Oxford – Mainz PhD Workshop 2022

Call for Papers: Joint Mainz-Oxford-Graduate Workshop: “European History across Boundaries from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century”

Participants of the 2019 Workshop in the Oriel College Library

Academy Conveners: Noëmie Duhaut (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz), Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz) and Lyndal Roper (University of Oxford)

Venue: Oriel College, Oxford University

Date: 30 March – 1 April 2022

Deadline for Applications: 15 December 2021

We invite applications for an international doctoral workshop on European history across boundaries from the 16th to the 20th century, including Europe’s relations with the world. We encourage PhD candidates working in this field to present their research projects and discuss the transcultural and transnational scopes of their work. Topics that aim to cross and reflect on boundaries and borders are of particular interest. Projects can employ a variety of methodological approaches such as comparative studies, the study of transfer processes and entanglements, or the histoire croisée. The location of the joint workshop alternates annually between Mainz and Oxford. The 2022 workshop will be at Oriel College in Oxford and include a discussion of disputed historical monuments – such as the Cecil Rhodes statue in this college – and their future.

We will discuss pre-circulated papers based on archival research (max. 8,000 words, written in English, to be submitted by 1 March 2022). We will provide accommodation for the duration of the workshop and contribute towards travel expenses within Europe.

Proposals should include an abstract of the overall project and its archival sources (500 words), a brief biographical note, and a completed application form, which you can download here: https://bit.ly/3mzdHrh. Please combine all your application documents into a single PDF except for the application form.

Applications should be sent to gw@ieg-mainz.de by 15 December 2021. For any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the organisers.

Contact: Dr Noëmie Duhaut, Leibniz Institute of European History, Alte Universitätsstr. 19, 55116 Mainz, Germany, +49 6131-39 39428, gw@ieg-mainz.de

Governing Humanitarianism – Past, Present, And Future

Two Digital Panels on 27 and 28 September 2021 in Preparation of the 2022 Herrenhausen Conference

Organized by Stacey Hynd, Fabian Klose, Johannes Paulmann, and Andrew Thompson in cooperation with the Volkswagen Foundation

North Coast at Lesbos, September 2015, by Rosa-Maria Rinkl via Wikimedia Commons, source.

“Human Rights and Humanitarianism – a Complicated Relationship?” – September 27, 2021, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CET): panel discussion with Michael Barnett (George Washington University), Julia Irwin (University of South Florida, Tampa), and Angelika Nußberger (University of Cologne), chair: Fabian Klose (University of Cologne).

UNSG’s Special Advisor on the prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng speaking to the press in Tshikapa (by MONUSCO/Biliaminou Alao, 2017, source)

“Forced displacement, unlawful internment, and humanitarian neutrality” – September 28, 2021, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CET): keynote by Adama Dieng (former Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Honorary Chair of the World Justice Project; chair: Andrew Thompson (Nuffield College, Oxford).

The digital panels are both part of next year’s Herrenhausen Conference “Governing Humanitarianism – Past, Present and Future” (2022), funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Link to join events https://www.volkswagenstiftung.de/veranstaltungen/livestream.

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The Path of Escape in the Age of Touristic Reproduction

Phil Kuehlthau

Graffiti at the wayside (photo: Phil Kuehlthau)

Walter Benjamin’s last resort for escaping the National Socialists in the autumn of 1940 was a path across the Pyrenees, which led from the French village of Banyuls-sur-Mer to Portbou in Spain. However, this path ended in a “situation with no way out” (Brodersen, p. 245). After Benjamin arrived in Portbou and was forced to return to France by Spanish authorities, he committed suicide.

Since 2007, Benjamin’s escape route has been marked as the Chemin Walter Benjamin. It invites those interested in cultural history to follow the path. But what exactly is marked by the Chemin Walter Benjamin?

The source material is problematic. Our knowledge depends on the memories of Lisa Fittko, Walter Benjamin’s escape agent, who described the path they took together in her memoirs. Her autobiography was written 40 years later, based on blurred and overlain memories, after her innumerable ascents of the Pyrenees. In historical science, one has to treat such a record as a questionable source. Continue reading

Pursuing the Past on the Spot as a Historiographical Method?

