All posts by katharina hering

Interview with Sebastian Bondzio

By Alexa Lässig

Recently we sat down with Sebastian Bondzio, the 2021 Gerda Henkel Stiftung Digital History Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Dr. Bondzio is a historian affiliated with the Chair for Modern History and Historical Migration Research at Osnabrück University. His research fields include digital history with a focus on “historical big data” and digital methodologies; he also has interests in the genealogy of cultures, migration history, and the history of knowledge.

Dr. Bondzio began his academic career in 2006 in Osnabrück where he studied philosophy and history. In his master’s thesis and then his Ph.D. dissertation he developed a database of German soldiers killed during the First World War. His 2018 Ph.D. thesis, published in 2020 as Soldatentod und Durchhaltebereitschaft. Eine Stadtgesellschaft im Ersten Weltkrieg, used methodologies drawn from digital history and the history of emotions to examine how societies were able to wage war despite their devastating impact on their citizens. He is currently a senior researcher of the Data Driven History working group at Osnabrück University, where he has worked on using digital methods to analyze Gestapo records and to use migrant registration cards (Ausländermeldekartei) to study the spatial distribution of migrants and questions about the administrative production of knowledge relating to so-called “Ausländer.”

At the GHI and the RRCHNM, he will be working on a project to model and research the process of German migration to the United States during the 19th century using the Castle Garden Immigration Center database, which encompasses more than 4.2 million records. His goals include examining both the development of the record-gathering process and how immigration authorities acquired knowledge about migrants through the production of such records.

What motivated you to specialize in digital history?

Being a digital native, working with computers was part of my life for as long as I can think. I can still remember my first programming course in 1995 on QBasic and trying to convince my father to give me more time on his PC. For most of the time, this was just a hobby. It was only when I met Christoph Rass in Osnabrück that I got the feeling that now is the right time and place to combine my interests for historical research, critical analysis and digital workflows.

Between 2013 and 2017, together we developed a lot of small- and medium-sized digital projects and worked on refining our methodology. Being invited to cooperate with a whole range of different partners and seeing the historiographical potential digital approaches can have in many different contexts, I soon started to concentrate more on working with and analyzing large sets of structured historical data. As my experience has grown, I’ve become more and more convinced that as historians we must be able to create and analyze our own datasets according to the standards of our discipline to conduct proper research. This, among other things, requires developing a digital literacy and updated forms of source criticism.

Visualization of a space-time cube representing the Osnabrück Gestapo card index.

What opportunities does digital history offer to the larger discipline?

Going digital can change how we conduct historical research on a lot of different levels. First and foremost, access to historical sources can be improved and the more prominent documents have become more accessible. Little by little, we also see niches being filled. The current pandemic underlines the importance of this undertaking. But we would be missing out on a lot of opportunities if we don’t also apply digital tools for analysis of collections of digitized sources. Only this approach will open up new perspective for research and give us more comprehensive findings. Large stocks of sources can now be evaluated as a whole and provide new insights into important historical processes.

On the other hand, the traditional core of historical research will remain mainly unchanged by digital history. Simply generating findings from historical big data is not enough. We still have to interpret our findings in meaningful ways. Trying to explain the findings from Digital History often sparks new, non-digital research. In the past, this has proved to be a starting point for a productive conversation which can help bridge the divide between ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ approaches and paves the road towards integrated research.

In 2018 you co-founded the research group Data Driven History and became its Senior Researcher. Can you give us some information about its approach?

One of my dear colleagues in Osnabrück once pointed out that all historical research is data-driven. He is totally right. Every piece of a source we use can be considered data. The unique characteristic of data driven history in my working group is that we produce and analyze large sets of digital historical data that cannot be analyzed manually. In 2013, I started small by visiting archives to collect data on about 7,500 soldiers who died in the Great War. But soon we were handed a dataset on about 11,000 victims of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp, which we analyzed using GIS and other digital tools to research the structure and the impact of the Nazis’ mass murder.

These results motivated other institutions and memorial sites to approach us, including the Arolsen Archives and the NIOD (Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies) in Amsterdam. In 2018 we received a DFG project grant to study one of the few remaining Gestapo card files. In collaboration with the state archives of Lower Saxony, we digitized approximately 50,000 index cards and developed a workflow for automatic data extraction and its digital analysis. This enabled us to study both the inner mechanisms of the Gestapo and the role of knowledge production in the implementation and stabilization of the Nazi regime.

How can digital history change our understanding of how we approach migration history and the history of knowledge?

Sets of historical big data allow us to model processes of past migration with a high level of detail and differentiation. Identifying and analyzing processes of migration over decades or even centuries becomes possible. In this longue-durée perspective we can not only see the migration phenomena which contemporaries were aware of and wrote about, but also those groups, spaces, and periods which were marginalized by the dominant narratives.

But we need to be careful not to become too captivated by the historical data we use: One branch of migration history currently focuses on how individual and institutional actors interact in so-called migration regimes to negotiate the various conditions and structures of migration. The large datasets I analyze were mostly created within such a migration regime, and to the present day powerful administrations and other institutional actors produce “knowledge” about migration (most often about migrants) under a modernistic episteme, in which attributes are ascribed to individuals. The “knowledge” created by this “datafication” of migration is then used by institutional actors in various ways. If we remain aware of the contingent emergence of our datasets, we can use digital history methods to also identify components of the migration regime’s mechanisms and workings and the usage of different types of knowledge in it.

Screenshot of the German immigration database based on Castlegarden.org

What do you hope to achieve at the GHI Washington?

Being granted the Gerda Henkel Fellowship for Digital History and coming to DC feels amazing. In the past, working with several hundreds of thousands of pieces of data has proved challenging, but was manageable in the end. Here I hope to be able to take the next step: preparing about 4.2 million records on German immigrants for research. This presents some new hurdles. On the one hand, performance of the database needs to be enhanced. On the other hand, the emergence of this body of knowledge needs to be researched to be able to analyze it according to our discipline’s standards. By cooperating with colleagues at the GHI and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, I hope to succeed in preparing the dataset, identifying relevant sources in the archives, and developing a research proposal for third-party funding.

What do you like about Washington DC?

After being in mid-size Osnabrück for a long time, arriving in a metropolis like Washington DC is quite a thrill. There are historical monuments everywhere, to which time has attributed complex layers of meanings. Going there and sorting them out is something I really enjoy.

But, more importantly, coming to DC means becoming part of a network of highly skilled and motivated researchers. Digital history is a central part of historical research here. Both institutes I am affiliated with, GHI as well as RRCHNM, are organized in a way that things get done. Here are specialists I can talk to, resources that can be mobilized, and most of all there is a lot of personal dedication from everybody, which makes doing historical research even more rewarding. I feel privileged and grateful to be a part of this.

Thanks to Atiba Pertilla for edits and suggestions on improving the English language version of this interview.

Interview with Digital History Fellow Jana Keck

We would like to extend a warm welcome to our new Digital History Fellow Jana Keck. Her fields of research include German and American Literature and Culture in the Nineteenth Century, Periodical Studies, and Digital Humanities. She began her academic career at the University of Stuttgart, where she studied English and Linguistics. In 2017 she received her Master’s from the University of Stuttgart with her thesis “Gottfried Duden’s Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerikas (1829) and Its Emigration Stimulus.” In the same year she joined the DFG-funded research project “Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914” as a Doctoral Researcher. She is also a member of the CRETA/Center for Reflected Text Analytics, funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

Recently we sat down with Jana to discuss her academic career, her work, the field of digital history and its impact on the field of humanities, as well as her current goals and duties at the GHI Washington.

Could you give us some insight into the Oceanic Exchanges Project?

In 2017 I started working with an international team in the DFG-funded research project “Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914.” The project was striving to gather researchers not just from different academic fields such as cultural historians, computational linguists, literary scholars, digital curators and humanists, but also from seven different countries. Together we collected over 100 million pages of digitized newspapers in order to examine how, in the nineteenth century, news, texts, and concepts traveled, how stories adapted in different environments when they traveled, and how news networks functioned.

Presenting the workflow of the PhD project „Text-Mining America’s German-language Newspapers: Processing Germanness, 1830-1914“ at the 2019 Postgraduate Forum (PGF) Conference of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS)     
How and why did you become interested in Digital History?

I became interested in the subject through my PhD supervisor when I was studying English and American Studies and Linguistics at the University of Stuttgart. While working on my Master’s thesis on German travel literature to the United States in the nineteenth century, my PhD supervisor told me about this upcoming project in digital humanities and wanted me to be part of it. However, since I had not studied digital humanities, I knew there was a lot of “self-study” and “catching up” to do.  So, I took some courses and, in doing so, I really became interested in programming. I think it was because there was a familiarity to it that reminded me of linguistics, especially the focused and logical aspects that make up linguistics. I realized that it gave me the opportunity to combine my different fields of interest and not be relegated to one field. The more I went out and saw how other fields were working, the more I gained a deeper understanding of my own field. That is how it all started. I attended programming courses, workshops in computational linguistics, and I started working not only with people from the humanities but also from other fields not traditionally associated with the humanities. What I love about it is not only that it is a “newer” discipline, but also that I get to work with people from different fields and that I am able to take on different roles. We often define the humanities as one big field, but it has as many differences as History and Computer Science. Historians may define a certain term one way while linguists use it completely differently. I find it important to communicate these differences to make what we are talking about more transparent.

Can you tell us a little more about your PhD project?

I was inspired to begin my project by the Oceanic Exchanges Project but also by one of the former Projects called “The Viral Texts Project” initiated by Ryan Cordell at Northeastern University in Boston. Cordell was studying reprinted texts in nineteenth-century American newspapers, which prompted me to focus on nineteenth-century German-language newspapers and the phenomenon of editors sharing texts. One of the most interesting questions was whether this phenomenon is to be found among migrant newspapers and, if so, what kind of texts they shared. This means that I am not interested in one particular newspaper but rather in what newspapers printed in German in the nineteenth century in the U.S. have in common. My hypothesis is that German newspapers were used as a form of community building, since there was not one German identity among immigrants from German-speaking Europe. Germany was then only a geographical expression. The immigrants would have defined themselves in more local or regional terms: such as from Baden or Bavaria. Once they arrived in the US, however, they were seen as monolithically German by the receiving culture. What they had in common as opposed to their “American” neighbors was their “Germanness.” Through the newspapers, they developed a shared German migrant experience on both the local, national and even transnational level. Analyzing the information they exchanged through the newspapers – from hard news to jokes, from emigrant lists to poems – sheds light on how they constructed a German community across states and decades. It reminds me a lot like social media platforms: so to speak, I am investigating how a specific community shares their tweets and how they change once they travel through time and space.

What DH methods do you apply and what are your findings so far?

I began with a corpus of 60 newspapers from 17 different states over a period of roughly 80 years. I am using text reuse detection algorithms to identify and cluster texts that were printed several times in the same and in different newspapers. However, the amount of data available made it impossible for me to read all the material closely, so I found a way to computationally classify these different texts into different genres. This genre classification will make it possible for other researchers in the field to access and work with the material in the future. Currently, I am working on combining different supervised and unsupervised methods to classify different texts on the basis of the training data set, for example, indicating whether they are poems or hard news, etc. The next step is to determine if the system is also able to classify these data sets if they are previously unknown to the program. It is working very well in differentiating between news versus fiction and even within the news section between lists and advertisements, for instance. However, it runs into problems when it comes to genres in fiction. It is difficult for the system – but not impossible – to differentiate between a poem and a joke. I am positive that I will find a way to fix this and if not, it is one more finding on a theoretical level.

What other Digital History projects are you involved with at the GHI?

I am still new to the institute, but I already have been involved in a lot of meetings regarding the German Heritage in Letters Project. One of the visions I have is to combine the newspapers and the letters in order to find out what they have in common: from people to ideas. Also, an incoming DH fellow wishes to use the fellowship provided by the GHI and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation to create a database of German immigrants in the same timeframe. It would be very exciting if we could combine the three different projects that all fit so well into the current research profile of the GHI which is focused on Digital History, the History of Knowledge, and the History of Migration and Mobility. To work in such a stimulating context is just very rewarding!

Interview by Alexa Lässig, with thanks to Sarah Beringer and Casey Sutcliffe for the introduction and proofreading.

Transcribing Manuscripts in German Script at the Library of Congress (link)

Almost two years ago, the Library of Congress launched the crowdsourcing platform By the People, which invites volunteers to transcribe, review, and tag digitized images of manuscripts and typescripts from the collections of the Library of Congress. The project runs on the open source software Concordia, developed by the Library of Congress to support crowdsourced transcription projects.

Among the manuscripts made available for transcriptions are documents in German script. In a fascinating recent blog post, David B. Morris, the German Area Specialist, European Division, at the Library of Congress, discusses the art of Unlocking the Secrets of German Handwritten Documents.

The blog post will be particularly interesting for contributors to GHI’s German Heritage in Letters Project, which uses Scripto as the platform to crowdsource transcriptions of German letters, including letters written in Kurrentschrift.

Conference report: Transatlantic Perspectives on Digital Hermeneutics, October 10-12, 2019, GHI

“On 10-12 October 2019, the international conference ‘Digital Hermeneutics: from Research to Dissemination’ took place at the German Historical Institute (GHI) in Washington DC. The conference aimed to critically reflect on the radical impact of the digital turn on all stages of historical research, including archiving, research, analysis, interpretation and dissemination on a transatlantic level.” Read the full report by Tim Van Der Heijden, Juliane Tatarinov, and Gerben Zaagsma, C2DH, posted on November 5, 2019.

Bauhaus Knowledge for Everyone: The Bauhaus Bookshelf

The bauhaus bookshelf is a bilingual (German-English) online resource created by Andrea Riegel, a partner at the Düsseldorf-based communication design agency Riegel+Reichenthaler. Riegel also created Design is fine. History is mine, a popular blog on design and art history. The beautifully designed bauhaus bookshelf, a labor of love launched in 2019, combines access (for personal use) to reproductions of original Bauhaus publications with a timeline, excerpts, photographs, and other contextual information. Libraries, archives, and museums have made most of the reproductions that are gathered on the bookshelf available under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses, and users are advised to download materials from the site for personal use only. While many events and publications in 2019 celebrate the Bauhaus centennial, the bauhaus bookshelf is the only comprehensive online gateway to original Bauhaus publications and sources.

Interview with Andrea Riegel, the virtual bookshelf’s creator and curator

What inspired you to develop the bilingual bauhaus bookshelf?

Some time ago, I began teaching design history as a lecturer alongside my regular career. I had worked for various design companies during my career in communications consulting. However, studying and teaching design history was a new field for me, even though it had been a long-standing passion of mine. As an initial step, I began creating an image database for my students, and decided on using tumblr as an English-language platform in order to reach a larger, international audience. After more than five years and 15,000 posts, the blog Design is fine. History is Mine. now has around 160,000 followers from all over the world.

The Bauhaus as a German institution has always been close to my heart; it fascinated me even as a child. I grew up in Stuttgart and during my school years, our art class made annual visits to the museum where Oscar Schlemmer’s figures from the Triadic Ballet are on exhibit to discuss or draw them. That was my first encounter with the Bauhaus and it left a lasting impression, thanks to good art teachers.

Last year, I began collecting my Bauhaus discoveries on my own website; first there were a few books and interesting publications, then it became more and more of a mission: a collection of sources that can be downloaded free of charge. Bauhaus knowledge for everyone. The anniversary was an additional incentive to launch the project in a timely manner.

How did you proceed with your research? Which publications and sources were you looking for? Did you research only online or also in analog collections?

The original sources from the Bauhaus period formed the basis for the site, complemented by publications by Bauhaus members or affiliates, or other contemporary witnesses. Initially, I relied on online research, as availability on the Internet was a mandatory prerequisite. Once the framework was set and my passion could dive into details, I was able to fall back on my own small Bauhaus library. The catalogue of the 1968 Stuttgart exhibition, for example, was an excellent source, and since I also own a copy of the English-language edition, this proved to be of great help in translating the typical Bauhaus terms. This catalogue, by the way, is not available online, so sometimes you can’t get around the analog versions.

Which discoveries did you particularly enjoy, or which ones particularly surprised you?

A highlight was the first catalogue book on the exhibition in Weimar, whose title page and contents I had seen frequently. Under the umbrella of the SLUB Dresden, I finally found what I was looking for: browsing through and studying the entire work at my own pace for the first time, and the whole thing available in rather good quality, was a wonderful moment – many thanks to Dresden!

Also, the complete edition of the journal “Form,” provided by the University of Heidelberg, is a great way to immerse yourself in the bustling twenties, including the world of advertising.

I am also happy to note that my work resulted in the online publication of the original English-language version of a lecture held by Ise Gropius at Harvard in 1978. I had first discovered the text in a German translation published by the GDR magazine “form und zweck.” With the help of the Harvard archives, I received the original script, which I diligently typed before placing it on my virtual bookshelf. It is certainly worth reading the article by “Frau Bauhaus,” as she was called back then.

One of the focal points of the centennial is on highlighting the history of the women associated with the Bauhaus. What challenges did you notice in the course of your research?

Of course, the theme of the Bauhaus women is a topic close to my heart. In general, it is important to me that I introduce and revive those women in my history lectures who have been “forgotten” for centuries, be it Sappho or Sofonisba Anguissola. As far as the Bauhaus is concerned, Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl and Marianne Brandt have been among the well-known personalities for quite some time, and there are new publications on Ise Gropius, for example. While studying Bauhaus books and magazines I noticed works by Hilde Hubbuch, Rosa Berger, Hilde Horn or Lotte Burckhardt, but little or no information about these individuals is to be found. Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp and the architect Wera Meyer-Waldeck are known only by small circles and deserve more attention. Initial results of a study about Michiko Yamawaki, who studied (alongside her husband Iwao, an architect) in the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus and later made the “bauhausu” known in Japan, were presented at the beginning of 2019 in the context of the anniversary. To date, not much has been known about Yamawaki in German-speaking countries. But there is widespread interest in learning more about these women, who have remained relatively unknown thus far, and in honoring their work.

Your site is not only a list of links, but also a small online exhibition with short portraits and excerpts from original publications. Which themes did you want to emphasize when conceptualizing your website?

Presenting the diverse spectrum of the Bauhaus was a matter of concern to me, at the same time, the focal points are just as important for orientation purposes. The Bauhaus was a school. Artists taught at the Bauhaus. There were many strong personalities at the Bauhaus (and thus there were conflicts). The Bauhaus was arts and crafts, theory and practice. At the Bauhaus, there were many new developments – not only in architecture or product design, but also in photography, typography, advertising, PR. While the Bauhaus in Dessau was forced to cease operations in 1933, in some ways this was just the beginning. If there is just one takeaway for visitors to my site, then my mission has already achieved a lot.

What were the particular challenges in developing and designing the chronology?

Designing the structure of the website chronologically seemed obvious and sensible, as it provides a helpful thread leading through the entire range of topics. Since I did not proceed strictly according to plan, I always ended up interspersing something thematically that was situated “in between,” which suddenly opened up different contexts – the work certainly was never boring. Visually, in this context, infographics are important to me, and they have been included, for example, on the pages “Bauhaus Chronology” or “Bauhaus Masters.” Who was active at the Bauhaus? How active and for how long? The 1968 exhibition catalog, which was compiled and coordinated by Bauhaus members still alive at the time, provided a perfect model for this infographic.

Which principles inspired your web design?

At the beginning there was no defined concept, the website was created according to the principle “learning by doing,” for fun. The layout was developed in the process; as more and more content was integrated, the appearance emerged in the process of creation. One inspiration for the graphic design was, for example, the photo of a bookshelf that Josef Albers designed in Weimar at the beginning of his Bauhaus period (reproduced in Bauhaus book no. 7/page 18). It was supposed to look just as geometric, balanced, and solid as it does. Even today, one can still learn a thing or two from Moholy-Nagy’s graphic art.

What are the challenges of transferring the historic Bauhaus design into a digital environment?

It is actually easy to design in the Bauhaus style, the modern look still corresponds to our viewing habits, “Less is More” is timeless. What matters is a clear and consistent grid as the basis, a nice and tidy arrangement, no frills. The primary colors serve as accents, or one can choose the combination black-white or black-red. Square and circle as style elements are, of course, a must, whereas I neglected the triangle, just my personal taste.

What do you particularly enjoy about curating the Bauhaus bookshelf?

It’s fun that it’s actually a story that never ends; I don’t feel that the work is “finished” yet. There are so many protagonists, texts, or events that are interesting, my folders on the hard drive are filled with content. I will expand the shelf throughout this year, at least, whenever I get to do the work. The work on this virtual library is a hobby, which is limited to the evening hours, unfortunately. It would be nice if I could earn money with it, being a freelancer, then I’d be able to work on it even more. At the same time, that’s also a lucky advantage: having the independence to work on my library as I please, while certainly serving the cause of sharing the best Bauhaus sources with the public.

Thank you!

Sources: All screenshots are from Andrea Riegel’s bauhaus bookshelf site.

Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923. Published by the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar and Karl Nierendorf. Weimar-München: Bauhausverlag, 1923. Cover page designed by Herbert Bayer. More information and link to the digital surrogate. 

Translation of the interview by Katharina Hering, assisted by Atiba Pertilla, Kelly McCullough, and DeepL.

Bauhaus Wissen für alle: das virtuelle Bauhaus Bücherregal

Das bauhaus bookshelf ist ein zweisprachiges virtuelles Bücherregal, das von Andrea Riegel konzipiert und umgesetzt wurde. Andrea Riegel, Partnerin beim Düsseldorfer Gestaltungsbüro Riegel und Reichenthaler, betreibt bereits Design is Fine, History is Mine, eine beliebte Plattform zur Design-und Kunstgeschichte. Andrea Riegel hat das bauhaus bookshelf in ihrer Freizeit entwickelt und 2019 Online gestellt. Das sehr schön gestaltete virtuelle Bücheregal verbindet den Zugang zu digitalisierten Originalquellen mit einer Zeitleiste, Auszügen, Fotos und anderen Informationen über den historischen Kontext des Materials. Die meisten der Reproduktionen wurden von  Bibliotheken, Archiven und Museen über Creative Commons Lizenzen (CC-BY-SA-4.0) zur Verfügung gestellt und Nutzer*innen können das Material über die Seite für die private Nutzung herunterladen. Zwar erscheinen zum Bauhausjubiläum in diesem Jahr eine Reihe neuer Publikationen und es finden sehr viele Veranstaltungen statt, aber das bauhaus bookshelf ist die einzige Webseite, die Nutzerinnen einen übersichtlichen Zugang zu Originalquellen und Publikationen eröffnet.

Interview mit Andrea Riegel

Was hat Sie dazu inspiriert, das zweisprachige Bauhaus bookshelf zu entwickeln?

Vor einiger Zeit begann ich – neben meinem eigentlichen Beruf – als Dozentin zu unterrichten, unter anderem Designgeschichte. Zwar hatte ich während meiner Karriere in der Kommunikationsberatung diverse Designunternehmen betreut, aber die Beschäftigung mit der Historie war ein neues Gebiet, wiewohl eine alte Leidenschaft. Eine erste Aktivität bestand darin, eine Bilddatenbank für die Teilnehmer meiner Kurse zusammenzustellen, als Plattform entschied ich mich für tumblr und damit für die englische Sprache, um einen größeren, internationalen Kreis anzusprechen. Nach über fünf Jahren und 15.000 postings folgen dem Blog www.design-is-fine.org inzwischen rund 160.000 Menschen aus aller Welt. 

Das Bauhaus als deutsche Institution lag mir schon immer am Herzen, es hat mich schon als Kind fasziniert. Ich bin in Stuttgart aufgewachsen und während der Schulzeit haben wir im Kunstunterricht jedes Jahr das Museum besucht, in dem die Figuren des Triadischen Balletts von Oskar Schlemmer ausgestellt sind, um sie zu besprechen oder zu zeichnen. Das war meine erste Begegnung mit dem Bauhaus und sie hat – dank guter Kunstlehrerinnen – einen bleibenden Eindruck hinterlassen.

Im vergangenen Jahr begann ich meine bisherigen Bauhaus-Funde auf einer eigenen Webseite zu sammeln, zunächst waren es ein paar Bücher und interessante Publikationen, dann wurde es immer mehr und irgendwann zur Mission: eine Quellensammlung, die den kostenlosen Download ermöglicht. Bauhaus-Wissen für alle. Das Jubiläum war ein zusätzlicher Anreiz, das Projekt auch zeitnah zu realisieren.

Wie sind Sie bei Ihren Recherchen vorgegangen? Nach welchen Publikationen und Quellen haben Sie gesucht? Haben Sie nur Online, oder auch in analogen Sammlungen recherchiert?

Was die Suche betrifft, bildeten die Original-Quellen aus der Bauhauszeit die Grundlage, dazu Publikationen der Bauhäusler oder Beiträge von Zeitzeugen. Die Recherche lief zunächst nur online, da die Verfügbarkeit im Internet eine zwingende Option war. Als das Gerüst stand und die Liebe ins Detail ging, konnte ich auf meine eigene kleine Bauhaus-Bibliothek zurückgreifen. Der Katalog der Stuttgarter Ausstellung von 1968 war z.B. eine ausgezeichnete Quelle und da ich auch die englische Ausgabe besitze, erwies sich das bei der Übersetzung der bauhaus-typischen Begriffe als große Hilfe. Dieser Katalog ist online übrigens nicht verfügbar, manchmal kommt man also an analog nicht vorbei.

Welche Entdeckungen haben Sie bei Ihren Recherchen besonders gefreut oder erstaunt?

Ein Glanzlicht war das erste Katalogbuch zur Ausstellung in Weimar, dessen Titel oder einzelne Seiten ich so oft gesehen hatte. Unter dem Dach der SLUB wurde ich schließlich irgendwann fündig: ein wunderbarer Moment, das ganze Werk zum ersten Mal in Ruhe durchzublättern und zu studieren, das Ganze in einer recht guten Qualität – vielen Dank nach Dresden!

Auch die kompletten Jahrgänge der „Form“, die von der Universität Heidelberg zur Verfügung gestellt werden, sind eine prima Sache, um in die umtriebigen Zwanziger Jahre einzutauchen, inklusive Anzeigenwerbung

Erfreulich ist, dass meine Arbeit dazu geführt hat, dass ein Vortrag, den Ise Gropius 1978 in Harvard hielt, nun auch in der englischen Original-Fassung online zu lesen ist. Zunächst hatte ich den Text in einer deutschen Übersetzung im DDR-Magazin “form und zweck” entdeckt. Mit Hilfe des Harvard Archivs fand sich das Original-Skript, das ich brav abgetippt habe und danach in mein virtuelles Bücherregal stellen konnte. Es ist ein lesenswerter Beitrag von “Frau Bauhaus”, wie sie dort genannt wurde.

Einer der Schwerpunkte des 100jährigen Jubiläums liegt auf der Geschichte der mit dem Bauhaus verbundenen Frauen. Welche Herausforderungen sind Ihnen bei der Recherche aufgefallen?

Natürlich ist das Thema der Bauhausfrauen ein Herzensthema, in meinen Vorträgen ist es mir generell wichtig, jene Frauen aus der Geschichte vorzustellen und damit wiederzubeleben, die über Jahrhunderte “vergessen” wurden, sei es Sappho oder Sofonisba Anguissola. Was das Bauhaus betrifft, zählen Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl oder Marianne Brandt schon seit geraumer Zeit zu den bekannten Persönlichkeiten, auch zu Ise Gropius gibt es beispielsweise neue Publikationen. Beim Studium der Bauhausbücher und Zeitschriften sind mir Arbeiten von Hilde Hubbuch, Rosa Berger, Hilde Horn oder Lotte Burckhardt aufgefallen, doch es findet sich nur wenig oder keine Information zu diesen Namen. Auch Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp oder die Architektin Wera Meyer-Waldeck sind eher einem kleinen Kreis bekannt und hätten mehr Aufmerksamkeit verdient. Zu Michiko Yamawaki, die (gemeinsam mit ihrem Mann Iwao, ein Architekt) am Bauhaus Weberei studierte und das “bauhausu” später in Japan bekannt machte, wurde Anfang 2019 im Rahmen des Jubiläums erste Ergebnisse einer Studie vorgestellt. Bis dato war über die Textildesignerin im deutschsprachigen Raum nicht viel zu erfahren. Es gibt von vielen Seiten Interesse, über diese noch nicht so bekannten Frauen mehr zu erfahren und ihre Arbeit zu würdigen.

Welche thematischen Schwerpunkte haben Sie bei der Konzeption Ihrer Seite gesetzt, die ja nicht nur eine Liste von Links ist, sondern auch eine kleine Online Ausstellung, mit Kurzporträts und Exzerpten aus Originalpublikationen?

Gerade die Vielfalt des Bauhauses zu präsentieren, war mir ein Anliegen, doch genauso wichtig sind Schwerpunkte zur Orientierung. Das Bauhaus war eine Schule. Am Bauhaus haben Künstler gelehrt. Am Bauhaus gab es viele starke Persönlichkeiten (und dadurch auch Konflikte). Das Bauhaus war Kunst und Handwerk, Theorie und Praxis. Am Bauhaus gab es viele neue Entwicklungen – nicht nur in der Architektur oder im Produktdesign, sondern auch in der Fotografie, Typographie, Werbung, PR. Das Bauhaus war irgendwann zu Ende, doch eigentlich war das erst der Anfang. Wenn nur ein Punkt beim Besuch der Webseite hängenbleibt, dann hat meine Mission schon viel erreicht.

Welche besonderen Herausforderungen gab es bei der Entwicklung und Gestaltung der Chronologie?

Es lag nahe, den Aufbau der Webseite chronologisch zu gestalten, ein hilfreicher roter Faden in der ganzen Themenvielfalt. Doch da ich nicht streng nach Plan vorging, wurde immer wieder etwas thematisch  “dazwischengeschoben”, daraus ergab sich plötzlich einen anderen Kontext – es kam bei der Arbeit jedenfalls keine Langeweile auf. Visuell sind mir in diesem Zusammenhang Infografiken wichtig, umgesetzt z.B. auf den Seiten “Bauhaus Chronik” oder “Bauhaus Meister” – Wer war wie lange am Bauhaus wie aktiv? Dafür hatte ich eine perfekte Vorlage aus dem Ausstellungskatalog von 1968, die noch von den lebenden Bauhäuslern abgestimmt wurde. 

Welche Prinzipien hat Ihr Webdesign inspiriert?

Zu Beginn gab es kein definiertes Konzept, die Webseite entstand nach dem Prinzip “Learning by doing”, aus Spaß an der Sache. Die Seite gewann im Prozess an Ordnung, immer mehr Content floss ein, das Erscheinungsbild entwickelte sich beim Machen. Eine Inspiration für die Grafik war z.B. das Foto eines Bücherregals, das Josef Albers in den Anfängen seiner Bauhauszeit in Weimar umsetzte (zu sehen im Bauhausbuch Nr. 7/ Seite 18). Genauso geometrisch, ausgewogen und solide sollte der Charakter des Auftritts sein. Und von den grafischen Kunst eines Moholy-Nagy kann man sich auch heute noch einiges abschauen.

