchers during the 1920s was the product of the international networks of former colonial doctors and, at the same time, of revanchist aspirations to regain Germany's former colonies. Kira Thurman's paper "Black Classical Musicians in East Germany, 1945-1961" investigated the role African American musicians played in East German cultural life between 1945 and 1961. Thurman argued that East German depictions of African American musicians Aubrey Pankey and Paul Robeson conformed to larger political and cultural definitions of African American culture and German musical identity in the German Democratic Republic.

The second panel explored two sets of autobiographical writings in Nazi Germany. In his paper "Positionsbestimmungen: Die Suche nach dem eigenen Verhältnis zum Nationalsozialismus 1933/34" Janosch Steuwer presented an analysis of diaries written during the first two years of the Nazi regime. The widespread interpretation of the Nazi seizure of power as a "nationale Erhebung," he argued, compelled diary writers to assess their own relationship to the new regime and to reconcile their current political position with their pre-1933 political opinions and behavior. Challenging the notion that the Holocaust is beyond representation, Dominique Schröder's paper "Tagebuchschreiben in Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern, 1939-1945" examined the diaries of Jewish and political prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Disagreeing with Wolfgang Sofsky's thesis that the external environment became irrelevant to concentration camp life, Schröder argued that spaces outside the camps played a significant role in these diaries.

The third panel dealt with the transition from wartime Nazi Germany to the early postwar era. Deborah Barton's paper "The Elasticity of Politics, ‘Soft' News and the Utilization of Women Journalists: Ursula von Kardorff 1937-1962" explored a woman journalist's ability to command a public voice during the Third Reich and her postwar role in promoting narratives of German victimization as well as reflection on Nazi crimes through her personal and professional writing. Jeremy DeWaal's paper "Heimat in the Rubble: Turning to Local Worlds, from the Rhine to the Elbe, 1945-1960" argued that postwar Heimat enthusiasts reconfigured local historical memory in order to forge identification with the postwar goal of creating a new democracy. While border areas formerly saw themselves as national fortresses, after 1945 localities like Cologne and Hamburg shifted to understanding themselves as "world-open bridges."

The fourth panel began with Minu Haschemi Yekani's paper "Globale Mobilität und die ‘Gelbe Gefahr‘," which examined the recruitment and deployment of indentured laborers from East Asia ("Kulis") in the German colony of Deutsch-Ostafrika. Paying attention to global effects in local contexts, the paper argued that the colony's labor regime and conceptions of race were strongly shaped by global processes of migration and transformation. Kristen Ehrenberger's paper "The Politics of the Table: Massenspeisung and the Familientisch" examined food rationing and the establishment of communal kitchens in Saxony during the First World War. Introducing the concept of the "telescopic perspective," which links the biochemistry of nutrition from them molecular level through the individual and family levels to the national Volkskörper, Ehrenberger argued that the communal kitchens challenged traditional notions of the role of the family.

The fifth panel explored different aspects of popular support for the Nazi regime and its policies in wartime Nazi Germany. Bradley J. Nichols's paper "Housemaids, Renegades, and Race Experts: Nazi Re-Germanization Policy and the Recruitment of Polish Domestic Servant Girls" examined a Nazi program designed to assimilate Polish girls into the German national community by sending them to live with families in Germany. According to Nichols, the German population's mostly negative reaction to these girls should be interpreted as evidence that popular conceptions of the Volksgemeinschaft reflected long-standing ethnic-nationalist stereotypes rather than Nazi racial categories. Thomas Brodie (Hertford College)'s paper "German Catholicism and the Second World War" presented two regional case studies that highlighted social and political divisions within the Catholic community in wartime Nazi Germany. Most Catholics, Brodie argued, found it much easier to reconcile their Catholic religious and German national identities than has often been assumed.

The sixth panel dealt with postwar West German history. Kate Horning's paper "An Emergency Law Fit for a Rechtsstaat?" examined emergency legislation in the Federal Republic of Germany. Juxtaposing the emergency measures passed legislated in 1968 with the laws passed to prosecute the Red Army Faction in the 1970s, she argued that the measures taken when West Germany found itself confronted with terrorists in the 1970s were more drastic than the limits the state had imagined for itself during the 1960s. Unfortunately, the author of the second paper planned for this panel, Michael Vössing, was unable to attend.

The seventh panel was dedicated to German Vergangenheitsbewältigung after 1945. Jennifer Rodgers's paper "Transforming the ‘Leviathan Index': West German Public Diplomacy and the International Tracing Service in the Early Adenauer Era" examined the ways in which the Federal Republic used the International Tracing Service, an agency established by the Allies to locate victims of the Second World War, to rehabilitate its image abroad during the early postwar and Adenauer eras. Bonn, she argued, hoped that participation in the agency's humanitarian operations would demonstrate atonement and thus help to normalize foreign relations. Peter Stadlbauer's paper "'Saubere Wehrmacht' gegen ‘schmutzige SS'? Zur Karriere und strafrechtlichen Verfolgung von Eichmanns Chef Erich Ehrlinger" investigated the political career and postwar prosecution of the high-ranking SS-officer Erich Ehrlinger, arguing that the failure of West German attempts to prosecute him was due to the combination of three factors: the phenomenon of "medical amnesty," a powerful network of former Nazis, and the postwar myth of a neat distinction between the "clean Wehrmacht" and the "dirty SS."

The eighth and final panel focused on East Germany and the process of German unification. In his paper "Self-Determination, Post-Colonialism and Socialism: Human Rights in East Germany from a Transnational Perspective" Ned Richardson-Little argued that in the 1960s the SED developed a conception of socialist human rights that was closely connected to self-determination and non-interference. Therefore, when the international discourse of human rights shifted from ideas of self-determination towards individual liberties in the 1970s, the SED faced significant threats to its legitimacy from within the GDR and from abroad. In his paper "Wirtschaftsexperten in der Arena des Übergangs: Die Mitarbeiter/innen der Treuhandanstalt in den ökonomischen, kulturellen, und gesellschaftlichen Transformationsprozessen, 1990-1994" Marcus Böick focused on the initial process of policy planning in the Bonn ministerial bureaucracy in the spring of 1990, arguing that much of the subsequent history of the Treuhand must be understood in light of the fact that the West Germans quickly settled on a policy model that was based on the success story of the West German currency reform of 1948.

During the final discussion participants reflected on the topics and themes that were prominent at the seminar and those that were not, even though it must be borne in mind that the papers presented here do not necessarily reflect current trends among all dissertations on German history. While there was only one paper each on the First World War and the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era was strongly represented; half the papers covered the post-1945 period, with papers on the FRG slightly outnumbering those on the GDR. Roughly a third of the paper used biographical approaches. While some noted the absence of classic political history, some authors explained that they saw their work as "politische Kulturgeschichte." Looking back over the almost twenty-year history of the seminar, Roger Chickering commented on the methodological convergence of historical research on both sides of the Atlantic toward cultural history. While the cultural turn was noticeable in the growing attention to language and discourse, it was also noted that many projects were concerned with recovering individual agency, which led to a discussion about whether agency should be seen as an ideological notion and whether we need new, more systematic approaches to historical subjectivities. The completion of the doctoral dissertations presented at this stimulating and congenial seminar is eagerly awaited.

Richard F. Wetzell (GHI)

Call for Papers

The German Historical Institute in Washington DC and the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University are pleased to announce the 19th Transatlantic Doctoral Seminar in German History, which will be devoted to the twentieth century and take place at the Historisches Kolleg in Munich from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Conveners: Margit Szöllösi-Janze (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), Anna von der Goltz (Georgetown University), and Richard F. Wetzell (German Historical Institute Washington).

The seminar brings together young scholars from Europe and North America who are nearing completion of their doctoral degrees. We plan to invite up to eight doctoral students from each side of the Atlantic to discuss their dissertation projects. The organizers welcome proposals on any aspect of German history in the twentieth century. Doctoral students working in related disciplines -- such as art history, legal history or the history of science -- are also encouraged to apply, as are students working on comparative projects or on the history of Austria or German-speaking Switzerland. The discussions will be based on papers (in German or English) submitted six weeks in advance of the conference. The seminar will be conducted bilingually, in German and English. The organizers will cover travel and lodging expenses.

We are now accepting applications from doctoral students whose dissertations are at an advanced stage (that is, in the write-up rather than research stage) but who will be granted their degrees after June 2013. Applications should include: (1) cover letter, (2) dissertation project description (max. 1000 words), (3) curriculum vitae, (4) letter of reference from the major dissertation advisor. German-speaking applicants should submit their materials in German; English-speaking applicants in English. The first three documents should be combined in a single PDF file and emailed to Ms. Susanne Fabricius by January 25, 2013. Letters of reference should be emailed (preferably in PDF format) directly by the advisor by the same date. Questions may be directed to Richard Wetzell