Alexander Milešević

The Pyrenees, 2019 (photo: Alexander Milešević)

It is difficult, almost impossible, to experience the past in the present, and this might be one of the reasons why historical methods usually do not include the after-perception of previous experiences. Sometimes, people try to experience the past via the method of re-enactment. Re-enactment is a social practice through which people attempt to recreate aspects of historical events. One the one hand, this practice enables one to experience and retrace the past. On the other hand, it is problematic because of the limited awareness about differences between the actual past and its faithful reproduction through re-enactment. Can empathizing thus lead to a better understanding of the past and of the decisions people took in their lifetime? Should we use such methods even in historical research to understand the past in a better way? The case of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin is a good example for discussing these questions. His flight from France to Spain across the Pyrenees in 1940 can be experienced by hiking from the French village Banyuls-sur-Mer to Portbou on the Spanish side of the border. Continue reading

Escape Assistance in the Course of Time: From Lisa Fittko to Carola Rackete

Julian Kaiser/Marieke Wist

“We couldn’t judge anymore how people would react. For example, from the beginning there were people who said that they would go on hunger strike. Or we had people who, after there was a partial evacuation, asked if they would all have to get sick first or jump overboard to be rescued. And then you have to ask yourself if this could become real. No one can think clearly in such a situation.”

Sea-Watch Captain Carola Rackete

By recounting this emergency situation, the captain Carola Rackete justified her decision to call at the port of Lampedusa and bring 43 remaining refugees ashore on the night of 29 June 2019, after 17 days on board the “Sea Watch 3.”Rackete’s solo efforts created a media and political storm: Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, described her as an “accomplice of human traffickers” as well as a “rich and spoiled German communist” and a “criminal captain.” Right-wing populist parties in Europe, like the Lega Nord and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), did not hold back harsh criticism of Rackete and the refugee phenomenon itself. Different attempts were made to delegitimize her actions.

Others expressed support for Rackete’s decision by providing financial support in the form of massive donations (a total of almost 1.4 million euros was raised by 9 July in Germany and Italy alone). NGOs like “Sea Watch” were recognized as necessary in maintaining a minimum of humanity when dealing with refugees. Thus, effective publicity campaigns questioned European laws and procedures and worked to legitimize Rackete’s actions. Continue reading

Escape Assistance: An Enterprise with Varying Risks

Filip Schuffert

(photo: Filip Schuffert)

What in the photograph looks like a beautiful landscape today, used to be a dangerous border crossing zone between France and Spain in the first half of the 20th century, which many people crossed in flight.

Flight refers to escape by way of physical movement. However, people are not always able to flee by relying only on themselves. In some cases, people are locked up, as in the case of prison inmates, and perhaps hope for the aid of guards. Others stand in front of seemingly insurmountable seas, mountains or rivers and depend on the help of people who know the landscape and its secret pathways. One such example is Walter Benjamin, who fled across the Pyrenees, this beautiful landscape depicted above, in September 1940 with the help of Lisa Fittko. Others are confronted with “closed” borders and need the support of border guards. People who flee with the help of others take risks. They have to trust others out of necessity, and thus put their destiny in their hands.

Escape assistance can take various forms. Those who provide aid can furnish provisions and hide refugees, they can also issue new passports or lead refugees across a mountain range – as Lisa Fittko did. She not only helped Walter Benjamin but also numerous other refugees to cross the Pyrenees. Escape aid is any action that is carried out to help those escaping risk of death by persecution, torture or death. Escape assistance should not be considered as lugging (Schlepperei), which is motivated by enrichment, in principle. It can be an act of resistance against a political regime, but can also be carried out for humanitarian or altruistic reasons without material motivation (even today, human trafficking without intent to enrich goes largely unpunished). Continue reading

Memory-Work in Process? The Internment Camp in Gurs

Sarah Noske

Memorial site in Gurs (photo: Dennis Riemann)

In 1939, around 100 internment camps were created in France, among them the one in Gurs at the bottom of the Pyrenees. Originally, this camp was built for refugees leaving Spain in the context of the Spanish Civil War. Under the Vichy Regime, the camp was used primarily for the internment of German Jews, fighters of the Résistance, and so-called hostile foreigners. During this time, the camp consisted of 428 huts, which were composed of little “ilôts” (islands), each “ilôt” separated from others by barbed wire. In 1944, the camp was used for the internment of fleeing Spanish refugees and about 300 members of the Wehrmacht. Because of the bad hygienic conditions, more than 3000 humans died in the internment camp in Gurs.

Gate of the cemetery (photo: Sarah Noske)

The “memory work” at the camp in Gurs began very early, shortly after the end of the Second World War. In 1945, the Jewish communities of the Basses-Pyrénées set up a monument to remember the Jews who had suffered or died in Gurs. In 1957, the mayor of Karlsruhe became aware of the dilapidation of the cemetery in Gurs. As 6504 Jews from Baden had been deported to Gurs in October 1940, he pleaded for the reconstruction of the cemetery. The rebuilt cemetery was officially opened in March 1963. Other communities of Baden were also involved in the renovation of the cemetery. Furthermore, two steles were erected on the grounds of the cemetery: one in the middle of the cemetery in order to commemorate the Jewish victims and another one in the entrance area. It remembers the victims of the International Brigades.

Cemetry (photo: Sarah Noske)

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The “Chemin Walter Benjamin” in the Competition of Remembrance

Sarah Noske

“Passages” by Dani Karavan (photo: Dennis Riemann)

“Schwerer ist es, das Gedächtnis der Namenlosen zu ehren als das der Berühmten. Dem Gedächtnis der Namenlosen ist die historische Konstruktion geweiht.“

(“It is harder to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the famous. Historical construction is dedicated to the memory of the nameless.”)

“Passages” by Dani Karavan (photo: Phil Kuehlthau)

These two phrases are written on the monument “Passages” created by the artist Dani Karavan in front of the Mediterranean Sea in the bay of Portbou in memory of Walter Benjamin. They are drawn from Benjamin’s last essay “On the Concept of History,” written in 1939, one year before he committed suicide in Portbou, Spain. Both phrases give an idea of what historical work should be dedicated to according to Benjamin: to the remembrance of the nameless, whose memory is more difficult to honour than that of the famous.

Memory is closely linked to oblivion: According to Aleida Assmann, oblivion is, in contrast to memory, the norm. In communities such as societies, not everything can be remembered, and that is the reason why such communities need to decide what (events, experiences, acts etc.) and who (individual persons or collective groups) to remember. But who are the agents of remembrance? Continue reading

A View from the Past of the Flight across the Mediterranean Sea: Walking the “Chemin Walter Benjamin”

Phil Kuehlthau

View of the Mediterranean Sea (photo: Phil Kuehlthau)

Walking the Chemin Walter Benjamin means commemorating both the escape of Walter Benjamin from National Socialist Germany and further movements of flight and migration in the 20th century. Besides, connecting the chemin to our present day can hardly be avoided. The view of the Mediterranean Sea, which slips constantly into the visual field while one hikes to Portbou, provides access to Benjamin’s notion of the relationship between past and present.

Why do we hike along the Chemin Walter Benjamin just at a time when there is a lot of migration and movements of escape towards Europe? At a time when people put their lives at risk at sea? At a time when there is a contentious debate about the legitimacy of sea rescue?

According to Benjamin, interest in historical events is fed by a feeling of recognizing oneself and one’s own fate in the past. Only in specific ages are specific historical knowledge and perceptions intelligible. Any historical knowledge refers to its origin in time. Our 2019 view on German Unification, for example, differs from that of twenty years ago. Awareness of a phenomenon like the success of a right-wing extremist party – not only, but especially – in the eastern Federal States of Germany, has led us to think differently about politics and its possible failures in the last decades, or the social and cultural legacy of the German Democratic Republic. Without the appearance of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), we would not have thought of those aspects. Continue reading

Following the Fugitive: Reflections on the Concept of Memorial Routes and the Possibilities of Representing Escape

Anne Friedrichs & Bettina Severin-Barboutie

Multilingual remembrance of the escape situation in Portbou, Spain (photo: Anne Friedrichs)

As recently as 2015, travellers to Turin and eight other south and west European cities (Milan, Genoa, Florence and Rome, Paris and Marseille, Valencia as well as Lisbon) could take advantage of a special offer: a city tour provided by migrant residents. This initiative, co-funded by the European Union, aimed to allow visitors to experience the city “through different eyes.” The tourists took on the role of migrants whereas the latter functioned as locals. Thus, different forms of mobility – such as migration and travel – and their appendant overlaps and effects could be explored conjointly.

But the question arises: Can we indeed trace the historical experiences of heterogeneous migrants through such participatory tourist practices? Can we apply the public enactments and shared personal experiences of guided tours likewise to forms of mobility such as escape, which are associated with existential threat and which have been controversially discussed and managed, for instance since 2015? What can historians contribute in view of recent disputes in Europe and elsewhere, particularly given the necessity of balancing different historical experiences, interpretations and memories?

