Relevant Degree Programs
Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters
Environmental history; histories of health of communities and landscapes; mining history; histories of communism in Central/Eastern Europe
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Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
This work explores the use of culture to rebrand national identity in postwar West Germany from 1945-1955. It employs the story of Sudeten expellee craftspeople and their resettlement in the American Occupation Zone to demonstrate forced migrant agency, and to address national rebranding from a migrant perspective. It reveals how American and German governments employed the expellee story and their Selbsthilfe (self-help) initiative to bridge the recent Nazi past and sell German goods to global consumers. Rebranding emphasized tradition, Heimat and an idyllic handcraft lifestyle while also promising a future of innovation. Sudeten expellee communities proved exemplary for the task, as symbols of both “tradition” and innovation. In addition, their story of resilience from their lost Heimat to eventual economic prosperity proved useful in both advancing a German victimhood narrative and boasting a successful integration narrative. The American Military Government in occupation sought to manage, resettle and market expellees through export buyer tours, exchange visits and trade fair exhibitions, justifying the allocation of Marshall Plan funds and fostering a strong trade relationship. The expellee craft story became a powerful tool in making a tarnished “Made in Germany” label sellable once again. This study traces expellee musical instrument makers, toy makers and glass blowers, from the loss of their workshops to their conflict with local German communities, to the construction of new homes and the reconstruction of businesses. Taking small-scale craft industry and material culture as its focus, this work adds to and complicates an already rich literature on heavy industry and the German Wirtschaftswunder. As occupation governments dismantled heavy industries, they subsequently promoted skilled handcraft and small-scale manufacturing, granting expellees an opportunity to rebuild and advance their new workshops in enclave settlements. This study links scholarship in the fields of postwar German history, forced migration, and material culture to reveal the power of objects and forced migrant groups to alter the story and even identity of their new West German context.
This study analyses how history museums in Austria, Hungary and Italy, represent the Holocaust. With close reference to debates about European Holocaust commemoration, it addresses how these exhibitions in countries closely related to Germany during the Holocaust construct the past as an object of knowledge/power. It also examines how the conceptualisation of historical agency assigns meaning and creates specific subject positions for the visitor. The research includes 21 different permanent exhibitions, established after 1989/1990, from which four, deemed representative, form the case studies. In Austria the author chose the Zeitgeschichte Museum in Ebensee, in Hungary the Holokauszt Emlékközpont in Budapest, and in Italy the Museo della Deportazione in Prato and the Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, della Deportazione, della Guerra, dei Diritti e della Libertà in Turin. Within the case studies Birga U. Meyer analyses how prisoner uniforms, perpetrator photographs, objects from concentration camps, and (video-) testimonies of survivors are displayed. The method is a discourse analysis following Michel Foucault, applied to museum exhibitions by Mieke Bal. Daniel Levy’s and Natan Sznaider’s view that global, national and regional discourse formations form new, hybrid narratives provides the theoretical framework. The findings suggest that three worldwide approaches to the Holocaust structure the exhibitions: the division of the Holocaust into four stages; an emphasis on perpetrator history; and an attempted pluralisation of the victim groups. These structuring elements are explained via national narratives, which exemplify, change, adapt or supplement the worldwide components. Regional discourses are less decisive and European discourse formations not yet influential to the museum representations. The mode of representation draws in each case on an aesthetics understood as the adequate representation of the Holocaust in that national context. What the exhibitions have in common is an authoritative presentation of one historical truth and an illustrative, functional use of primary sources. Historical agency – the forces/actors responsible for historical developments – is assigned to different agents: developments within society; the perpetrators; the victims; or everyone. It is this that distinguishes the different exhibitions from one another: and in result the meaning given to the Holocaust and subject positions offered differ.
