Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, 2009

The 2009 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prizes were awarded to Alison Clark Efford (Marquette University) and Michael Meng (Davidson College). The award ceremony took place at the 18th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute on November 13, 2009. The prize selection committee was composed of Mary Lindemann (University of Miami), Brian Vick (Emory University), and Jonathan Zatlin (chair, Boston University). 

  • Allison Clark Efford (Marquette University), New Citizens: German Immigrants, African Americans, and the Reconstruction of Citizenship, 1865-1877 (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2008). For more information on Efford's dissertation, see her article in the GHI's Bulletin.

    Prize citation: Alison Clark Efford's well-written, well-informed work marks an important transnational contribution to German-American history and the history of the United States more generally. Each chapter opens up a new, insightful, and significant aspect of the German-American political experience through the lens of attitudes towards African-American citizenship and Reconstruction. Moreover, the chapters build cumulatively into an impressive whole that illuminates the history of the German-American community and the legacy of the German 1848 Revolutions, as well as the broader history of the American republic in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. The chapter on the renegade Liberal Republican movement in particular made very evident how conflicts within the German-American community played a central part in the shifting politics of the United States as a whole, as did the discussion of the role of German-American politicians in deflecting nativist attitudes in the 1856 and 1860 Republican platforms. The author makes a convincing case for 1848 and the German unification of 1870-1871 as defining moments in German-American attitudes and relations with US society and politics, particularly with respect to their willingness to prioritize the drive for African-American citizenship rights, and their tendency either to stress the similarities of German-Americans and African-Americans as minorities within the Republic, or to emphasize the differences between these groups in terms of educational level or even race. The focus is on politics and political debates, nationally and in the case-study states of Missouri and Ohio, yet the varied treatment extends from statistical analysis of election results to considerations of religious confession, constructions of gender, notions of whiteness, and the relatively limited practice of blackface minstrelsy among German-Americans. Efford's work also offers an exemplary instance in the transnational study of citizenship, as it demonstrates how German conceptions of nationhood and citizenship from the Vormärz shaped discourse and politics among German-Americans in their new homes, and how sustained impulses from and reflections upon the changing German context continued to do so thereafter. Ultimately, the dissertation not only reveals an important chapter in German, US, and German-American history but also points the way to future studies of trans-Atlantic histoires croisées."
  • Michael Meng (Clemson University in South Carolina), Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Central Europe (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008). For more information on Meng's dissertation, see his article in the GHI's Bulletin.

    Prize citation: Michael Meng has written an exceptional dissertation, distinguished for its methodological innovation, wide-ranging and imaginative research, and original interpretations of German, Polish, and Jewish history after World War II. Methodologically, "Shattered Spaces" breaks new ground, employing a transnational study of Jewish communal space as the basis for a comparison of German and Polish history after the Second World War. One measure of Meng's methodological sophistication is his remarkably successful integration of comparative and transnational approaches in a single historical narrative. Complementing this methodological virtuosity is the impressive range and creative use of sources, drawn from three very different societies - West and East Germany as well as Poland - that underpins each chapter and provides fertile ground for Meng's brilliant analysis of post-1945 central Europe. At one level, "Shattered Spaces" exemplifies the very best of urban history, demonstrating how five German and Polish cities - Essen, Berlin, Potsdam, Warsaw, and Wroclaw - used municipal reconstruction after a devastating war to showcase a break with their recent past, but according to very different political visions. Meng's unique historical sensibility and flair for the local give the reader a feeling for each of these very distinct cities in a way that few urban histories do. At another level, "Shattered Spaces" explores how competing explanatory models of capitalism and communism literally redesigned central European cities on the basis of new national myths that - as Meng demonstrates - were nevertheless rooted in pre-1945 ethnic and social conflicts. By analyzing the destruction, appropriation, and later preservation of Jewish architecture, moreover, Meng is able to make trenchant comparisons about West German, East German, and Polish use of the built environment to articulate very different visions of the nation-state, underscoring just how important ethno-nationalism remained in Poland despite communist rhetoric about internationalism. Finally, "Shatttered Spaces" offers novel interpretations of the important but culturally and demographically different Jewish communities in Germany and Poland before 1939, their near-complete destruction, and the remnant that continued to live in each of these post-Holocaust states. Meng's transnational approach to central European Jewry after 1945 significantly disrupts more static notions of the nation-state while embedding Jewish history firmly in the central European landscape. By focusing on Jewish communal property, moreover, Meng avoids reducing Jewish history to the history of antisemitism, as much of the work on Holocaust memorials tends to do. This beautifully written, empirically rich, and often brilliant work will make an immediate and lasting impact on such disparate fields as West and East German history, Polish history, Jewish history, the history of antisemitism, urban history, and Cold War history. Meng's emphasis on the built environment provides a rich empirical base from which to suggest new interpretations of the very different attempts in three societies to "master the past." The dissertation also integrates Jewish history into post-1945 narratives in ways that are certain to change how we conceive of post-1945 central European history.