InBetween Yesterday and Tomorrow: German Visions of Europe, 1926-1950, published last month, author Christian Bailey seeks to understand how Germans became such “good Europeans” after 1945. Whereas many histories of European integration tend to largely focus on the diplomatic goings-on between elites, this book focuses on how support for a united Europe was cultivated in civil society. Below, the author and his colleague Benno Gammerl share a dialogue about Bailey’s recent volume.
Benno Gammerl: Your book convincingly challenges what one could call the negative founding myth of post-1945 European integration. According to this well-established narrative the European Union ultimately resulted from the wish to once and for all prevent falling back into the perils of fascism and total war. You highlight earlier visions of Europe instead that date back to the interwar period and that have at times commanded much wider popular support than the let-us-avoid-our-earlier-mistakes-rhetoric. Which positive aims and motivations sustained these European projects?
The parallels between the political environment of the “Arab Spring” countries and Cold War Germany can be striking, according to Alexander Clarkson, author of Fragmented Fatherland: Immigration and Cold War Conflict in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1945-1980. In these cases, when diaspora communities returned to their countries of origin, there was an energy for activism and a flurry of political activity. Following, Clarkson notes that taking a page from West German history could prove useful in modern Libyan, Syrian and Tunisian politics.
In the chaotic days after the Ghadaffi regime lost control of the city of Benghazi in February 2011, hundreds of exiled Libyans returned to the liberated parts of their country to help play a role in the transformation of a state that had been under authoritarian rule for more than forty years.
The recent revelations by Edward Snowden about the extensive online information-gathering activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) have led to a flurry of comparisons in the German media between the American agency and the infamous East German Ministry for State Security, or Stasi. According to a popular statistic, the Stasi could have filled 42,000 filing cabinets with the information it had gathered over 40 years—the NSA 48,000,000,000! Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former East German herself, has rejected such comparisons as crude and misleading. Below, in an excerpt from the introduction to Becoming East German: Structures and Sensibilities after Hitler, to be published this month, co-editor Andrew I. Port discusses the extent to which such comparisons are appropriate and potentially valuable.
Let us pose a rhetorical question that is sure to raise some hackles: was the GDR truly more repressive than the Federal Republic—or other Western states, for that matter?
In January 2012, a white man was cast for the part of an African American man in “I’m Not Rappaport” for the German adaptation of the U.S. play. The plan to use blackface makeup—common in American theater up until the Civil Rights movement—to change the man’s appearance stirred controversy, and was called out as racist. Co-editor ofGermany and the Black Diaspora: Points of Contact, 1250-1914, Martin Klimke addresses the sensitive subject of race in Germany in light of this event.
Germany’s place in the Black Atlantic might have been peripheral in a geographical sense. Intellectually and discursively, however, it played an often underestimated but significant role in the formation of modern social, racial, and national identities.
East meets West inUnited Germany: Debating Processes and Prospects, to be published this month, a collection of works that compares and contrasts German sentiments since the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly a quarter of a century ago. Editor Konrad Jarausch answers questions about the collection and the roots of his passion for the subject.
What drew you to the study of Germany’s re-unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Since we had just bought an apartment at the Bayerischer Platz in Schöneberg during the summer of 1989, I was able to witness a good deal of the “peaceful revolution” firsthand. Moreover, as co-chair of an IREX commission of GDR and U.S. historians I became personally involved in the transition difficulties of my East German colleagues. After so many decades of Cold War stagnation, it seemed that history had returned with a vengeance – posing a challenge for explanation which I could not resist.
The Nazi Genocide of the Roma: Reassessment and Commemoration, to be published this month, gives voice to the plight of the lesser-studied but still widely persecutedpopulation of the Roma in Nazi-occupied Europe. Below, editor Anton Weiss-Wendt addresses the reception of the collection, which he says begs the question: “Is this scholarship or is it activism?”
The mass murder of Jews and the mass murder of Roma during the Second World War are closely interrelated.
Rex Clark and Oliver Lubrich are the editors of Cosmos and Colonialism and Transatlantic Echoes, two volumes that collect writings by and about Alexander von Humboldt – the first collection of its kind. Below, the editors discuss their enthusiasm for von Humboldt’s life and work, and its continued relevance in the 21st century.
What drew you to the study of Alexander von Humboldt?
Humboldt was a fascinating character—explorer of South American tropics, extreme mountain climber in the Andes, darling of the salon society in Paris and Berlin, and a celebrity intellectual known around the world in his time. His vision of society and knowledge discovery was truly intercultural and multidisciplinary and throughout his long life he sparked controversy and attracted attention.
In our original discussions about the project we were struck by how scholarship and conference presentations seemed very isolated and split between English, Spanish, and German language topics and traditions of Humboldt research. We planned to bridge this with a volume of representative essays from around the world. In researching the background contexts we discovered a rich history of literary and critical responses to Humboldt. So then the project morphed and grew to become a cultural history of those responses. We were drawn to how Humboldt appeared in poetry and fiction from his day to the present and we collected the literary responses which became the 100 texts in Transatlantic Echoes. The philosophical discussions and critical works inspired by Humboldt became the 50 essays of Cosmos and Colonialism.
So our two volumes are not really focused on Humboldt per se, but rather on the works of authors who created their own stories and myths, their own theories and propaganda. A mash up of Humboldt’s life and works, if you will, imagined by other writers, crossing two centuries and mixing up genres and nationalities. Other media are there as well, films, plays, comics. And since many of these were originally published in other languages, we had those texts translated so we can present everything in English to our readers. For us it was a big adventure of discovery—to find texts, research authors and their context, and then make the selections. And then we had to get the translations done and deal with all the issues of editing and copyright permissions, that was the part of the journey where we could identify with some of the hardships of Humboldt’s travels.