Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, 2018

The 2019 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize was awarded to Michelle Kahn (University of Richmond). The award ceremony took place at the 28th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute on November 1, 2019. The selection committee was composed of: Brendan Karch (chair, Louisiana State University), Tanya Kevorkian (Millersville University), and Andrew Zimmerman (George Washington University).

  • Michelle Kahn (University of Richmond), Foreign at Home: Turkish-German Migrants and the Boundaries of Europe, 1961–1990 (P.h.D dissertation, Stanford University, 2018, advised by Edith Sheffer)

    Prize Citation: Michelle Kahn’s elegant and highly original dissertation examines Turkish labor migrants to Germany who later returned to Turkey, some with German-born children. These understudied migrants comprised a large portion of West Germany’s Turkish guest workers, yet they were often caught between two worlds. Kahn traces these migrants’ dual estrangement from the moment of departure to Germany, through temporary trips home, to German policies urging return, the challenges of reintegration, and continued transnational mobility. Her work unearths xenophobic sentiment underlying West German policies, especially the incentive money given in 1983 to encourage remigration. Turkish media and popular culture pejoratively labeled many of these returning guest workers and their families ‘Almancı’ to underscore their Germanization. Moreover, the Turkish government resisted migrants’ return, prioritizing instead their remittances from Europe – a neoliberal calculation that Kahn labels ‘financial citizenship.’ Many migrants thus felt unwelcome in both Turkey and Germany.

    Kahn draws on a rich source base in both German and Turkish including archival records, oral interviews, travel guides, cartoons, poems, and popular culture. These sources are interwoven, with clear and elegant prose, into a rich tapestry of diverse voices. Divides within the Turkish migrant population – between those from urban and rural backgrounds, between children born in Turkey or in Germany, or between families who stayed in Germany or who departed – are analyzed with great subtlety. A truly transnational project, her work puts at its center a group of migrants who challenge us to rethink German and Turkish national cultures, Cold War politics, European migrant flows, and the alleged divisions between a democratic Europe and authoritarian others. We are proud to honor Michelle Kahn with the 2019 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize.