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Research Access to the German Broadcasting Heritage. A Short Introduction to the Archival Landscape of the German Broadcasters ARD and Deutschlandradio

By Götz Lachwitz

Editorial note: Götz Lachwitz has been a research specialist at the German Broadcasting Archive (DRA) at Potsdam-Babelsberg since August 2020. His responsibilities include coordination and advice on ARD-wide and general research inquiries serving academics and other scholars. Previously, he was a research assistant in the DFG project “History of Documentary Film in Germany” and a doctoral student at the University of Hamburg, where he was part of the research training group „Vergegenwärtigungen. Repräsentationen der Shoah in komparatistischer Perspektive“ [Recollections:Representations of the Shoah in Comparative Perspective]

Are you a researcher and are looking for an overview of German radio and television coverage on your research topic? Are you interested in radio and television reports by specific journalists, cinematographers, or other media professionals from the last 100 years? Are you working on a comparative study of broadcasting in East and West Germany during the Cold War and are still looking for relevant sources? Then you need access to the German broadcasting heritage, and to the archives of public broadcasting.

© DRA. Photograph: Waltraud Denger, ARD-Design
Videos relevant to contemporary history are freely accessible under the label “ARD Retro” in the ARD Mediathek on the Internet**

In Germany, there are private broadcasters, mostly financed by advertising, as well as public broadcasters, financed by fees. This system, which is also called the “dual principle,” dates to the early eighties, when an increasing number of private broadcasting companies were established.[1] The prominence of public broadcasting distinguishes the German media landscape from the U.S., where radio and television programs are often produced by commercial providers.  

One of the key features of the public broadcasting system in Germany is its federal structure. Each federal state has its own state broadcasting institution, each with its own competencies. In some cases, two or more federal states jointly operate a broadcasting institution, such as Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg. A total of nine broadcasters broadcast radio and television programs for their respective regions.[2] In addition, a joint supra-regional television program operates within the framework of ARD, the Association of German Broadcasting Corporations: Das Erste or Das Erste Deutsche Fernsehen.

Part of ARD is the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which produces a multilingual radio and television program for various target groups in other countries. Independent from ARD, but also organized under public law, are the nationwide broadcasters Deutschlandradio, with a total of three national radio programs, and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). Today, all broadcasters provide digital programs and services complementing their regular radio or television programs.

The diversity of broadcasters is also reflected by the archives of the individual stations. Each of the public broadcasting companies maintains its own archive. These archives contain not only the surviving radio and television broadcasts from the program, but also sources that provide additional contextual information, such as written material, photographs, and material objects. In addition to documentation of the broadcasting company’s institutional history, the archives also include collections about specific program, including, for example, letters to the editor. As sources of contemporary history, such letters provide insight into the impact of radio and television on its viewers. Donated manuscript collections from important personalities in broadcasting history, and other special collections, such as sheet music for live music broadcasts from broadcasting concert halls, also have their place in these archives. [3]

A special feature in the network of public broadcasting archives is the German Broadcasting Archive (DRA), a foundation jointly supported by ARD and Deutschlandradio, with two locations – in Frankfurt am Main and in Potsdam-Babelsberg. The DRA’s main focus is on the broadcasting collections from the Weimar Republic (1923-1933), National Socialism (1933-1945) and the radio and television of the German Democratic Republic (1945-1990). The DRA’s collections therefore represent an important addition to the holdings of the archives of the public broadcasters, documenting the historical development of broadcasting in Germany as a whole. German broadcasting history now spans over more than 100 years, and was shaped by political transformations and two forms of dictatorship, Nazi Germany and the GDR.  [4]

© DRA, Fotografie: Michael Risse
View into the television magazine of the German Broadcasting Archive, where the analog film holdings from the GDR’s television era are stored.

The fact that public broadcasting exists at all in the Federal Republic of Germany today is primarily due to National Socialism and the Allied occupation following World War II: During the Nazi era, centralized broadcasting was an important propaganda tool, a development that the allied powers strove to rule out after the end of the war. Based on the model of the British BBC, the Western occupying powers introduced a public broadcasting service: a service that operates independently from the state, is publicly financed (by all citizens), has a federal rather than a centralized structure, and that has an educational mandate in line with democratic principles. This is a model that was continued and expanded after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 and has essentially survived until today.  [5]

In the Soviet occupation zone, broadcasting was initially under the control of the Soviet Military Administration following the end of World War II. After the establishment of the GDR in 1949, state-controlled broadcasting was introduced, which lasted for several decades, until the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this respect, the unification of East and West Germany also led to groundbreaking changes in broadcasting policy. The GDR’s broadcasting system was dissolved. In the new federal states in the territory of the former GDR, new broadcasting stations were established, or the regions were included in the broadcasting areas of existing West German broadcasting stations. [6]

The establishment of Deutschlandradio, the only nationwide public radio station, was also a result of Germany’s unification in 1989/1990. Both Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor (RIAS Berlin), which was founded during the American occupation, and Deutschlandfunk, which was founded in the 1960s as a German response to propaganda radio measures by the GDR, and finally Deutschlandsender Kultur (DS Kultur), which emerged from the GDR’s radio station during the fall of communism, were transferred to a new national radio station in 1994: Deutschlandradio. Therefore, today’s Deutschlandradio archive includes not only its own programming assets, but also the records of the three predecessor stations.

Scholars who are interested in the history of German broadcasting today, or who are hoping to access the German broadcasting heritage for a variety of research projects, will therefore not only encounter the parallel structure of private and public broadcasters, but also a network of different broadcasting archives distributed throughout Germany.

Since 2014, however, this distributed archival landscape has become more accessible through a uniform access regulation for the archives of ARD, Deutschlandradio and ZDF. Since then, the public broadcasters have voluntarily committed themselves to opening their archives for academic research. Since 2021, the DRA has also taken on a coordinating and advisory role to simplify access to the holdings of ARD and Deutschlandradio. The DRA is available to assist with general and specific research inquiries, including advice on how to access the different collections, or with sharing contact information for specialists in the ARD and Deutschlandradio archives. The DRA is also the first point of contact if a you are interested in researching in the holdings of several institutions. However, if you are specifically interested in researching in the holdings of one of the public broadcasters, you are welcome to contact these archives directly. Just as at the DRA, an academic research liaison in each archive of the broadcasting corporations will assist you with your inquiry.


* To mark UNESCO’s World Audiovisual Heritage Day on October 27, 2020, the archives of the ARD stations and the German Broadcasting Archive have started making videos relevant to contemporary history freely accessible online. The focus is on regional and current television productions from before 1966, which will in the future be available under the label “ARD Retro” in the ARD Mediathek. Insights into the news and magazine features of GDR television are provided by the “Retro Spezial DDR,” which is made available by the DRA.

[1] See: Schwarzkopf, Dietrich, „Die “Medienwende” 1983,“ in: Schwarzkopf (ed.), Rundfunkpolitik in Deutschland. Wettbewerb und Öffentlichkeit, vol.1 (Munich: dtv, 1999): 29-49.

[2] This includes the Bayerische Rundfunk (BR), Hessische Rundfunk (HR), Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR), Norddeutsche Rundfunk (NDR), Radio Bremen, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), Saarländische Rundfunk (SR), Südwestdeutsche Rundfunk (SWR) and the Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR).

[3] See: Behmer, Markus/Bernard, Birgit/Hasselbring, Bettina (eds.), Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2013).

[4] See: Dethlefs, Friedrich. „Ein Archiv für Tonaufnahmen. Geschichte und Bestände des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs – Ein Überblick,“ in: Archivnachrichten aus Hessen 20:1 (2020): 36-41.

[5] See: Glässgen, Heinz, „Im öffentlichen Interesse. Einführung,“ in: Glässgen (ed.),Im öffentlichen Interesse. Auftrag und Legitimation des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks (Leipzig: Vistas, 2015): 11-19.

[6] For an overview of the German (East-and West) broadcasting history, see: Dussel, Konrad, Deutsche Rundfunkgeschichte, third rev. edition (Konstanz: UVK, 2010).

Links

Overview of the scholarship and research liaisons at the archives of ARD, Deutschlandradio and ZDF:
https://www.dra.de/fileadmin/www.dra.de/downloads/unser-service-fuer-sie/210916_AnsprechpartnerInnen_Archive_ARD_ZDF_DLR_NEU__007_.pdf [Nov. 21, 2020]

Regulations on research and academic access for  to the archives of the public broadcasting corporations in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Broadcasting Archives:
https://www.dra.de/fileadmin/www.dra.de/downloads/unser-service-fuer-sie/Regelungen_zum_Archivzugang.pdf [Nov. 21, 2020]

Web presentation of the German Broadcasting Archive with information about holdings and access options: https://www.dra.de [Nov. 21, 2020]

Website of the Historical Commission of the ARD with information on the history of public service broadcasting in Germany:
https://historische-kommission.ard.de [Nov. 21, 2020]

ARD Retro, https://www.ardmediathek.de/retro [Nov. 11, 2012]

Retro Spezial DDR, https://www.ardmediathek.de/ard/retrospezialddr [Nov. 11, 2012]

Further reading

Behmer, Markus/Bernard, Birgit/Hasselbring, Bettina (eds). Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2013.

Dussel, Konrad. Deutsche Rundfunkgeschichte. 3rd, rev. Edition. Konstanz: UVK, 2010.

Glässgen, Heinz (ed.). Im öffentlichen Interesse. Auftrag und Legitimation des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks. Leipzig: Vistas, 2015.

Schwarzkopf, Dietrich (ed.). Rundfunkpolitik in Deutschland. Wettbewerb und Öffentlichkeit. 2 vols. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999.

Zugang für Wissenschaftler*innen zum deutschen Rundfunkerbe. Ein kurzer Einstieg in die Archivlandschaft von ARD und Deutschlandradio

Von Götz Lachwitz

Editorische Notiz: Götz Lachwitz ist seit August 2020 wissenschaftlicher Fachreferent beim Deutschen Rundfunkarchiv am Standort Potsdam-Babelsberg. Zu seinen Aufgaben gehört unter anderem die Koordination und Beratung bei ARD-weiten und allgemeinen Anfragen aus Wissenschaft und Forschung. Zuvor war er wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter im DFG-Projekt „Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland“ und Doktorand an der Universität Hamburg, wo er im Rahmen des Graduiertenkollegs „Vergegenwärtigungen. Repräsentationen der Shoah in komparatistischer Perspektive“ promoviert hat.

Sie sind Wissenschaftler*in und brauchen einen Überblick über die deutsche Radio- und Fernsehberichterstattung zu ihrem Forschungsthema? Sie interessieren sich für Radio- und Fernsehbeiträge von bestimmten Journalist*innen, Kameraleuten oder anderen Medienschaffenden aus den letzten 100 Jahren? Sie arbeiten an einer vergleichenden Studie über den Rundfunk in Ost- und Westdeutschland während des Kalten Krieges und suchen noch nach relevanten Quellen? Dann brauchen Sie Zugang zum deutschen Rundfunkerbe und zu den Archiven des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks.

© DRA, Fotografie: Waltraud Denger, ARD-Design
Zeitgeschichtlich relevante Videos sind frei zugänglich unter dem Label “ARD Retro” in der ARD Mediathek im Netz zu finden*

In Deutschland gibt es sowohl private, überwiegend werbefinanzierte Rundfunkanbieter, als auch öffentlich-rechtliche Rundfunkanstalten, denn der Rundfunk in Deutschland ist seit Anfang der 1980er Jahre nach dem dualen Prinzip organisiert.[1] Dadurch unterscheidet sich die deutsche von der amerikanischen Medienlandschaft, wo Radio- und Fernsehprogramme in der Regel von kommerziellen Anbietern produziert werden.[2]

Eine der wesentlichen Besonderheiten des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunksystems in Deutschland ist seine föderale Struktur. Das heißt jedes Bundesland (in einigen Fällen auch zwei oder mehr Bundesländer zusammen) verfügt über eine eigene Landesrundfunkanstalt mit jeweils eigenen Kompetenzen. Insgesamt neun Landesrundfunkanstalten senden Hörfunk- und Fernsehprogramme für die jeweilige Region.[3] Zusätzlich wird ein gemeinsames überregionales Fernsehprogramm im Rahmen der ARD, der Arbeitsgemeinschaft der deutschen Rundfunkanstalten, umgesetzt: Das Erste oder auch Das Erste Deutsche Fernsehen.

Ebenfalls zur ARD gehört der Auslandsrundfunk Deutsche Welle, der ein mehrsprachiges Hörfunk- und Fernsehprogramm für verschiedene Zielgruppen aus anderen Ländern produziert. Unabhängig von der ARD, aber ebenfalls öffentlich-rechtlich organisiert, agieren außerdem die bundesweit aufgestellten Rundfunkanstalten Deutschlandradio, mit insgesamt drei national ausgerichteten Radioprogrammen, und das Zweite Deutsche Fernsehen (ZDF). Alle diese Rundfunkanstalten publizieren heute neben verschiedenen Hörfunk- oder Fernsehprogrammen auch digitale Angebote.

Die Vielfalt an Rundfunkanstalten spiegelt sich auch in den Archiven der einzelnen Sender wider. Jede der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten unterhält ein eigenes Archiv. In diesen Archiven finden sich nicht nur die überlieferten Hörfunk- und Fernsehsendungen aus dem Programm, sondern auch zahlreiche kontextualisierende Quellen, wie Schriftgut, Fotografien und Sachzeugen. Darunter fallen natürlich Unterlagen, die die jeweilige Unternehmensgeschichte dokumentieren. Dazu können aber beispielsweise auch Leserbriefe zu Sendungen gehören, die als Quellen der Zeitgeschichte einen Einblick in die Wirkung von Radio und Fernsehen auf seine Zuschauer*innen ermöglichen. Auch Nachlässe bedeutender Persönlichkeiten der Rundfunkgeschichte und spezielle Sammlungen, wie die von Noten als Grundlage von live aus dem Sendesaal übertragener Musik, haben in diesen Archiven ihren Platz.[4]

Eine Besonderheit im Netzwerk der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkarchive ist das Deutsche Rundfunkarchiv (DRA), eine gemeinsam von der ARD und Deutschlandradio getragene Stiftung mit zwei Standorten – in Frankfurt am Main und Potsdam-Babelsberg. Zu den Überlieferungsschwerpunkten des DRA gehören die Bestände des Rundfunks aus der Zeit der Weimarer Republik (1923-1933), des Nationalsozialismus (1933-1945) und vom Hörfunk- und Fernsehen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (1945-1990). Die Sammlungen des DRA stellen daher eine wichtige Ergänzung zu den Beständen der Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sendeanstalten dar, um die gesamtdeutsche Geschichte des Rundfunks in den Blick nehmen zu können – eine Geschichte, die mittlerweile gut 100 Jahre umfasst und von verschiedenen Staatsformen nachhaltig geprägt wurde, darunter zwei Diktaturen.[5]

© DRA, Fotografie: Michael Risse
Blick ins Fernsehmagazin des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs, wo die analogen Filmbestände aus der Zeit des Fernsehens der DDR aufbewahrt werden.

Dass es in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland heute überhaupt einen öffentlich-rechtlich organisierten Rundfunk gibt, hat seine Begründung vor allem in der Zeit des Zweiten Weltkriegs und der Zeit unter alliierter Besatzung: Zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus war der zentralstaatlich organisierte Rundfunk ein wichtiges Propagandainstrument. Eine ähnliche Entwicklung sollte nach Kriegsende ausgeschlossen werden. Angelehnt an das Vorbild der britischen BBC wurde daher von den westlichen Besatzungsmächten ein öffentlich-rechtlicher Rundfunk eingeführt: ein vom Staat unabhängig agierender, öffentlich (das heißt von allen Bürger*innen) finanzierter, föderal statt zentralistisch aufgestellter Rundfunk mit einem Bildungsauftrag im Sinne demokratischer Prinzipien. Es handelt sich dabei um ein Modell, dass nach Gründung der Bundesrepublik fortgesetzt und ausgebaut wurde und im Wesentlichen bis heute Bestand hat.[6]

In der sowjetischen Besatzungszone stand der Rundfunk nach Kriegsende zunächst unter Kontrolle der Sowjetischen Militäradministration, bevor in der DDR ein staatlich kontrollierter Rundfunk eingeführt wurde, der mehrere Jahrzehnte lang Bestand hatte. Die Wiedervereinigung von Ost- und Westdeutschland führte insofern auch rundfunkpolitisch zu wegweisenden Veränderungen. Der Rundfunk der DDR wurde aufgelöst. In den neuen Bundesländern auf dem Gebiet der ehemaligen DDR wurden entweder neue Rundfunkanstalten gegründet oder die Sendegebiete bereits bestehender westdeutscher Rundfunkanstalten wurden erweitert.[7]

Auch die Gründung von Deutschlandradio, dem einzigen bundesweit aufgestellten öffentlich-rechtlichen Radiosender, ist eine Folge der Wiedervereinigung im Jahr 1989/1990. Sowohl der noch zur Zeit amerikanischer Besatzung gegründete Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor (kurz: RIAS Berlin), als auch der in den 1960er Jahren als bundesdeutsche Antwort auf propagandistische Radio-Maßnahmen von Seiten der DDR gegründete Sender Deutschlandfunk und schließlich der in der Wendezeit aus dem Rundfunk der DDR hervorgegangene Deutschlandsender Kultur (kurz: DS Kultur) wurden 1994 in einen neuen nationalen Hörfunk überführt: Deutschlandradio.[8] Das Archiv von Deutschlandradio umfasst daher heute nicht nur das eigene Programmvermögen, sondern auch die Überlieferung der drei Vorläuferanstalten.

Wer sich heute wissenschaftlich mit der deutschen Rundfunkgeschichte beschäftigt, oder auch mit Blick auf andere Fragestellungen Zugang zum deutschen Rundfunkerbe sucht, trifft also nicht nur auf ein Nebeneinander von privaten und öffentlich-rechtlich organisierten Rundfunkanstalten. Wissenschaftler*innen treffen auch auf ein Geflecht unterschiedlicher Archive, die in ganz Deutschland verteilt sind.

Dieser verteilten Archivsituation steht aber seit 2014 eine einheitliche Zugangsregelung für Wissenschaftler*innen zu den Archiven von ARD, Deutschlandradio und ZDF gegenüber. Seit diesem Zeitpunkt besteht eine freiwillige Selbstverpflichtung der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten ihre Archive für Wissenschaft und Forschung zu öffnen. Seit 2021 übernimmt außerdem das DRA eine koordinierende und beratende Funktion, die den Zugang zu den Beständen von ARD und Deutschlandradio vereinfachen soll. Bei allgemeinen wissenschaftlichen Anfragen, einer Beratung zu den Zugangsmöglichkeiten zu den Archivbeständen der Rundfunkanstalten oder bei der Suche nach der oder dem richtigen Ansprechpartner*in in den Archiven von ARD und Deutschlandradio, steht ihnen das DRA zur Seite. Auch ist das DRA der erste Ansprechpartner, wenn Sie sich für die Bestände mehrerer Häuser interessieren. Wenn Sie sich dagegen ganz konkret für die Bestände einer der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten interessieren, nehmen Sie gerne den direkten Kontakt auf. Genauso wie im DRA gibt es in jedem Archiv der Rundfunkanstalten eine/n Wissenschaftsansprechpartner*in, der oder die sie bei ihrem Anliegen unterstützen kann.

* Zum UNESCO Welttag des Audiovisuellen Erbes am 27. Oktober 2020 haben die Archive der ARD-Sender und das Deutsche Rundfunkarchiv begonnen, zeitgeschichtlich relevante Videos frei zugänglich ins Netz zu stellen. Im Fokus stehen regionale und aktuelle Fernsehproduktionen aus der Zeit vor 1966. Sie sind künftig unter dem Label „ARD Retro“ in der ARD Mediathek zu finden. Einblicke in die Nachrichten- und Magazin-Beiträge des DDR-Fernsehens gibt das „Retro Spezial DDR“, das vom DRA bereitgestellt wird.


[1] Vgl. dazu Schwarzkopf, Dietrich (1999): Die “Medienwende” 1983. In: Ders. (Hrsg.), Rundfunkpolitik in Deutschland. Wettbewerb und Öffentlichkeit. Band 1. München: dtv, S. 29-49.

[2] Zu den nicht-kommerziellen Rundfunkanbietern in den USA gehören der Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) und das National Public Radio (NPR).

[3] Dazu gehören heute der Bayerische Rundfunk (BR), der Hessische Rundfunk (HR), der Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR), der Norddeutsche Rundfunk (NDR), Radio Bremen, der Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), der Saarländische Rundfunk (SR), der Südwestdeutsche Rundfunk (SWR) und der Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR).

[4] Vgl. Behmer, Markus/Bernard, Birgit/Hasselbring, Bettina (Hrsg.) (2013): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

[5] Vgl. Dethlefs, Friedrich (2020): Ein Archiv für Tonaufnahmen. Geschichte und Bestände des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs – Ein Überblick. In: Archivnachrichten aus Hessen, 20, 1, S. 36-41.

[6] Vgl. Glässgen, Heinz (2015): Im öffentlichen Interesse. Einführung. In: Ders. (Hrsg.), Im öffentlichen Interesse. Auftrag und Legitimation des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks. Leipzig: Vistas, S. 11-19.

[7] Für einen Überblick über die gesamtdeutsche Rundfunkgeschichte vgl. Dussel, Konrad (2010): Deutsche Rundfunkgeschichte. 3., überarbeitete Auflage, Konstanz: UVK.

[8] Vgl. Diller, Ansgar (1999): Der nationale Hörfunk. In: Schwarzkopf, Dietrich (Hrsg.), Rundfunkpolitik in Deutschland. Wettbewerb und Öffentlichkeit. Band 2. München: dtv, S. 978-1007.

Links

Übersicht über die Wissenschaftsansprechpartner*innen der Archive von ARD, Deutschlandradio und ZDF:
https://www.dra.de/fileadmin/www.dra.de/downloads/unser-service-fuer-sie/210916_AnsprechpartnerInnen_Archive_ARD_ZDF_DLR_NEU__007_.pdf

Regelungen über den Zugang für Wissenschaft und Forschung zum Archivgut der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs:
https://www.dra.de/fileadmin/www.dra.de/downloads/unser-service-fuer-sie/Regelungen_zum_Archivzugang.pdf

Webauftritt des Deutschen Rundfunkarchivs mit Informationen über Bestände und Zugangsmöglichkeiten:
https://www.dra.de

Webauftritt der Historischen Kommission der ARD mit Informationen zur Geschichte des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks in Deutschland:
https://historische-kommission.ard.de

ARD Retro, https://www.ardmediathek.de/retro

Retro Spezial DDR, https://www.ardmediathek.de/ard/retrospezialddr

Weiterführende Literatur

Behmer, Markus/Bernard, Birgit/Hasselbring, Bettina (Hrsg.) (2013): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Dussel, Konrad (2010): Deutsche Rundfunkgeschichte. 3., überarbeitete Auflage, Konstanz: UVK.

Glässgen, Heinz (Hrsg.) (2015): Im öffentlichen Interesse. Auftrag und Legitimation des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks. Leipzig: Vistas.

Schwarzkopf, Dietrich (Hrsg.) (1999): Rundfunkpolitik in Deutschland. Wettbewerb und Öffentlichkeit. 2 Bände. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.

Between Progress and Sublime Reverie: Revisiting 19th-Century America through Digital Art Exhibitions

By Chiara Fralick

Chiara A. Fralick is a graduate student of North American Studies at the University of Cologne. She has focused on art and literatures of the 19th century as well as Indigenous oral histories. Currently she is researching interactions of poetry and land ethics in the environmental humanities. The working title of her Master’s thesis is “Nature Spirited Away: Exploring Ecological Empathy and Native Nations Poetics.” In the fall of 2021, she completed her remote internship at the GHI Washington, DC.

The other day I found myself wondering when I had been to a museum last. I love a good exhibition, so it’s an odd thing for me not to remember. But since the beginning of 2020, like so many of us, I have neither travelled much, nor sought out public places. So something that has made lockdown a little sweeter for me are digital exhibitions. One of my favourite museums to explore online, at the moment, is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It has an enormous online collection that not only features various paintings and artefacts, but also provides audio tours, interactive floor plans of the museum’s galleries, educational resources, and a world map to explore the museum’s art by location.

Asher B. Durand, Progress (The Advance of Civilization), VMFA, https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-192288967/

Under the “Recently Acquired” section for American Art, I found Asher B. Durand’s painting Progress (The Advance of Civilization). Arguably one of his most famous works, it dates back to 1853 and depicts an evening scene speckled with industrial themes. As viewers, we are overlooking a bay engulfed by rolling hills of old-growth forest, distant mountains and a soft cloudscape bathed in golden light from the setting sun. There is a wagon trail that enters from the right, on which cattle are being brought in and goods are carried. A person ploughs their field, smaller boats frequent a stream and houses spring up here and there. Further along the shoreline a coal train passes over a viaduct and even further still, just slightly off centre, we can make out a busy industrial port with steamboats and the smoking chimneys of a larger town and factory. The painting’s composition allows the trail of industrialisation to progress from right to left – east to west – ending with the last ship almost in line with the setting sun. It is a typical and popular visualisation of 19th-century westward movement, predominantly used by a group of landscape painters called the Hudson River School, of which Durand was a leading figure. With this in mind, and considering the title of the painting, it is not surprising that for the longest time, Asher Durand’s Progress had been linked to American expansionism.

When I first spotted the miniature version of Progress, I mistook it at a glance for another one of Durand’s paintings: The Indian’s Vespers. The VMFA’s website works with visual cues, i.e. it gives you a small preview of an artefact or painting and only reveals the title once you move your curser over it. The digital collection thereby cleverly mimics the nature of an actual museum. Yet, The Indian’s Vespers has been in the White House Collection for half a century now, so it is doubtful we will see it in a museum any time soon. Instead, we can view it in the digital library provided by the White House Historical Association, albeit not in the highest resolution. The association was founded by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, with the “mission to protect, preserve, and provide public access to the rich history of America’s Executive Mansion.” It is definitely another form of online exhibit I would recommend. Their platform includes everything from newspaper clippings and photographs to a vast collection of the White House’s art and decor with detailed descriptions. The Indian’s Vespers is displayed in the Red Room.

Asher B. Durand, The Indian’s Vespers, 1847, The White House, Wikimedia Commons

The resemblance to Progress is indeed remarkable – and at the same time they couldn’t be more different. While Progress is renowned for seemingly capturing the expansionist zeitgeist of 19th-century America to a fault, The Indian’s Vespers is entirely void of any signs of industrialisation. Instead, it highlights the liveliness of nature, creating a dynamic current that runs in concentric lines around the sun. Durand saw it as the artist’s duty to portray “the spiritual beauty with which nature is animate,”[i] which is interesting, because it does not at all seem to sit well with the expansionist theme that so ardently advocates human power over nature. This is where the other movement that influenced the American art scene comes in: German Romanticism. The Hudson River School was closely affiliated with the Düsseldorf school of painting, with some American painters having even studied at the German academy themselves. For the Romantic movement in Germany, then, the revolution of imagination and animation of nature were key ingredients. It seems American painters tried to reconcile the expansionist and romantic side of their country by preserving a version of nature in their paintings that would remain untouched by industrialisation. This inner conflict between advocating the advance of American civilisation and the heartfelt sadness at the destruction of nature has been called the Romantic dilemma of the nineteenth century.

Detail from Asher Durand, Progress, https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-192288967/

This dilemma is perceivable even in an expansionist masterpiece such as Progress. The clue lies in the painting’s details and might easily be missed if we were looking at Progress in a museum. The painting’s composition is clever indeed – it guides our attention by means of perspective and lighting to the painting’s industrial centre, leaving the front quite literally in the shadows. The VFMA’ website, however, provides close-ups that invite us to reconsider the foreground. In the left detail of the painting we recognise a small group of Indigenous people overlooking the scene, which counterbalances the prominent entry from the right. Once noticed, they are impossible to miss and present the viewer with an alternative perspective and approach to the scene – an alternative lifestyle, even. If we then look at the detailed fragment of the bottom right of the painting, we notice another figure, with walking stick and a large bundle on his back, hiking out of the picture. In the highly-recommendable Panorama article Asher Durand’s Progress Reconsidered, art historian Rebecca Bedell interprets him as “a stand-in for the artist, turning his back on the path of progress.” Who knows, she writes, he might even “climb up to join the Native Americans on their perch.”

Did Durand indeed manage to hide the devil in the detail, so that more than one and a half centuries later, we are starting to see Progress in a different context and read it as anti-expansionist instead of glorifying industrialisation? In fact, ever since the painting was gifted to the VMFA by an anonymous donor, people have started to look at it with fresh perspective and more thorough contextualisation. In an interview with VPM (Virginia’s home for Public Media), the chief curator at the VMFA, Michael Taylor, explains that “this opportunity to provide new context happens when a classic work of art moves from private hands to a space where it can be publicly viewed, analyzed and questioned.” It is a privilege of our digital age that this space does not only exist in museums, but by now also online. I have found the wealth of digital source material for art history invaluable for my own research, especially in these past twenty months or so in which my home suddenly became office, lecture hall, museum and archive at the same time.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is of course only one example of many, many more museums that went online over the past years – and, sadly at least for a while, could be explored exclusively online due to COVID-19. But online exhibits are a fantastic way to continue to integrate art into our education, zoom-classrooms, term papers, presentations or leisure time activities. At the beginning of the first lockdown, PBS even published an article about “19 immersive museum exhibits you can visit from your couch” and as diverse as these online collections may seem, they all have one thing in common: they take us on a journey, entertain us and sometimes – as is the case with Durand’s Progress – challenge us to question long-established convictions.

Literature and Links

Durand, John, The Life and Times of A. B. Durand, (1894), Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 2006.

Miller, Angela, “The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875,” Cornell University Press: Ithaca and London, 1993

Miller, Perry, “The Romantic Dilemma in American Nationalism and the Concept of Nature,” The Har- vard Theological Review 48,4 (1955).

Solomon, Peter, “Framing Progress: VMFA To Place $40 Million Asher Durand Painting In Context With Native American Art” WCVE News, Virginia Current, npr news, January 31, 2019. https://vp- m.org/news/articles/3367/framing-progress-vmfa-to-place-40-million-asher-durand-painting-in-context- with.

Asher B. Durand, The Indian’s Vespers by, 1847, The White House, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Indian’s_Vespers_by_Asher_Brown_Durand,_1847.jpg

Asher B. Durand, Progress (The Advance of Civilization), VMFA, https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-192288967/


[i] Bedell, Rebecca, “Asher Durand’s Progress Reconsidered,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 5,1 (2019), https://doi.org/10.24926/24716839.1688. p.4.

The Junge Mommsen – a Digital Student Magazine Publishing Exemplary Term Papers

By Paul Diekmann

Paul Diekmann is studying history and American studies at Humboldt University in Berlin and is currently working on his bachelor’s thesis about the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. His remote internship at the GHI from August to Oktober 2021 has not only advanced his thesis a lot, but also allowed him to work on a variety of historical projects while broadening his skills. Being an active member of the student council at his home university, he has participated in every edition of the Junge Mommsen so far – twice as editor, once as an author.

 

The Junge Mommsen was born in 2018 at our student council’s annual summer retreat. Because most exams at Humboldt University’s department of history take the form of term papers, we thought about ways of sharing examples of good papers. Somebody mentioned that there already existed a cabinet with term papers that received good grades in our student council’s room. However those were accessed only once or twice a semester – there had to be a way to make this collection more accessible. Then we came up with the idea to turn it into a digital magazine.

Over the course of the following months we developed a strategy of creating such a magazine. We had a few meetings to figure out a mode of selecting the papers that would be published. And, most importantly, we came up with a name: The Junge Mommsen (young Mommsen) is named after our institute’s mascot, Theodor Mommsen – himself an historian at the university of Berlin, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his Roman History in 1902. Our magazine’s aim was to help those “young Mommsens” at our department. Finally, early in 2019, we could announce our first call for papers.

The requirements are relatively simple: The paper had to be submitted during the last academic year with a grade no worse than 1,7 (which parallels an A-) and it had to meet the official standards set by the department of history. Once we had a sufficient number of papers submitted, we selected the ones we would publish. One of our editors has anonymized the papers, so we wouldn’t be biased in our decision if we knew one of the authors. Then each paper was reviewed by at least two editors and evaluated in three categories (readability, argumentative structure and creativity of the topic). Once every paper was reviewed, all of us met and discussed which papers we wanted to publish. Generally, we didn’t just look at the paper’s quality, but also tried to get a well-rounded mixture of papers: At least one from each of the three main historic periods (ancient, medieval and modern times), papers written by both undergraduate and graduate students and preferably one paper written in English (while most classes and exams are in German at Humboldt-University, there are some classes for graduate students in English). After the selection process we worked with the authors to standardize the format of the papers, especially the footnotes and got their consent to publish their paper. Finally, we publish the papers.

From the beginning we were using digital methods to make the Junge Mommsen as accessible as possible. Our website, run via Humboldt University’s edoc-server, serves both as the portal to submit papers as well as the main access to the finished editions of the magazine. This digital publication method greatly helped us to keep the magazine alive when Covid-19 hit: Although we couldn’t meet in person to discuss the papers, we could easily work on them from home and use online platforms to coordinate our tasks. So, the project could be continued after the first edition and we could publish the second edition in the summer of 2020 with only a slight delay. While both the first and the second edition were eventually printed as well, most readers prefer to download the digital version.

While the Junge Mommsen isn’t perfect – it comes with the usual setbacks and delays of a project run by students in their free time – it’s definitely a huge improvement to the old method of keeping some good term papers in our student council’s room. Our main objective is to give young students examples of what is expected from them in a term paper. We’re certain our digital magazine is much more successful in offering this kind of example than the old cabinet with old copies. The response to it has also been mostly positive, both by students and professors. This year we even won Humboldt University’s open access award.

Link to the Junge Mommsen’s website: https://www.junge-mommsen.de/

What Makes a Witch a Witch? A Brief History of the 17th Century Trials of Lemgo

By Lea Katharina Neikes

Editorial note: Lea Katharina Neikes is studying history and art history (Geschichtswissenschaften/Bild- und Kunstgeschichte) at the University of Bielefeld, Germany. Through her remote internship in the summer/autumn 2021 at the GHI, she has found new impulses for her upcoming bachelor thesis. Currently she is researching the comparison of different burial sites during the Dia de los muertos/All Saints and the construction/ effect of American and German/European cemeteries. Suitable for the Halloween month, she explored a (spooky) piece of her regional history for the href blog.

Two postcards featuring Lemgo’s history as a witch’s nest, 1920s (left) and 1970s (right). Source: Museum Hexenbürgermeisterhaus Lemgo

Have you ever heard of the city of Lemgo? No? Well, this small German town is rather well known among the citizen of North Rhine-Westphalia for its history as a “Witch’s nest” and its gruesome history of witchcraft trials. When I started my studies at the University of Bielefeld, I quickly realized that almost everyone there knew about it, everyone except for me. In fact, with about 200 trial records preserved in the city archives, the city is one of the most substantial memorials of witchcraft trials in Germany. After the 30 Years War (1618-1648), poverty and superstition had precipitated witchcraft hunts in numerous locations. It is estimated that 250 people, about 80 percent of them women, fell victim to the trials in Lemgo. There were at least two waves of persecution. The last one from 1665 to 1681 gained tragic prominence through the so-called “Hexenbürgermeister” (witch mayor) Hermann Cothmann.

Cothmann used the delusion of witchcraft to carry out his personal interests in power and to eliminate his opponents. The last witchcraft trial against Maria Rampendahl, who escaped with her life, also took place during his term of office. In 1681 the confident 36-year-old woman was interrogated for the first time, but was not intimidated by the threat of torture. Even two days later, under torture, she made no confession. Her final sentence was eternal banishment from the city and the country, a sentence that did certainly not sit well with her. Instead of accepting banishment, Maria Rampendahl sued those responsible before the Imperial Chamber Court. The proceedings ended in 1682 with her losing. Still her statements before the main court represent one of the most impressive ego documents in the collection. The trials finally ended in 1715, when the “Black Book”, in which all witchcraft accusations had been collected, was publicly burned on the market square.

Maria-Rampendal-Ehefrau-des-Barbiers-Hermann-Hermensen-1681-1682, Stadtverweisung, Stadtarchiv Lemgo, 01.02.02 A, A 3672

 

But who were the victims and how did they become victims? Of fundamental importance in this context is the question of the relevance of the category “gender” for early modern witchcraft hunts. The condemned and accused were almost exclusively female, predominantly old and often widowed. The categories of gender, age, and marital status were decisive for the labeling of a woman as a witch. One assumption is that calling a woman a witch was related to conflict. In fact, persons who were in a conflicted relationship with the accused were given preference by the council to take the stand.

Against the stereotypical persecution of women speaks the drastically increasing number of “atypical” witches. These include children as well as younger and “honorable” women, but especially Men. Andreas Koch, a priest, spoke out against the witchcraft trials and was therefore executed for being a “witch”.

Another peculiarity of the accusations in Lemgo is the symbolism used exclusively for men. For example, the brewer Olieschleger, who abused his wife, sexually assaulted his maids and offended the moral sensibilities of his neighbors, was not on trial as a witch but as a werewolf!

Schmähbrief gegen David Welman als Werwolf, 1642 (Stadtarchiv Lemgo A 4694)

This examples can only be deciphered by asking in what ways gender discourse and witchcraft discourse intertwine. From the perspective of the townspeople his wife, otherwise see as vulnerable to Satan’s wiles and dependent on male leadership, appeared as an example of Christian virtue while her husband was out of control. Besides the witch trials, there also existed so-called werewolf trials. In general, the accused persons were exclusively men.

“Witches” were said to use, primarily, harmful spells. These were based on the stereotypical image of insidious and devious femininity. “Werewolves”, on the other hand, were said to have done animal like damage. And thus embodied a strongly masculine conception. The fact that a man could still be accused of being a witch was based on behavior, not interpreted as emphatically masculine, but as witchy-feminine.

Mitschriften von zwei Geständnissen oder Besagungen? (Stadtarchiv Lemgo A 10879)

Nevertheless, the files are questionable as they are part, product and medium of one or more discourses on witchcraft. As a result, it is primarily what “made sense” in this context that has been handed down. Another problem is that the respective men „in power“ determined the socioeconomic status of women. During the witchcraft hunts, social structures could put women at a disadvantage when it came to building a “lobby” to help fend off the attack on their reputation. Women were also more likely to become outsiders.

The above shows how strongly the meaning and interpretation of “gender” influenced the witchcraft trials in Lemgo. In addition to the personal enrichment of individuals, the effect, status and perception of the accused in the society also played a major role. Above all, it shows that research must depart from typical assumptions in order to understand the people behind it. In addition to the aspects mentioned, the source situation still offers many other research possibilities. For example, the interconnectedness of the witchcraft hunts with the surrounding towns is largely unexplored. Letters and court records that are preserved at the city archives Lemgo, some of which have been digitized and made available online, offer the possibility to explore these and other research questions, on the basis of these original records.

Thanks to Casey Sutcliffe and the participants of the GHI writing workshops for their helpful suggestions and edits of the draft for this blog post.

Literature and links:

Link to the Lemgo city archives finding aid, council and magistrate court-witch trials: https://www.archive.nrw.de/archivsuche?link=FINDBUCH-20029200001782

Museum Hexenbürgermeisterhaus Lemgo, https://p57155.typo3server.info/hexenbuergermeisterhaus_home.html

Gisela Wilbert; Gerd Schwerhoff; Jürgen Scheffler (Hg.): Hexenverfolgung und Regionalgeschichte. Die Grafschaft Lippe im Vergleich, Bielefeld 1994.

Gisela Wilbertz, Jürgen Scheffler (Hrsg.): Biographieforschung und Stadtgeschichte. Lemgo in der Spätphase der Hexenverfolgung. Bielefeld 2000.

Brief einer im Hexenprozess Angeklagten? (StaL A 10879), Archivblog Lippe, https://liparchiv.hypotheses.org/954/a_10879_004

Maria-Rampendal-Ehefrau-des-Barbiers-Hermann-Hermensen-1681-1682, Stadtverweisung, Stadtarchiv Lemgo, 01.02.02 A, A 3672

Schmähbrief gegen David Welman als Werwolf, 1642, Stadtarchiv Lemgo A 4694

 

 

 

 

The very first monthly astronomical journal in Germany: The Celestial Police and their structures of communication

By Janna Katharina Müller

Editorial note: Janna Katharina Müller studies the history and theory of science and technology [“Theorie und Geschichte der Wissenschaft und Technik”] at the Technische Universität Berlin. She’s currently working on her Master’s thesis focusing on the emergence and formation of a concept of the newly discovered asteroids between Mars and Jupiter in the first years after their discovery, 1801–1813. The title of her thesis is: “Von Planeto-Cometen und planetarischen Fragmenten. Die Himmels-Polizey und Asteroidenforschung im frühen 19. Jahrhundert.“ In the spring/summer 2021, she completed a remote internship at the GHI Washington, DC.

A while ago, I was preparing for an oral exam in one of my classes about the history of science during the Enlightenment and the early 19th century. We had to focus on one specific discipline or time period and give a short presentation about it. I decided to prepare a talk about the history of astronomy during that given time frame, and as I worked my way through historical surveys, an anecdote about a group of astronomers kept catching my eye: Six German astronomers founded an association in the early 19th century to track down undiscovered planets – and called themselves the “Himmels-Polizey”, the Celestial Police. They did not find any planets, but they did find the first asteroids – ahistorically speaking – and thus formed the prelude for the Minor Planet Research of the 19th and especially the 20th century.

Unfortunately, that was all the information I could initially find. The Celestial Police – what a name! – did not leave my mind completely, however. In fact, when I started considering possible Master’s thesis topics, I returned to the Celestial Police. In this post, I will introduce a digital source corpus that I located online that can be traced back to their work. In subsequent posts, I plan to reflect on my use of digital sources and tools.

One of these six astronomers involved was Franz Xaver von Zach, court astronomer to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, in what is now Thuringia. Although he did not personally discover an asteroid, the literature attributes to him an important role in facilitating and coordinating the asteroid discoveries and exploration by organizing meetings among astronomers, initiating the formation of an astronomical society (our Celestial Police), and publishing journals, i.e., creating communicative infrastructures. After spending the early 1780s in Paris and London, von Zach became court astronomer to Duke Ernst II in 1786 and helped build the new observatory on the Seeberg near Gotha. In the following years, von Zach led this observatory to high reputation and, among other things, had many astronomers visiting his observatory again and again, so that he is credited with organizing the first ‘Astronomers’ Congress’ in 1798. Another important meeting took place in September 1800, when von Zach was joined by the German astronomers Schroeter, Olbers, and Harding, and the two state officials (and lay astronomers) von Ende and Gildemeister: During this meeting, they decided to establish a society that would be dedicated, among other things, to the search for previously unknown planets. In this society with the official name “Vereinigte Astronomische Gesellschaft” (United Astronomical Society) 18 additional astronomers from all over Europe were invited to divide the area around the ecliptic (apparent course of the sun in front of the background of the fixed stars) into 24 zones à 15° longitude and 7-8° northern and southern latitude, and divide these among the members for survey. Von Zach wrote in 1801 that such a

„[…] streng organisirte, in 24 Departements abgetheilte Himmels-Polizey hofften wir endlich, diesem, unsern Blicken sich so lange entzogenen Planeten, wenn er anders existirt und sich sichtbar zeigt, auf die Spuhr zu kommen.“

“[…] strictly organized Celestial Police, divided into 24 departments, we finally hoped to get to track down this planet, which has eluded our gaze for so long, if it exists otherwise and shows itself visibly.” (von Zach, Monthly Correspondence, June issue 1801)

Seal of the “United Astronomical Society” with its motto: “Non frustra signorum obitus speculamur et ortus” (Not in vain do we observe the sets of the signs of the zodiac and their rises), in Schroeter, 1805.

Von Zach maintained active contacts with astronomers throughout Europe, especially those in the Paris Académie, such as Lalande or Burckhardt. This correspondence, voluminous by the standards of the time, also formed the basis for von Zach’s publishing activities: In 1798, he founded the Allgemeine Geographische Ephemeriden (AGE), which, in contrast to Bode’s famous Astronomisches Jahrbuch, the most important German periodical publication up to that time, appeared monthly and covered not only geographical but also – closely related – astronomical topics. In addition to essays, book and map reviews, he also included excerpts from his correspondence on astronomical observations and calculations. Soon, however, he realized that dealing with both sets of topics in one journal was getting a bit out of hand and that the correspondence part was taking up more and more space. For this reason, he founded the Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde (Monthly Correspondence for the Advancement of Terrestrial and Celestial Science, short MC) in 1800. The MC, like the AGE, was issued monthly until December 1813. Fortunately, both sources have been digitized by the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Thuringian University and State Library in Jena) and are accessible free of charge in their portal journals@UrMEL (here and here). Without this resource, it would not have been possible for me to access these sources in the last months, since not only the archives were closed due to the pandemic until recently, but also travel was discouraged, even within Germany.

In these blog posts, as in my master’s thesis, I will focus on the MC, as it is the more relevant source corpus for my research on the conceptual evolution of the newly discovered asteroids. The texts published in the periodical on mainly astronomical topics were partially (translated) treatises from other publications, and partially also – as the name suggests – complete letters from Zach’s correspondendents, compilations of excerpts from letters on a certain subject area, and summaries from correspondence whose content Zach communicated in a referential manner. It not only covers the period when the first asteroids were discovered and first studied, but also gathers among its authors many renowned astronomers who were interested in and studied the new celestial bodies, besides the founding members of the Celestial Police. The monthly and for this time remarkably short-period publication of the MC allowed von Zach to circulate news from the world of astronomy faster among an interested ‘expert audience’. At the same time, it provided for a speedy exchange of observations and calculations as well as conjectures and hypotheses, which were of course advantageous for astronomical positioning. These features offer the (incredible) opportunity of reconstructing and analyzing scholarly debates and discussions at the time.

Title page of the “Monatliche Correspondenz” from 1803.

Unfortunately, the source corpus of 28 volumes of six issues each is strikingly under-researched. Except for a book by Dieter Herrmann on astronomical journals in Germany and a work by Peter Brosche on the life of Zach, there are no in-depth analyses of the history of this journal. Yet it is full of exciting topics, aside from the detailed exploration of the asteroids: In addition to travel reports by the young Alexander von Humboldt from South America, geographical surveys of the world, reports on solar eclipses and comet phenomena, treatises on the new metric system, it includes all kinds of studies on the sun, the moon and the stars that are yet to be explored.

The fact that the MC merges two genres of textual sources, letters as well as the nascent journal, makes it particularly exciting for historians of science. On the one hand, it offers the opportunity to reflect on the emergence of the “Fachzeitschrift” (scholarly or scientific journal) as a medium in the German-speaking world. On the other, historians can follow disciplinary developments in the history of astronomy and related sciences on a case-study basis. The Monatliche Correspondenz is thus a very special source. In subsequent blog posts, I will explore its characteristics as a digital source.

Sources

Aubin, David, Charlotte Bigg, and H. Otto Sibum, eds. The Heavens on Earth. Observatories and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2010.

Brosche, Peter. Der Astronom der Herzogin. Leben und Werk von Franz Xaver von Zach, 1754–1832. Acta Historica Astronomiae 12. Frankfurt a.M.: Harri Deutsch, 2001.

Herrmann, Dieter B. Die Entstehung der Astronomischen Fachzeitschriften in Deutschland (1798-1821). Veröffentlichungen der Archenhold-Sternwarte Berlin-Treptow 5. Berlin-Treptow: Archenhold-Sternwarte, 1972.

Schroeter, Johann Hieronymus. Lilienthalische Beobachtungen der neu entdeckten Planeten Ceres, Pallas und Juno, zur genauen und richtigen Kenntniß ihrer wahren Grössen, Atmosphären und übrigen merkwürdigen Naturverhältnisse im Sonnengebiete. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck-Ruprechtische Buchhandlung, 1805, HathiTrust, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015064586707.

Zach, Franz Xaver von, ed. Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde. Gotha: Beckersche Buchhandlung, 1800-1813, Urmel/ThuLB, https://zs.thulb.uni-jena.de/receive/jportal_jpvolume_00202775.

 

Transatlantic Connections of the Women’s Movement in the Long 19th Century: Interview with Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

Editorial Note: Professor Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson has been Chair of the Transatlantic History and Culture Department at the University of Augsburg since 2016. Previously, she served for five years as Deputy Director of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. Her research focuses on Transatlantic relations, African American history, women’s history, and religious history.

As part of her blog series on the history of the women’s movement in a transatlantic perspective, Marietheres Pirngruber spoke with Professor Waldschmidt-Nelson in April 2021.

Interview: Marietheres Pirngruber
Translation: Erik Brown

During your time at the GHI, you published an anthology on the transatlantic linkages of the women’s rights movement. What fascinates you about this topic?

I must confess that I have always been fascinated by the history of oppressed groups. After all, I have done a lot of research in the area of African American history. There is also a history of oppression among women. With a few exceptions, the female sex has been massively disadvantaged for thousands of years, not only in Europe and America, but across the world. Women have been oppressed, exploited, and disenfranchised in patriarchal, sometimes religiously based social orders. And if truth be told, in most countries, women were denied access to higher education and professional occupations well into the 20th century; moreover, they were politically incapacitated. In some countries, that’s still the case today.

What fascinates me most about this history is that there have always been truly courageous women who have resisted, who have rebelled against their oppression. In the 18th century, the ideas of the Enlightenment and the two great revolutions – the American and the French Revolutions – brought equality and equal rights to the forefront. Two women who, inspired by these ideas, drafted writings for women’s rights as early as 1791 and 1792 were Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft. Their writings spread like wildfire; they were translated into a wide variety of languages around the world and are still considered to be the founding documents of feminism today.

In today’s world, it is taken for granted to exchange ideas across continents. How could an exchange and cooperation work in the 19th century? 

It was a relatively complex development that took a long time. After all, following the early feminist writings I just mentioned, it still took about half a century, until the middle of the 19th century, before real action followed. So, the question is, how did an exchange between women come about? Why did it not exist before? For this, it is important to remember the idealistic and technical achievements of that time. On the one hand, as I already mentioned, there was the new mindset of the Enlightenment, and then industrialization and urbanization were also very important. Through them, a new middle class had formed, which no longer consisted only of aristocratic women, but made it possible for a larger number of women to learn to read and write. They were all able to read the new writings that were now coming into circulation and then spread and manifested these ideas more and more. Another important factor was the transportation and communication revolution. The facilities of steamships, for example, reduced the crossing time from Europe to America from over six weeks to nine days. This was a real revolution; it was not only about the passage of people, but also of newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and appeals. These could now be distributed at six times speed. Railroad networks were also being expanded on the continents, and communication was further improved with the help of new telegraph connections.

Another important aspect were the many social reform movements at the beginning of the 19th century. Essential to the emergence of an international women’s rights movement, for example, was the abolitionist, or anti-slavery, movement. Women were very strongly involved in this movement and learned there, as they later put it, “the tools of movement building.” So, how do I organize public protests, how do I prepare, for example, demonstrations, petitions, how do I write calls for action? How can I hold public speeches in the first place, because this was also something very new and revolutionary for women at that time? These were skills that many women first learned through their involvement in the abolitionist movement. And it was within these movements that women first developed the awareness that they themselves were oppressed as women. The idea was: black people can’t vote, but we can’t vote either. Of course, it was not quite comparable, but it did develop an awareness of gender discrimination. For that matter, it is also very fascinating to see that nearly exactly 100 years later, the same thing, or something very similar, happened again, because out of the participation of women in the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Second Wave Feminism then developed in the United States.

International Congress of Women in 1915. LSE Library, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:International_Congress_of_Women1915_(22785230005).jpg

Did these women share the same convictions for the most part, or were there also different views based on their national origins?

That is also a very fascinating question, and it is not so easy to answer. I would say for the period up to the 1920s, when a large part of Western countries introduced women’s suffrage, the national differences were not particularly great. I would want to make more of a chronological differentiation there. Until the mid-19th century, women were primarily concerned with property and contractual rights. In the legal sense, a woman used to be only a ward, or a minor. She was either her father’s ward, then her husband’s ward after marriage, or her brother’s ward without marriage. For example, if women brought their inheritance into the marriage, the money or houses belonged to the husband. Or, in the case of separation, custody of the children was almost always awarded to the man; the children were virtually his property as well, not the woman’s. I would say that by the middle of the 19th century, the fight against these laws was a priority for women’s rights activists in almost every country, and the first successes in this area soon followed. From the 1860s on, the focus then shifted a bit in the U.S. and later also in Europe to the second major priority: access to education and to professional occupations, as it was forbidden for women, for example, almost everywhere to go to college.

So, the struggle was first focused on not making themselves economically subject to blackmail by allowing women to hold their own property and thus be somewhat independent. The second step was to focus on access to education and professional jobs, and then, especially in the last third of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, came the struggle for the right to vote. The idea that women should vote seemed too radical to many before, and the timing of the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement varied in different countries. In Great Britain, the so-called suffragettes were active much earlier than in Germany. At the same time, several international women’s peace movements were formed: Many women believed that men were always causing war and destruction and that it was up to women to work together for peace. For example, the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom was founded in 1915. However, these international women’s associations for peace, women’s rights, or social justice usually disintegrated rather quickly in the event of war. Women’s concerns were quickly subordinated to national interests. From the 1920s onward, the focus of the respective women’s rights movements in individual countries then developed with greater national differences than before. Since women’s suffrage had spread more or less nationwide, it continued in different forms depending on the national legal situation – similarly with regard to reproductive rights, labor rights, or access to political office.

Why is it important today as a historian to continue to research these networks?

Today, we still do not have real gender equality, therefore I think it is very important to deal with the attempts of earlier women’s rights activists to build networks and to develop successful strategies. On one hand, you can ideally learn from this what worked and what did not. At the same time, I also think it instills courage to look at the history of these women. Sometimes you think you could almost despair that nothing is happening. But when I compare our situation today with the situation back then and see how these women kept going, sometimes even going to prison for their ideals, and still did not give up, I find that very inspiring. We must always remind ourselves not to give up hope. But also, that you can’t just sit there passively, that you have to actively stand up against the oppression of women through your publications, your political involvement, or other activities. I think this message that you really have to keep fighting for progress and gender equality in social, economic, and political spheres is something that these older women’s rights movements and networks can inspire us to do. To end with the words of the African American feminist Ella Baker, “The struggle continues. Somebody else carries on.”

 

Transatlantische Verflechtungen der Frauenbewegung im langen 19. Jahrhundert: Interview mit Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

Editorische Notiz: Professorin Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson ist seit 2016 Lehrstuhlinhaberin für die Geschichte des Europäisch-Transatlantischen Kulturraums an der Universität Augsburg. Zuvor war sie fünf Jahre lang als stellvertretende Direktorin des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Washington, D.C. tätig. Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen auf transatlantischen Beziehungen, afroamerikanischer Geschichte, Frauengeschichte und Religionsgeschichte.

Als Teil ihrer Blogserie zur Geschichte der Frauenbewegung in transatlantischer Perspektive hat sich Marietheres Pirngruber mit Professor Waldschmidt-Nelson im April 2021 unterhalten.

Sie haben während Ihrer Zeit am GHI einen Sammelband zum Thema transatlantische Verflechtungen der Frauenrechtsbewegung herausgegeben. Was fasziniert Sie an diesem Thema?

Ich muss gestehen, dass mich die Geschichte von unterdrückten Gruppen schon immer fasziniert hat. Ich habe ja auch viel im Bereich der afroamerikanischen Geschichte geforscht. Auch bei den Frauen gibt es eine Geschichte der Unterdrückung. Bis auf wenige Ausnahmen ist das weibliche Geschlecht ja nicht nur in Europa und in Amerika, sondern weltweit, seit tausenden von Jahren massiv benachteiligt worden. Frauen sind in patriarchalischen, teilweise religiös begründeten Gesellschaftsordnungen unterdrückt, ausgebeutet und entrechtet worden. Und wenn man ehrlich ist, war Frauen in den meisten Ländern bis weit ins 20. Jahrhundert hinaus, der Zugang zu höherer Bildung und professionellen Berufen verwehrt; außerdem waren sie politisch entmündigt. Und in manchen Staaten ist das ja auch heute noch der Fall.

Was mich an dieser Geschichte besonders fasziniert, ist, dass es immer wieder wirklich mutige Frauen gab, die sich dagegen gewehrt haben, die aufbegehrt haben gegen ihre Unterdrückung. Im 18. Jahrhundert wurde mit den Ideen der Aufklärung und den beiden großen Revolutionen – der amerikanischen und der französischen Revolution – die Gleichheit und die Gleichberechtigung der Menschen in den Vordergrund gestellt. Zwei Frauen die, von diesen Ideen inspiriert, schon 1791/92 Schriften für Frauenrechte verfassten, waren Olympe de Gouges und Mary Wollstonecraft. Ihre Schriften haben sich wie Lauffeuer verbreitet; sie wurden weltweit in verschiedenste Sprachen übersetzt und gelten heute noch als Gründungsdokumente des Feminismus.

In unserer heutigen Zeit ist es selbstverständlich sich über Kontinente hinweg auszutauschen. Wie konnte ein Austausch und eine Zusammenarbeit im 19. Jahrhundert funktionieren?

Das war eine relativ komplexe, länger dauernde Entwicklung. Denn nach den gerade erwähnten frühen feministischen Schriften hat es ja immer noch ungefähr ein halbes Jahrhundert gedauert, bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, bis dann wirkliche Aktionen folgten. Die Frage ist also, wie kam es zu einem Austausch zwischen den Frauen? Warum gab es den vorher nicht? Hierfür ist es wichtig, sich die ideellen und die technischen Errungenschaften dieser Zeit in Erinnerung zu rufen. Einerseits, das hatte ich ja schon erwähnt, gab es das neue Gedankengut der Aufklärung und dann waren auch die Industrialisierung und die Urbanisierung sehr wichtig. Durch sie hatte sich eine neue Mittelschicht gebildet, die nicht mehr nur aus adeligen Frauen bestand, sondern einer größeren Menge Frauen ermöglichte, Lesen und Schreiben zu lernen. Sie alle konnten die neuen Schriften, die jetzt in Umlauf kamen, lesen und haben diese Ideen dann immer weiter verbreitet und manifestiert. Ein weiterer wichtiger Faktor war die Transport- und Kommunikation- Revolution. Durch die Einrichtungen von Dampfschiffen verkürzte sich zum Beispiel die Überfahrtzeit von Europa nach Amerika von über sechs Wochen auf neun Tage. Das war eine echte Revolution; da ging es nicht nur um die Überfahrt von Menschen, sondern auch von Zeitungen, Briefen, Pamphleten und Aufrufen. Die konnten jetzt auf einmal mit sechsfacher Geschwindigkeit verbreitet werden. Auch auf den Kontinenten wurden ja die Eisenbahn-Netzwerke ausgebaut, und darüber hinaus wurde die Kommunikation mithilfe der neuen Telegraphenverbinderung weiter verbessert.

Ein anderer wichtiger Aspekt waren die vielen sozialen Reformbewegungen Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts. Essentiell für die Entstehung einer internationalen Frauenrechtsbewegung war zum Beispiel die Abolitionisten-Bewegung, also die Anti-Sklaverei-Bewegung. Denn in dieser Bewegung waren Frauen ganz stark engagiert und haben dort, wie man das so schön später sagte, „the tools of movement building“ erlernt. Also, wie organisiere ich öffentliche Proteste, wie bereite ich z.B. Demonstrationen vor, Petitionen, wie schreibe ich Aufrufe? Wie kann ich öffentliche Reden überhaupt halten, denn auch dies  war für Frauen damals etwas ganz Neues und Revolutionäres. Diese Fähigkeiten haben viele der Frauen durch ihr Engagement in der Abolitionisten Bewegung erstmals gelernt. Und innerhalb dieser Bewegungen haben die Frauen überhaut erst das Bewusstsein dafür entwickelt, dass sie selber als Frauen unterdrückt waren. Der Gedanke war: Die Schwarzen dürfen nicht wählen, aber wir dürfen auch nicht wählen. Natürlich war das nicht ganz vergleichbar, aber es hat sich daraus ein Bewusstsein für Genderdiskriminierung entwickelt. Übrigens ist es auch sehr faszinierend zu sehen, dass ziemlich genau 100 Jahre später das Gleiche bzw. etwas sehr Ähnliches nochmal stattfand, denn aus der Beteiligung von Frauen in der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung der 1950er und 60er Jahre heraus entwickelte sich dann der Second Wave Feminism in den USA.

International Congress of Women in 1915. LSE Library, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:International_Congress_of_Women1915_(22785230005).jpg

Teilten diese Frauen größtenteils dieselben Überzeugungen oder gab es auch andere Sichtweisen aufgrund ihrer nationalen Herkunft?

Das ist auch eine sehr spannende Frage, die gar nicht so einfach zu beantworten ist. Ich würde sagen für die Zeitspanne bis zu den 1920er Jahren, als ein Großteil der westlichen Länder das Frauenwahlrecht einführte, sind die nationalen Unterschiede nicht besonders groß. Da würde ich eher eine chronologische Differenzierung machen wollen. Bis Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts ging es den Frauen erstmal primär um Eigentums- und Vertragsrechte. Im rechtlichen Sinne war eine Frau nämlich früher immer nur ein Mündel, d.h. ein unmündiger Mensch. Entweder das Mündel des Vaters, dann nach der Eheschließung das Mündel des Ehemannes oder ohne Eheschließung das des Bruders. Wenn Frauen beispielsweise ihr Erbe mit in die Ehe brachten, gehörten das Geld oder die Häuser dem Mann. Oder bei Trennung wurde das Sorgerecht für die Kinder fast immer dem Mann zugesprochen, die Kinder waren quasi auch sein Eigentum, nicht das der Frau. Ich würde sagen, zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts hatte der Kampf gegen diese Gesetze in fast allen Ländern für Frauenrechtlerinnen Priorität und es gab dann auch bald schon erste Erfolge in diesem Bereich. Ab den 1860er Jahren hat sich der Fokus dann in den USA und später auch in Europa ein bisschen verschoben auf die zweite große Priorität: Zugang zu Bildung und Zugang zu professionellen Berufen. Denn es war für Frauen, z.B. fast überall verboten, ein Studium zu absolvieren.

Der Kampf war also zuerst darauf fokussiert, sich nicht ökonomisch erpressbar zu machen, indem Frauen eigenes Eigentum halten konnten und somit etwas unabhängig sein konnten. Im zweiten Schritt wurde der Zugang zu Bildung und professionellen Berufen in den Vordergrund gestellt und danach, vor allem im letzen Drittel des 19. Jahrunderts und im frühen 20. Jahrhundert kam dann der Kampf um das Wahlrecht dazu. Die Idee, dass Frauen wählen sollten, erschien vielen vorher noch zu radikal und die Zeitpunkte des Beginns der Frauenwahlrechtsbewegung waren in den verschiedenen Ländern auch sehr unterschiedlich. In Großbritannien waren die sogenannten Suffragetten sehr viel früher aktiv als in Deutschland. Gleichzeitig bildeten sich auch einige internatioanle Frauen-Friedensbewegungen: Viele Frauen glaubten, dass Männer immer wieder Krieg und Zerstörung auslösten und dass es Aufgabe der Frauen sei, sich gemeinsam für den Frieden einzusetzten. So wurde z.B. 1915 die Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom gegründet. Allerdings  sind diese internationalen Frauenvereinigungen für Frieden, Frauenrechte oder soziale Gerechtigkeit dann im Kriegsfall meist ziemlich schnell zerfallen. Da wurden die Anliegen der Frauen doch meist recht schnell den nationalen Interessen untergeordnet. Ab den 1920er Jahren hat sich der Fokus der jeweiligen Frauenrechtsbewegungen in den einzelnen Ländern dann mit größeren nationalen Unterschieden entwickelt als vorher, denn da das Frauenwahlrecht sich mehr oder weniger flächendeckend ausgebreitet hatte, ging es je nach nationaler Rechtslage – z.B. im Hinblick auf Reproduktionsrechte, Arbeitsrechte oder Zugang zu politischen Ämtern – in unterschiedlichen Formen weiter.

Warum ist es wichtig, sich heute als Historiker*in weiter mit diesen Netzwerken zu beschäftigen?

Wir haben heute ja auch noch keine wirkliche Gender Equality, deswegen finde ich es sehr wichtig sich mit diesen Versuchen früherer Frauenrechtlerinnen zu beschäftigen, Netzwerke aufzubauen und erfolgreiche Strategien zu entwickeln. Einerseits kann man im Idealfall daraus lernen, was funktionierte und was nicht funktionierte  Gleichzeitig finde ich aber auch, es macht Mut, die Geschichte dieser Frauen zu betrachten. Manchmal denkt man ja, man könnte schier verzweifeln, dass nichts vorangeht. Aber wenn ich dann unsere Situation heute vergleiche mit der Situation damals und sehe, wie diese Frauen immer weitergemacht haben, zum Teil für ihre Ideale sogar ins Gefängnis gegangen sind und trotzdem nicht aufgegeben haben, dann finde ich das sehr inspirierend. Wir müssen uns immer wieder klarmachen, dass man die Hoffnung nicht aufgeben darf. Aber auch, dass man nicht einfach passiv dasitzen kann, sondern dass man sich aktiv durch seine Publikationen, sein politisches Engagement oder andere Aktivitäten gegen die Unterdrückung von Frauen einsetzten muss. Ich glaube, diese Message, dass man für Fortschritt und Gender Gleichberechtigung wirklich weiter kämpfen muss in sozialen, wirtschaftlichen und politischen Bereichen, das ist etwas, wozu uns diese älteren Frauenrechtsbewegungen und Netzwerke inspirieren können. Um mit den Worten der afroamerikanischen Feministin Ella Baker zu enden: „The struggle continues. Somebody else carries on.“

A Strong Connection: How Digital History Makes the Past More Accessible

By Allison Ruman

Editorial note: Allison Ruman received her Bachelor of Arts in German, Political Science, and Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies from Penn State University in 2020 and will be studying European History, Politics, and Society (Master of Arts) at Columbia University this fall. Her primary focus is on interwar Germany, and she is especially interested in studying religious divisions and their role in the rise of far-right extremism. She is currently completing her remote internship at the GHI.

The biggest project of my undergraduate career was, without a doubt, my honors thesis, “Temperate Brutality”: The AfD and Right-Wing Extremism in Postwar Germany, a subject that fundamentally requires knowledge of the Nazi regime and the conditions leading to it.  One crucial element of my research was the use of primary sources, the invaluable “raw data” that remain from ages past and provide a firsthand account, which form the basis of our entire understanding of history.  This was especially important for my first chapter, in which I compared language and rhetoric patterns between the National Socialists and the Alternative for Germany (AfD going forward), a nationalist and far-right populist party established in 2013.  It is one thing to claim that a right-wing populist party resembles the National Socialists, it is quite another to prove it.  Since it is not 1928 and the AfD is not concerned with the Treaty of Versailles or communists in the Soviet Union, any similarities would be on a much broader, more nuanced level rather than glaringly obvious.

In order to show their resemblance, I wanted to highlight party representatives’ opinions about international organizations, non-Christians, non-Germans, and far-right violence, a task that required transcripts of parliamentary sessions from both eras.  Without digitization, this would have been an incredibly difficult task under normal circumstances, considering I live in the United States and the documents would be in Germany, those concerning the National Socialists in a much more fragile condition than those from only a few years ago.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity to this task.  National and international lockdowns cut off most of the access to these primary sources.

As my second chapter included all kinds of events of the twentieth century, I worked with less formal primary sources, including newspaper articles, such as Schüsse auf Rudi Dutschke, a 1968 article from the German news magazine Der Spiegel that reported on the assassination of sociology student Rudi Dutschke, and a private letter that Adolf Hitler wrote to Adolf Gemlich, a German army soldier.  This more casual material (for public figures in particular) is vital because it presents that person behind closed doors.  With the exponential evolution of technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate public and private life, but it used to be common practice to curate an entirely distinct persona for the limelight.  These informal sources reveal what their genuine character was when they didn’t feel the need to perform as a public figure.

The first page of the Hitler letter to Adolf Gemlich, dated September 16, 1919, describing his hatred for Jews and detailing plans for their annihilation. Source: The Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles, USA. https://www.museumoftolerance.com/assets/documents/hitler-letter-handout-1.pdf

Working with newspaper articles was especially enlightening when it came to what it means to be a primary source.  At the time of its publication, an article may not have been a primary source, particularly if it referenced another speech or publication.  However, its dog whistles and undertones offer a glimpse into the implicit biases and societal norms of the time decades later.  Understanding that particular society on a day-to-day level makes it easier to understand how concurrent historical events transpired.  This was particularly helpful for me in grasping the extent of anti-Soviet sentiments and the role they played in the disillusionment of former East Germans after reunification.

The manner in which sources were digitized really shocked me.  For example, some historical newspaper articles were exactly the same format as a digital article published today, i.e., a typed article on the newspaper’s website.  Other databases simply provided scans of the original hard copies, which was much less convenient, as the quality of the scan was not always the best.  Some of the newspapers were not analyzed by OCR (optical character recognition), which converts images of words into machine-detectable text and allows us to do things like highlight and copy words, so the process to get the information I needed was much longer.  I also ran into this problem with the parliamentary session transcripts; the 1928 transcripts were scans, and while the Bayerische Staats Bibliothek did apply OCR, the transcripts were recorded using the Fraktur script, which is incredibly challenging to read without years of experience.  I would not have spent nearly as much time working with the 1928 transcripts if they would have been transcribed to a document using a sans serif font.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stenographic report of negotiations of the Reichstag from the fourth legislative period of 1928, from the first meeting on June 13, 1928, through the 40th meeting on February 4, 1929. Originally printed and published in Berlin in 1929 by the Reich Printing Group.  Source: Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staats Bibliothek). https://www.reichstagsprotokolle.de/index.html

Another problem I had with using digital sources was a lack of access to them due to paywalls.  This was an issue I experienced with databases for all mediums, including books, journals, interviews, and more, such as JSTOR and ProQuest, but especially because many newspapers provide databases themselves, reading a historical newspaper article counted toward the number of free articles per month, a problem I frequently encountered with sites like The New York Times.  Luckily, my university had subscriptions to most of the databases I used, but if I would not have had the privilege of attending a university, I would not have been able to acquire most of my material.  When people have no access to credible historical and news sources, their only option is turning to free misinformation and biased reporting.  The truth should not be a luxury reserved for a certain group of people.

Since the AfD is relatively new, finding any data on them was much more difficult than established groups.  I had trouble finding statistics on AfD representation at state levels, as each Landtag website was organized differently; some had a parliamentary breakdown by percentage, some listed each MP and their party, and some had no information on party representation whatsoever.  The general AfD website offered no help, so I sometimes had to calculate state-level representation myself, and other times I had to find statistics elsewhere.  In hindsight, the non-systematic organization of Landtag websites is not all that odd, considering each state Landtag is in charge of its own website, but it was not something I had taken into account; having grown up in a two-party system, there was no real opportunity for such a dilemma.  Finding election results was also a challenge.  My home state of Pennsylvania has a website with election results from the last twenty years, so I was surprised that there was not a similar archive for German states.  I managed to find the results, but they were not in a centralized location.  As with the 1928 transcripts, it would have been much more efficient if there would have been one place dedicated to keeping these records.

Landtag website for the state of Baden-Württemberg. The only statistics this website provided about the composition of its parliament were links to individual party websites. Source: https://www.landtag-bw.de/home/der-landtag/fraktionen.html
Landtag website for the state of Saxony-Anhalt. This website included a section for each party represented in the Landtag with statistics, including the number of members, Party Chair and Deputy Party Chair, and administrative information. Source: https://www.landtag.sachsen-anhalt.de/landtag/fraktionen/afd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landtag website for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. This website included a breakdown of the most recent election results (and the date of that election), including the number of seats each party occupies and the percentage of the Landtag that constitutes. The website also includes a disclaimer about the overhang mandate, in which the CDU lost one seat because of Germany’s mixed-member-proportional representation system. The CDU’s primary vote was higher than the secondary vote, so the SPD, AfD, and SSW all received a “compensatory mandate,” which makes the party representation more closely match election results. Source: https://www.landtag.ltsh.de/parlament/der-19-lt/

Digitization removes traditional barriers that come with studying history, including cost, distance, and accessibility, which is especially exclusionary for people with disabilities.  However, as I was researching for my undergraduate thesis, I discovered that the availability of digital sources removes some, but not all, barriers.  Certain obstacles, like cost, still exist in digital form but take on a new appearance, no longer manifesting as the cost of travel and lodging to see the physical documents or monuments, but now as paywalls that prevent access to books, journals, newspapers, and databases.  The same is true with inaccessibility, no longer old cities and historical sites that are difficult for people with physical disabilities to comfortably navigate, now as inadequate digitization, whether that’s poor scan quality with no legible supplement or simply a failure to provide a source that is understandable without specialization and training in that field.  This includes, of course, sans serif fonts in lieu of Fraktur script, but one thing I was very grateful for during thesis research was the author and translator notes about particular words, actions, or attitudes during a specific time period that explained the relevant contextual background, something the staff at German History in Documents and Images does an excellent job of including in their documents.  The changes we make to our digital sources don’t have to be monumental in order to break down these barriers, and they may seem inconsequential to us, but they make a world of difference to many.  Digitization has already done so much to broaden the confines of historical study, but it is imperative to keep diversifying the voices in the digital scholar community so that we do not continue to ostracize the most marginalized among us from the discipline.  Increasing access to digital tools will help to improve traditional methods of historical research, which will allow the field to grow and diversify and enhance both teaching and research.

The Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller

By Marietheres Pirngruber

In my second blog post about the US Suffrage movement, I ‘m taking a closer look at one of the sources: The Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. After sharing short biographies of both women, I will present and analyze the sources.

Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, were both active advocates and financial supporters of the women’s rights movement. Elizabeth Smith Miller was the only daughter of famous abolitionist landowner and Congressman Gerrith Smith and lived her life in large houses known for as centers of hospitality and philosophical discussion. Her childhood home in Peterboro, New York, was widely known as a refuge for reformers and nineteenth-century thinkers. Elizabeth Smith Miller continued this tradition at her estate, Lochland in Geneva, New York, which became known as a place suffragist supporters and social reformers frequently visited. Elizabeth’s only daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, grew up in this environment and lived at Lochland for her entire adult life, helping her mother to uphold its atmosphere of hospitality. They became particularly active as a mother and daughter team after the death of Anne’s father in 1896 that persuaded the New York State Woman’s Suffrage Association to hold its annual convention in Geneva, among other initiatives. Later, Anne Fitzhugh Miller founded the Geneva Political Equality Club (GPEC) and served as its president for over a decade.  GPEC became a thriving organization and the largest in the state with almost 400 members by 1907. The political and social connections of the Millers allowed the Club to attract a wide range of nationally and internationally known lecturers such as the prominent suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was also Elizabeth Smith Miller’s cousin. Furthermore, GPEC served as a model for the formation of other local Political Equality Clubs like the Ontario County Political Equality Association. Anne Fitzhugh Miller also held office at the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association and participated in statewide national suffrage activities, held public speeches and represented New York State at a U.S. Senate hearing regarding women’s suffrage.

In this post, I will present the scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, which they compiled from 1897 until 1911. The collection is available in digital form on the Library of Congress website: Miller NAWSA suffrage scrapbooks, 1897-1911. The collection contains seven scrapbooks, the first ones covering the years 1897-1904, and subsequent ones covering one year each. What is most interesting, in my view, is that the scrapbooks function like source collections about the women’s suffrage movement on their own. They include newspaper articles, pamphlets, programs and photographs, and also personal items like letters. While the scrapbooks cover mostly the women suffrage movement and suffragists in New York State, especially the Geneva Political Equality Club, the New York State Women Suffrage Association, and the National American Women Suffrage Association, the scrapbooks also include sources covering the women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled frequently, while staying in close contact with British suffragists.

Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller, NAWSA collection, LC, p. 37, https://lccn.loc.gov/93838336

I will take a closer look at pages 37 and 38 of the first Scrapbook from the years 1898 and 1899 and present the contents and difficulties associated with those sources. Since the pages document the same topic with different sources, they are especially interesting for a critical source review.  The subject of both pages are GPEC meetings. Page 37 includes the program for the meeting on Dec. 19th, 1898, page 38 the programs of the meetings in January and February 1899. One can see that the meetings were usually held at the same location, on the same weekday and at the same time. Furthermore, the programs contain the agenda items like lectures, discussions or elections. There are matching newspaper clippings announcing the meetings or reporting about them. Additionally, there are two letters with their envelopes attached to both pages. Already those two pages contain a lot of information, in this case about GPEC, compiled from different sources. A newspaper article from The Geneva Courir, for example, contains detailed information about the February Meeting of GPEC. It reads almost like a detailed protocol, and the meeting’s agenda items are described, in addition to very detailed information like the absence of Anne Fitzhugh Miller and her representation through second Vice-president Mrs. Perkins. 

Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller, NAWSA collection, LC, p. 38, https://lccn.loc.gov/93838336

The scrapbook is a collection of various sources, including official as well as private sources, which offers insights into the suffrage movement in the US, and about GPEC in particular. Still, it’s important to be aware of certain problems with this type of source. First of all, it is not obvious what kind of sources Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller included in the scrapbooks and which ones they did not. Furthermore, the origins of their sources aren’t always clear. The newspaper clippings mentioned on page 37 and 38, for example, don’t always include the newspaper sources and dates.  Sometimes there is more information provided by handwritten notes, such as dates, but the origins of the sources are frequently missing.  Additionally, there is a downside with the digitized version of the scrapbook. The letter from Mrs. Ver Planck on page 37 for example, is folded to save space inside the scrapbook. However, the page is only scanned with the folded letter inside so that one cannot actually read it in the digitized version.