Following a frequently used refugee route

In some regions, refugee movements form part of public commemorative culture. Among numerous other memories, histories of flight and escape are thus immediately visible there. As part of a curricular excursion, we travelled to such a region, namely the French-Spanish Pyrenees, along with students of the Justus Liebig University Giessen in the summer term of 2019. Our focus was a 15 km trail that cuts through the mountains. This trail follows the refugee route taken by Walter Benjamin in his attempted escape from French Banyuls-sur-Mer to Portbou in Spain. Continue reading

European History Across Boundaries: PhD Workshop Oxford – Mainz

From 13 – 15 March 2019, the graduate workshop “European History Across Boundaries” took place for the first time in Oxford. The event was jointly organised by the Faculty of History at Oxford University and the Leibniz Institute of European HistoryLeibniz Institute of European History at Mainz.

Outstanding young researchers from universities all over Europe, the USA and Israel discussed their research projects. Topics ranged from Early Modern to Contemporary History. Participants analysed a variety of European boundary crossings, including imperial and colonial, gender, disciplinary and religious borders. Geographically, the projects dealt with connections, for example, in Brazil during the Hispanic monarchy, port cities like Hamburg, Switzerland and the Dutch colonial empire, St. Peterburg and Paris, the Soviet Union and Congo, Germany and Afghanistan as well as Tirol and Tuscany. The projects illustrated the challenges as well as the benefits of researching history across boundaries. It was fascinating to learn that this kind of scholarship attracts and creates early career scholars who are in practical terms as cosmopolitan as the historical subjects they are studying. For full programm click here.

Visit to Oriel College library by partiticpants of PhD workshop European History Across Boundaries

Changing our understanding of migration and social spaces – new historical approach

Special issue on “Migration, Mobility and Sedentariness” in Geschichte and Gesellschaft, ed. by Anne Friedrichs (IEG Mainz)

“Disembarkation platforms”, “transit zones”, “transit procedures”, “detention camps in a no man’s land” – the question of how to govern migration has become a topic central to the political agendas of many European states again during the previous weeks. At the same time, filmmakers such as Christian Petzold have drawn our attention to the extreme predicaments that refugees in transit often face: Such migrants often have to decide whether to survive or to preserve relationships to close persons who are not permitted to move along with them. By transposing characters from Anna Seghers’ novel “Transit” (1947) to today’s Marseille, Petzold’s Transit (2018) uses surprising references to the present time hinting at the fact that neither the restriction of mobility nor the experiences of people in transit are new. What seems to be new, however, is the aggravation of the political tone in Germany – at least as compared to a time in 2015 when rights of migrants and asylum seemed to be given a more important consideration in German politics.

Globe designed by Peter Wagener and Anne Friedrichs

Anne Friedrichs (Leibniz Institute of EuropeanHistory, IEG Mainz) has edited a special issue on “migration, mobility and sedentariness” in Geschichte und Gesellschaft. She brings together contributions that explore transits between mobility and immobility in different historical contexts. Examining migration from a relational perspective enables new insights into the boundaries of the societal. Analyzing transitions between mobile and sedentary life phases and life worlds not only allows us to identify interpretative ambivalences and changes in how mobility is differentiated and evaluated. As we grasp that human movement and immobility are mutually constituted, we also gain insights into the different dynamics involved in shaping social life and societal order, as well as into the ways in which these processes intersect with one another. This new research perspective helps to achieve a better understanding of conflicts over the norms and values that define a collective or society, and thus contributes to a historiography that is sensitive to the historical variability of what is perceived as “distance” or “nearness”, and that considers different actors’ perspectives in its analytical categories. Table of contents TOC GG 44/2 (2018)

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“I want to make Denmark unattractive for asylum seekers”: On Policies of Migration and Asylum in Denmark

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Radio Feature on Danish Asylum Policy by Jana Sinram

Cross-post with our partner blog Humanitarianism & Human Rights

Since 2015, Denmark’s conservative-liberal government has tightened immigration laws 89 times. Denmark has minimised the financial allowance for asylum seekers, made family reunifications almost impossible for refugees under temporary protection and suspended the admittance of UN quota refugees. “I want to make Denmark unattractive for asylum seekers”, says minister of Integration Inger Støjberg. Now, prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has introduced a plan to deport rejected asylum seekers to centers outside the EU. Continue reading