Welche Herausforderungen gibt es bei der digitalen Übertragung des historischen Bauhausdesigns?

Es ist eigentlich einfach, im Bauhausstil zu gestalten, der Look der Moderne entspricht immer noch unseren Sehgewohnheiten, “Less is more“ ist zeitlos. Wichtig ist ein klares und konsequentes Raster als Grundlage, alles schön geordnet und aufgeräumt, kein Schnickschnack. Die Grundfarben dienen als Akzente oder man wählt die Kombination Schwarz-Weiß oder Schwarz-Rot. Quadrat und Kreis dürfen natürlich nicht fehlen, wobei ich auf das Dreieck verzichtet habe, mein persönlicher Geschmack.

Was macht Ihnen bei der Arbeit am Bauhaus Bookshelf besonderen Spaß?

Spaß macht, dass es eigentlich eine unendliche Geschichte ist – ich habe bis jetzt nicht das Gefühl: “fertig!”. Es gibt noch so viele Personen, Texte, Ereignisse, die von Interesse sind, meine Ordner auf der Festplatte sind gut gefüllt. Das Regal wird zumindest in diesem Jahr erweitert, wann immer ich dazu komme. Die Beschäftigung mit dieser virtuellen Bibliothek ist ein Hobby, das sich auf die Abendstunden beschränkt, leider. Es wäre als Freiberufler schön, wenn sich damit Geld verdienen ließe, dann könnte ich noch mehr daran arbeiten. Aber genau darin liegt auch das große Glück: die Unabhängigkeit, dass ich in meiner Bibliothek schalten und walten kann, wie ich will, was sicher der Sache dient, nämlich die besten Bauhaus Quellen mit der Öffentlichkeit zu teilen.

Besten Dank!

Quellen: Alle Bildschirmaufnahmen sind Andrea Riegel’s bauhaus bookshelf entnommen.

Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923. Veröffentlicht vom Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar and Karl Nierendorf. Weimar-München: Bauhausverlag, 1923. Umschlag entworfen von Herbert Bayer. Weitere Informationen und Link zum Digitalisat.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is the perfect occasion to feature the Digitales Deutsches Frauenarchiv (DDF), the digital German women’s archives, as well as Atria, the institute on gender equality and women’s history.

The DDF, launched last year, is a new portal dedicated to making select historical sources documenting the history of women’s movements in (mostly) German-speaking countries available online to broad audiences. The portal features thematic essays that provide context for featured documents, as well as biographical essays on key actors, for example Louise Otto Peters and Clara Zetkin. The portal combines digitized sources from over forty archives, libraries, and other cultural institutions that collect resources documenting the history of women’s and lesbian movements.

The forty-six essays that are currently online focus on specific sources, such as Claudia Schoppmann’s essay about Anna Elisabet Weirauch’s novel trilogy Der Skorpion, or cover broader thematic areas based on a range of sources, such as the influence of the 19th century bourgeois women’s movement on the professionalization of social work.

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Interview about German Federal Archives Portal „Weimar: Die erste deutsche Demokratie“ [Weimar: The First German Democracy]


The German Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives of Germany) launched the portal „Weimar: Die erste deutsche Demokratie“ [Weimar: The First German Democracy] in March 2018. The portal offers access to thousands of digitized records, maps, photographs, films, audio recordings, and posters from the Weimar Republic, with new materials being added on an ongoing basis. Href interviewed Vera Zahnhausen* about the portal, which is one of the major recent digital initiatives of the Bundesarchiv. –Editorial note, href.

What sparked the development of „Weimar: die erste deutsche Demokratie”?

We realized that the upcoming centennial of the November Revolution of 1918 and subsequent centennial anniversaries commemorating the Weimar Republic would draw considerable public attention to this period in German history.

The Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives), as “custodian” of significant and unique historical sources documenting that period, wanted to seize this opportunity and direct the attendant public attention toward the “treasures” that are housed in the archives. At the same time, we hope that the project will enhance the overall public perception of the Bundesarchiv as one of the most important institutions for preserving history and cultural memory in the Federal Republic. We also hope that making digitized sources available on the internet will lead to greater collaboration with universities and research projects. We have already started forging stronger ties with other archives and projects, for example with the Verein Weimarer Republik (https://www.weimarer-republik.net/5-0-Verein.html) in the city of Weimar. Finally, and not least, the Bundesarchiv hopes that the new Weimar Republic portal will attract new users, while strengthening the bonds with existing users.

Continue reading Interview about German Federal Archives Portal „Weimar: Die erste deutsche Demokratie“ [Weimar: The First German Democracy]