In the wake of alleged Ottoman atrocities in Bulgaria, the new geopolitical order created at the 1878 Congress of Berlin was demarcated largely along Western cultural prejudices. Using a cultural approach that appreciates both “macro” material structures and “micro” cultural processes in Bulgaria, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire, this study offers an alternative framework for understanding this period. It employs community-level evidence (petitions, public meetings, provincial journalism) alongside the diplomatic record; moreover, it uses the diaries, writings, and the marginalia within the personal readings of important policy-makers as pivotal intermediaries between cultural discourses, material structures, and individual agency. Diverging from previous narratives, which hold that the Great Powers altruistically responded to barbaric atrocities perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against their European Christian subjects, I argue that solidifying conceptions of racially-based national self-determination and nonconformist evangelicalism were crucial within humanitarian protest, the diplomatic decision-making process, military objectives during the Russo-Turkish War, and the resolution of the Great Eastern Crisis. Western cultural preconceptions, propagated, negotiated, and reified throughout this process, were thus transformative in the construction of the new, unstable Balkan geopolitical order that contributed to the outbreak of the First World War and the remaking of the modern world.
Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Western European societies experienced a deep crisis, involving economic turmoil and youth protest, that became most perceptible in an alleged crisis of the city. This dissertation argues that as a reaction to this crisis a spatialization of the social took place that established urban space as a prime object of governmental policies. It argues further that the transformation of social problems into questions of spatial order was mirrored in a growing reference by non-conforming youth to space as a site of liberation. Both developments supported and influenced each other and were based on the conception of certain socio-geographical spaces as counter-sites that differed entirely from all other spaces.Spaces of non-conforming youth are therefore at the heart of this dissertation. Meeting places of the heroin scene and squatted houses in Zurich and various West German cities, most notably West Berlin, serve as examples of such spaces and their significance for European societies in the early 1980s.This study employs a double perspective. It traces the spaces of youth deviance as an object of governmental technologies and seeks to deconstruct the underlying assumptions about normalcy, deviance, youth, and urban space. At the same time, it explores the practices and imaginations of those youth who were seeking to evade or rebel against the hegemonic order through squatting of, and sojourning at, specific urban spaces. To grasp the perspective of both governmental institutions and non-conforming youth, a combined analysis of their discursive and spatial practices is employed. Making use of Foucault's concept of heterotopia, or “other spaces”, the possibilities and limitations in regulating and creating social change through urban spaces of deviance and rebellion comes into focus. This dissertation therefore contributes to a social and cultural historiography of the 1980s as well as furthers our understanding of the mutually constructed nature of space, youth, normalcy, and deviance.
Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
In 1949, Paul Jendrike, former Chairman of the National Association of German Teachers in Poland (1922-1939) sent a questionnaire to each of the Association’s former members. Cognizant that living memory would soon disappear, Jendrike sought to document the experiences of German teachers in interwar Poland. Most of these teachers who received questionnaires were now living in West Germany, kicked out of their former homelands in Poland after the Second World War, joining approximately eleven million other expellees from the former German east. As citizens of Poland but members of an ethnic German minority, the Germanness of these so-called Volksdeutsche had often been a source of debate. Now, in Germany, and relabelled Vertriebene, or expellees, they were made into a bounded group, still distinct from the rest of the German-speaking population. The questionnaire was set up in such a way as to show a clear distinction between “Germans” and “Poles,” in addition to showing that Poland had blatantly defied the terms of the Minority Protection Treaty, signed in 1919. Respondents, however, defied Jendrike’s intentions by using the undisciplined spaces of the questionnaire to exercise their nostalgic longing. The nostalgia in these undisciplined spaces shows not only that many of the respondents were persistently non-national, but that they had no political or revanchist aims, in contrast to what most works on the expellees have shown. This essay demonstrates that taking nostalgia seriously exposes a surprising story about expellees, one that reveals that there was no real sense of groupness, either before the war or after. Attending to nostalgia in this way illustrates the need to reconsider Vertriebene and Volksdeutsche historiographies and break down these temporally delimited definitions of groupness.