The scrapbooks are rich sources for the development of the US suffrage movement, especially considering the background of the two exceptional suffragists who created the scrapbooks, the variety of sources that are included, and the time period of more than a decade. While not every clipping can be exactly assigned to its origin and the digitized version of the scrapbook does not allow every source to be analyzed, the scrapbooks contain many interesting sources that enlighten the organization of women’s suffrage organizations and movements.

National American Woman Suffrage Association Records

Editorial note: Marietheres Pirngruber is studying Global History (M.A.) at the University of Heidelberg. Her primary focus is on women’s and gender history, and she is especially interested in studying the transatlantic suffrage networks of the 19th and 20th centuries. She is currently completing her remote internship at the GHI. On the occasion of women’s history month, she  shares some of her interesting research on US suffrage history on href.

Finding primary sources is essential for any historian, yet during the ongoing pandemic it is also the biggest struggle. Online collections have provided much needed access to primary sources. Therefore, I’d like to highlight a collection from the Library of Congress (LOC), the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Records, which is partially accessible online. To situate the sources in context, I will briefly explain how NAWSA developed, when and how it was established, and what goals the organization pursued. I will then share examples of some the sources that are part of the online collection. Finally, I will discuss some problems related to the inclusion and exclusion of materials in the collection.

The National American Women Suffrage Association, which had about two million members,  was the largest voluntary organization to advocate for women’s suffrage in the US. Established in 1890, it was formed through the merger of two existing organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Both associations were established in 1869, and their rivalry was rooted in their disagreement after the Civil War about the 14th and 15th Amendments. While some leaders, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed their ratification unless women would be included, others, like Lucy Stone, supported the Reconstruction amendments, believing they would pave the way toward women’s suffrage. Subsequently, Stanton and Stone formed the two different associations, along with their allies.

In the following decades, social restrictions for women were challenged and undermined, like the idea of a “women’s sphere” at home and women’s main duty of being a wife and mother. Women also increasingly gained access to higher education. Even though many women attended colleges and universities by 1890, women’s suffrage was a long way off. In 1890, the two associations merged, a development driven by a younger generation of suffragists, including the daughters of Stanton and Stone. Finally reunited, NAWSA pursued a variety of ways to achieve women’s suffrage. While in the 1890s some women achieved suffrage victories in Western states, most other campaigns were unsuccessful.

In the twentieth century, however, suffragists developed innovative campaign strategies like suffrage parades and open-air meetings to make NAWSAs suffrage work more visible, which had a huge impact. While the movement remained divided among a variety of factions and organizations, the suffragists achieved a major victory with the passage of the 19thAmendment to the US Constitution, ratified in August of 1920. Following this milestone, NAWSA evolved into the League of Women Voters, dedicated to supporting international women’s rights movements and advocating for voter rights and women’s participation in politics.

Catt, Carrie Chapman, Former Owner, and National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. How It Feels to Be the Husband of a Suffragette
. [New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915] Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/15015726/>

The National American Woman Suffrage Association Records available at the Library of Congress contains over 26,000 items mostly covering the period from 1890 to 1930. Almost 2,000 of these have been digitized. The NAWSA records are part of a LOC topical campaign called “Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote” launched on the occasion of the 100thanniversary of the 19th Amendment. Transcribing and digitizing the sources makes the sources more accessible and brings together stories from women participating in the largest reform movement in American history. The collection also allows scholars and students to explore and understand the movement. The materials in this particular collection were donated from the personal libraries of numerous members of NAWSA, including Stanton and Stone, but also from later NAWSA presidents like Carrie Chapman Catt. The collection contains various textual sources like newspapers, books, pamphlets and scrapbooks but also photographs. The collection is organized according to NAWSA’s original structure into different topics like “Woman and Work” or “Parenthood and Related Subjects”. Besides biographies of members of NAWSA within the book section, there are also quite peculiar sources like the book “How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette” published in 1915 which was in possession of Carrie Chapman Catt and contains a humorous story of a suffrage supporter married to a suffragist. Other sources, like the scrapbook of suffragist Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, are within itself like a collection about the women’s suffrage movement. While they collected newspaper articles, programs and pamphlets there are also personal items like letters included. Especially interesting is that they also incorporated sources about the suffrage movement in Great Britain which show the connection between the movements across national borders.

Sources generally reflect a specific perspective on historic circumstances. However, they can only offer a glimpse into the past through a very subjective lens and therefore always have to be viewed critically. The biggest problem with this collection is that its contents originate from NAWSA’s members which were mostly well-educated, middle- and upper-class white women from the northern States of the US. Therefore, the sources can only reflect their perception on different issues and automatically exclude perspectives from women from the working class, women of colour and women from the southern States. Keeping that in mind, the sources are still very interesting and reveal what materials those women collected, whom they collected it for, and how they hoped to use it.  As always, the interpretation of the collections depends more on the formulation of one’s research question than on the diversity of the sources. Furthermore, the collection provides insights into the structure of the largest women’s suffrage association in the US and its members. Finally, while always keeping in mind that the sources ought to be interpreted critically, the Collection of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Records is a wide collection of sources, which can provide an interesting perspective on the American Woman Suffrage Movement.

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.

Showing or Telling: The Immersive-to-Informational Transformation of Museum Exhibits

I have vivid memories of visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas as a child in 2007. Fredericksburg, hometown of German-American and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, hosts this expansive museum complex in honor of Nimitz’s role as Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet in the Second World War. This museum complex includes the original Nimitz Hotel, with an exhibit about Nimitz’s life, and the George H.W. Bush Gallery, with a larger gallery covering the entirety of the Pacific Theatre of World War II. The old gallery as I remember it, featured three walk-through dioramas, each immersing oneself in a specific scene from the war: the deck of a Japanese submarine just before the attack on Pearl Harbor about to launch an authentic mini-submarine, the deck of the USS Hornet as it prepared to launch Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s B-25 bombers for the raid on Tokyo, and Henderson Field on Guadalcanal at night. Of these the Henderson Field display was the most memorable. The whole setting was dark to simulate night on the island, with ambient jungle sounds in the background. Shortly after entering, one would come across two mannequins of US Marines loading boxes. One was an animatronic, and pressing a button on one of the boxes would make him rotate his head and awkwardly move his plastic lips as a recorded voice spoke to you about the experience of Marines of Guadalcanal. Further on, a US aircrew of two mannequins repaired an authentic Wildcat fighter aircraft on one side of the path. On the other side, further way, was a wreckage of a Japanese aircraft. As one walked through this life-sized diorama, the sound effect of an approaching bomber aircraft could be heard in the distance, getting closer. The Japanese launched several single-aircraft night raids through the fall of 1942, with the sole intention to deprive the Marines of sleep. The bomber would be heard approaching, doing several low passes over the airfield, then dropping a single bomb. The “bomb” would explode off the path, violently rattling the wreckage with a flash of orange light. The experience was definitely scary for ten-year-old-me, and I remember it changing the way I thought about war. I had always been aware that war was terrible, but this diorama was the first thing that made me understand the terror of it. The darkness, the anticipation, and the suddenness of the explosion made it clear to me that death in this setting could have happened at any moment. It may seem ridiculous to think that a dated, decaying, and by today’s standards, kitschy museum display could have an effect like that. But it did on me. 

One can then imagine my disappointment when I visited the museum again in 2009, shortly after its highly-anticipated renovation. The new gallery was highly digitized, with many large-screen interactive displays, and colorful panel walls displaying blown-up photographs, maps, and blocks of text covering every aspect of the Pacific War. But the immersive experiences of the old museum had all been removed. The mini-submarine was now the centerpiece of an impressive audio-visual display, with film footage and some effects projected on a flat screen behind. The replica of the larger submarine that carries the mini-sub was however no longer there, along with the Hawaiian Islands mural that had accompanied both of them. The Guadalcanal diorama was completely gone. The Wildcat was still in the museum, but displayed on its own with no physical contextualization. Only the Doolittle Raid diorama survived in part: The B-25 was still there on what looked the deck of the Hornet, with the original mural still behind it, but with the mannequins and a significant piece of the flight deck removed.

The Doolittle Raid diorama at the National Museum of the Pacific War as it appears today.

I will admit that I was able to learn a lot from the new displays. Cutting the dioramas saved on space, allowing for the display of more artifacts and incorporation of new digital elements. The space between the dioramas in the old museum, from what I can remember, were very antiquated, with photographs and small text panels pasted onto walls, and less artifacts to be seen. But I still feel like something was lost with the removal of the immersive displays. A helmet in a display case, accompanied by text or a film explaining what it was, would not have brought me to that same understanding of the experience on Guadalcanal as that diorama did. 

It turns out that this phenomenon of increasing digitalization and decreasing physical displays has been a common story for museums on recent history. 

The Disappearing Diorama 

Dioramas, which portray a scene with a sculpted foreground that blends with an intricately painted background to create a three-dimensional illusion, became popular museum exhibits in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These physical displays, often made with exquisite craftsmanship, were an effective way to transport a museum visitor to another place or time before the age of widespread photography and film. The American Museum of Natural History in New York is world-famous for its intricate dioramas of animal taxidermies in their natural habitats. Indeed, nature and natural history are the most ubiquitous subjects of dioramas, with just about every such museum in the world exhibiting such displays. The Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany even took the time in 2003 to restore all its animal dioramas to their original 1923 condition.1 They are still popular attractions, being one of the significant draws for visitors in the case of the AMNH and the Musuem Koenig. Old dioramas have become museum artifacts themselves as important a part of the heritage of a museum as the dinosaur bones or ancient pottery that accompany them. 

A wild boar diorama at the Museum Koenig in Bonn.

Dioramas portraying scenes of human history, however, are becoming increasingly hard to come by in the museums of Europe and the United States. Many have disappeared from museum displays since the start of this century, owing to several different reasons. One is a renewed emphasis on displaying actual artifacts over space consuming crafted displays. The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg removed most of its walk-through World War I trench diorama in 2009 to make way for new exhibits covering other American conflicts and displaying more military artifacts (A small part of the trench does remain at the beginning of the museum gallery, and fortunately the background mural painted by a former German soldier in 1968 has also been retained).

The old trench diorama of the Pennsylvania Military Museum, dismantled since 2009.

Another reason is dioramas can inaccurately portray their subjects, especially if they are older. While natural history can be considered static, human history is very dynamic and perceptions of it are constantly changing. For example, several natural history museums have removed diorama displays of Native American cultures. This has been done because some of these dioramas no longer show what is considered an accurate portrayal of these cultures, and also because of the problematic nature of exhibiting indigenous cultures in natural history museums (I.e. alongside animals) instead of social history museums. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History removed its Native American Dioramas in 2002 for these reasons.2 

Finally, there are the museums that removed diorama displays to update and modernize the way they told their stories. A remarkable example of this is the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, near Ottawa, which recently underwent one of the most dramatic museum overhauls of the past twenty years.

Canada Hall 

When it first opened in 1989, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, as it was then known, offered a unique gallery unlike anything that had been seen in a history museum before. The museum’s “Canada Hall” took visitors on a journey through 1,000 years of Canadian history, from the arrival of the Vikings in Newfoundland up to the 1970s. To do so, the hall featured a number of life-sized walk-through dioramas portraying scenes from throughout Canadian history. These included, among other things, the interior of a Basque whaling ship, an eighteenth-century Quebec town square, a Victorian main street in Ontario, a 1930s grain elevator in Saskatchewan, and a 1960s Vancouver Airport lounge. All of these scenes were under a domed ceiling illuminated in the color blue, giving the illusion that one was really outside. Buildings in each scene could be explored, all with furnished rooms and artifact displays integrated into the scenes. 

A representation of an Ontario town main street circa 1885. . .
. . .and a lounge in the Vancouver Airport circa 1960, both in the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s old Canada Hall. Photos by Matthew Farfan

This immersive method of telling Canadian history proved to be very popular with visitors, and by the mid-2000s the Museum of Civilization was the most-visited museum in Canada.3 Immersing visitors wholly in historical environments, it can be argued, was more impactful than cabinet displays of artifacts. Seeing the objects in the context of their use gave them much more meaning. 

Canada Hall was, however not without problems. From the beginning it was criticized by some historians for its focus on settler history and neglect of the First Nations, the indigenous peoples of Canada. The First Nations were covered in a separate gallery of the museum, but their stories from post-Columbian Canada received comparatively little coverage in Canada Hall. In addition, the reconstructions gave prominence to particular provinces in each era, while neglecting what happened in the same era in other provinces. The Maritime Provinces were only covered in the exhibits on early history, whereas the Pacific Coast  only received treatment in the mid-twentieth century exhibits. This presentation also left little space for more detailed accounts of specific stories from Canadian history, such as those of migration, politics, and wars. This was Museum President Mark O’Neill’s chief criticism of the hall when he set out to renovate it in 2013.4 Under his leadership, the Museum of Civilization was renamed the Museum of History and underwent a $25 million overhaul. This remastering of the Canada Hall stripped away all of the immersive displays, replacing them with the modernistic text-and-image panels, touch screens, and glass artifact cases common in contemporary museums. A 1907 Ukrainian settler church from Alberta, the only authentic building in the old hall, was the only structure to be retained in the new Canadian History Hall. 

The new Canadian History Hall. Canadian Museum of History

This new exhibit gallery opened in 2017. It allows for many more aspects of Canadian history to be displayed through visitors through text, videos, and artifacts, and does a much better job at incorporating the experiences of the First Nations. Yet it does not provide nearly as immersive an experience, and stories prominent in the old gallery have become less so in the new one, not without controversy. Canada’s New Democratic Party voiced its anger over the removal of a reconstruction of a union meeting room from the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, probably the most significant event in Canadian labor history.5 This display had a multi-media presentation with recorded voices of strikers playing, making it as if the visitor was among them in the meeting hall in 1919. Artifacts relating to the strike were displayed in cases on both sides of the hall. In contrast, the strike only gets a single panel in the new gallery, easily missable after a series of huge World War I panels and cases. A police badge, armband, and billy club appear to be the only artifacts representing it now. 

The recreation of “Meeting Room No. 10” from the Winnipeg General Strike exhibit in the old Canada Hall. CBC
In the present Canadian Hall of History, the strike is represented only by the green panel on the right. Canadian Museum of History

Something significant was gained, but something significant was lost as well. That is the case with Canada Hall and all other museums that have undergone these kinds of renovations in this century. 

The Textbook Problem 

The original Canada Hall also faced understandable criticism for its alleged “Disneyfication” of history. As is often the case with history education, there is a debate over how much “entertainment” over education should be present within a museum. Dioramas can be seen as dated, hokey displays, with little educational value and serving no purpose other than to terrify young children, and that historical information is best conveyed through reading. 

But how would one make an attractive exhibit design this way. I have noticed from recently developed museums that there is an increased emphasis on reading text. Walls of it cover every exhibit divider. There are some screens playing short films, to add to the experience, and floating artifacts are displayed in otherwise bare display cases to show the visitor “these are the things that were used by these people.” It is a different kind of immersion: an immersion in the information, or in the technical side of the history. One can read about the statistics regarding the usage of an artifact, but cannot actually see how the artifact was used or feel connected to someone who used it. 

With this increased reliance on text and photographs, it becomes difficult to think of one question: why go to a museum at all? With reading and looking at images making up most of the exhibits, how can one distinguish the experience from, say, reading about the subject on an iPad at home? I remember my father saying that the new Pacific War Museum gallery was like “walking through a giant textbook.” This is a fitting description, in that museums are moving towards displays that will convey information effectively, but not attract visitors. Few people have ever been excited about reading a textbook. One might answer that the artifacts would be the draw, but artifacts can speak for themselves only so well. Artifacts that are well-known, like Abraham Lincoln’s hat at the National Museum of American History, will attract visitors with little need for contextualization because most visitors will already know its significance. A regular top hat, though, will not be able to speak in the same way, and visitors will not flock to see it. A description of who wore the hat might help, but even so it will still have little relevance to the museum visitor. One could go onto the museum’s website, search the collections, and read the description for the top hat there. With increasing digitization, there are fewer and fewer reasons for people to leave their homes and pay entrance fees to see such objects. 

As I wrote in my first article of the “Museums in the COVID-19 Crisis” series, museums must give people reasons to come visit by providing unique learning experiences. This will be especially important once the pandemic has passed and people are considering where they want to go out again. A museum that only offers an experience comparable to reading a Wikipedia article might have difficulty attracting visitors again. If dioramas are too dated to do so, a new technology might be able to fill the role. 

Virtual Reality: The New Diorama? 

Virtual reality has exploded in the last decade, become accessible for everyday consumers via new home technologies. An increasing number of video games make use of VR, and some VR programs have already been made by historical organizations. The American Battlefield Trust, for example, made a virtual reality experience of the Battle of Petersburg last year, available to view on YouTube. VR completely immerses a viewer in a time and place with digital recreations, sounds, and actors. It creates an environment more dynamic that what could be provided by a static diorama. 

Detail of the “TimeRide” attraction in Berlin, from the TimeRide Berlin website

It is no surprise, then, that some museums and historical attractions have already made use of this technology. A German firm called TimeRide has recently produced VR tourist attractions in Cologne in Berlin, the former simulating a tram ride through the city in 1910 and the latter simulating a tour bus trip through 1980s East Berlin. The Royal Air Force Museum in London created a VR ride experience simulating the “Dambusters” raid of 1943, with visitors sitting in crew positions of a Lancaster bomber. Most noteworthy however, is the creation of the Migration Museum in Germany. 

The Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Germany (DOMiD) has been working for years to create a museum dedicated to immigration to Germany. A physical museum building is expected to open this year or next year in Cologne, featuring a massive collection of artifacts relating to immigration in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. To promote the establishment of the museum, the DOMiD developed the “Virtual Migration Museum,” which made its debut in 2018. This “museum,” which can be viewed entirely through home technology, digitally recreated environments experienced my migrant workers in twentieth-century West Germany. These include apartment buildings, a factory floor, and a railway station. Visitors will also be able to view photos of artifacts from the upcoming physical museum.6 In a way, this experience is like a digital successor to the old Canada Hall, recreating social history environments to be explored by visitors. The VR experience, available for Windows, Mac, mobile, and the HTC Vive VR headset, can be downloaded at https://virtuelles-migrationsmuseum.org/en/download-en/. Might this in fact be how we experience museums in the near future? Completely “from home?” 

VR Simulation of a train station in the Virtual Migration Museum. Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek

Conclusion: The Case for Physicality 

I personally would hope not. The new technology is exciting, and has the potential to make a visit to a museum building even better, displayed alongside artifacts. Imagine how easy it will be to alter and update “VR dioramas,” and how little space this technology would take up. That solves all the problems presented by physical dioramas. Even more impressive experiences cold be made with more intricate technologies not available at home. Museums should take note of this as they re-imagine themselves for the future. 

Yet I also hope that physical dioramas do not completely disappear. Even with increasing digitization, they can still pain vivid pictures because of their tangibility, being seen and understood by a visitor without having to look through a headset. I point to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia as an example. This museum uses detailed tableaus to portray scenes from the Revolutionary War that were not illustrated in the many paintings and sketches of that time. In this manner, the dioramas illuminate scenes not always visible in the popular memory of the war: George Washington breaking up a fistfight between his troops, dejected Continentals retreating from their defeat in New York City, and fourteen-year-old London Pleasants donning a British Army uniform to escape slavery in Virginia.7 These scenes, though static, are brought to life through the detailed life-sized figures that create personability for a visitor, coming face-to face with people from the past.

A diorama depicting George Washington breaking up a brawl at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. MoAR Virtual Tour

As museums continue to evolve, they should make use of the best of old and new exhibit technologies to immerse visitors in history. Screens and text should be balanced with physical displays that create environments to make a comprehensive experience. VR can complement these displays, providing for further immersion and interactivity. With all of these in place, they could bring a young person to understand and respect history the same way a stiff, aging Marine animatronic did for me so many years ago. 

  1. Dioramen in der Dauerausstellung,” Zoologische Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, last modified 2019, https://www.zfmk.de/de/museum/dauerausstellungen/dioramen. []
  2. Francie Diep, “The Passing of the Indians Behind Glass,” The Appendix, last modified September 18, 2014, http://theappendix.net/issues/2014/7/the-passing-of-the-indians-behind-glass. []
  3. “Canada’s most visited museum celebrates 150th anniversary,” Canadian Museum of Civilization, last modified May 10, 2006, http://www.civilisations.ca/media/show_pr_e.asp?ID=806. []
  4. “How Stephen Harper is rewriting history,” Maclean’s, last modified July 29, 2013, https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/written-by-the-victors/. []
  5. “Winnipeg General Strike exhibit being dismantled in Ottawa museum,” Winnipeg Free Press, last modified May 25, 2015, https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Winnipeg-General-Strike-exhibit-being-dismantled-in-Ottawa-museum-304914601.html. []
  6. “About the Museum,” Virtual Migration Museum, last modified 2018, https://virtuelles-migrationsmuseum.org/en/about-the-museum/. []
  7. “12 Surprising Things You’ll Learn at Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution,” Frommer’s, last modified 2017, https://www.frommers.com/slideshows/848166-12-surprising-things-you-ll-learn-at-philadelphia-s-museum-of-the-american-revolution. []

Museums in the COVID-19 Crisis: International Maritime Museum Hamburg

As summer begins in Germany most establishments have reopened in some capacity, including museums. All are still operating under restrictions, with limits on numbers of visitors and mask requirements being ubiquitous. All museums, municipal and private, are required to adhere to national and local government regulations. This series so far has covered municipal and state-funded museums, but not a privately-run museum. This article will investigate the International Maritime Museum in Hamburg, one of the largest private museums in Germany, and how it is handling COVID-19. 

Exterior of the International Maritime Museum Hamburg
© Michael Zapf

The International Maritime Museum is located in a circa-1879 harbor warehouse in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt (“City of Warehouses”) near the city’s port. The museum’s collection was gathered by Hamburg journalist and maritime enthusiast Peter Tamm, who began collecting after receiving a toy boat from his mother at the age of six in 1934.1 The museum opened in 2008, featuring a collection of around 40,000 model ships (including Tamm’s toy boat) and a plethora of shipping and naval artifacts. The museum has eight floors total, each dedicated to a specific theme of maritime history or technology. The themes range from exploration to merchant shipping to navies, with significant attention to Hamburg area and German maritime history. The lower floors focus on early maritime history and navigation, with exhibits on Classical-era sailing, Early Modern exploration, piracy, and the international slave trade. The middle floors feature exhibits on navies, with several artifacts related to German naval history. One notable display here features an officer’s uniform from every navy in the world. The upper floors display most of the model ship collection, a gallery of maritime art, and space for temporary exhibitions. There is also a highly-detailed hip simulator, with a recreated cargo ship bridge. Groups of visitors can work together to guide the ship into Hamburg’s port, with guidance from experienced sailors who advise the simulation. 

Peter Tamm, the museum’s founder
© Christian O. Bruch
The toy boat that started it all
Photo by Andrey Belenko
An exhibit about cruise ships on the museum’s sixth floor
© vdl

The International Maritime Museum followed similar procedures to public museums in Germany when the coronavirus hit the country, and closed its doors on March 16th, 2020. During the closure period, the staff made routine updates to the museum’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, keeping guests informed about what was going on. On the Facebook page they had been posting a picture and description of one of their models almost every day since 2016. This task became increasingly important during the pandemic closure. The museum recorded above-average activity on their social media pages, with more likes and comments than ever before. In addition to posts about each of the models in their collection, the page also posted highlights from some of the museum’s other exhibitions, such as navigational instruments and travel ephemera. Additionally, a museum guide livestreamed two tours of the museum in the month of April: one in German and one in English. These tours reportedly had over 45,000 views.2

A screenshot of the museum’s Facebook page

The museum reopened on May 7th, with limitations in place. Guided tours are not taking place, and the ship simulator is closed. However, these are slated to start again on July 1st. Visitors are required to maintain social distancing and wear masks while inside the museum, and to wash their hands thoroughly. These procedures are the same as what has been seen at other museums featured in this series. Peter Tamm spoke of the museum’s reopening: 

“As a private museum, the closure ordered by the authorities hit us particularly hard. The past few weeks have been difficult, but our museum has a new look when it reopens. We have carried out cosmetic repairs and cleaning work and hopefully many enthusiastic visitors will find new exhibits on many decks. “3

Despite the difficulties presented by closure for a private museum. The Maritime Museum took the opportunity refurbish its displays and add new additions to its galleries. A new temporary exhibition, titled “Johannes Holst – Painter of the Sea” opened with the museum’s reopening. This gallery features detailed ship paintings from early twentieth-century German marine artist Johannes Holst, previously held in private collections and not accessible to the public. The exhibition runs until July 19th.4

The International Maritime Museum weathered the worst part of the COVID-19 crisis doing much of the same things its municipal counterparts did. It engaged an audience through social media, inviting them to experience the museum from home. In doing they attracted attention from a greater number of viewers than they had encountered before, potentially attracting many new visitors for the post-lockdown months to follow. 

  1. Matthias Gretzschel and Michael Zapf, Am Anfang war das Schiff – Das Internationale Maritime Museum in Hamburg – Sein Stifter und Gründer Peter Tamm (Hamburg: 2012), 10. []
  2. “Die Wiedereröffnung am 7. Mai,” Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg, last modified May 5, 2020, https://www.imm-hamburg.de/2020/05/die-wiedereroeffnung-am-7-mai/. []
  3. Museum, “Die Wiedereröffnung.” []
  4. “Sonderaustellung,” Internationales Maritimes Musem Hamburg, last modified June 13, 2020, https://www.imm-hamburg.de/museum/sonderausstellung/. []