© Heike Lyding

New Visions of German History

In a new Amsterdam German Studies Lecture historian Frank Biess pleads for new narratives for the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. Too often, German postwar history has been depicted as a success story of a country which eventually arrived in the fold of Western liberalism.

Historians tend to describe German postwar society as ‘too good to be true’. Frank Biess, together with historian Astrid Eckert, stresses the vulnerability of this discourse of Westernization. Uncertainty about the future of Western-style modernity makes it necessary to rethink the history of the Federal Republic and to question its success stories. How does pollution fit into the narrative of the economic miracle of the 1950s? What is the place of women in the gendered myth of 1968, often misleadingly explained as a clash between Nazi fathers and their antifascist sons? And how do immigrants relate to holocaust memory, or is holocaust memory used to exclude immigrants from German memory culture?

The cesura of 1989-1990 underlines the need for a new narrative which moves away from ill-defined concepts of Western modernity. The post-1989 period can no longer function as just an epilogue of the postwar years. In his lecture, Frank Biess will elaborate on the need for new syntheses of German postwar history. His visions are commented upon by Natalie Scholz, Moritz Föllmer and Jacco Pekelder.

About the speaker

Frank Biess is Professor of History at the University of California-San Diego. His main research has focused on the post-1945 period with an emphasis on memory, emotions, gender, and political cultures. He previously published Homecomings: Returning POWs and the Legacies of Defeat in Postwar Germany (Princeton UP, 2006) as well as a series of edited volumes and articles. He recently also edited the special issue ‘New Narratives for the History of the Federal Republic of Germany’, Central European History 52 (2019). His new project explores the interwar Weimar Republic as one of the first postcolonial states.

Natalie Scholz is a cultural historian of the political in modern Europe. In her work, she explores the culturally and emotionally mediated intersection between political regimes and national, ethnic and gender identities. Her current book project Redeeming Objects. A West German Mythology (1945-1960) is about the meanings and affects surrounding consumer objects in postwar West Germany.

Moritz Föllmer is Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Amsterdam, having previously taught at the University of Leeds and the Humboldt University Berlin. Among his many publications on twentieth-century German history are Individuality in Berlin: Self and Society from Weimar to the Wall (Cambridge UP, 2013) and Culture in the Third Reich (Oxford UP, 2020).

Jacco Pekelder is als historicus verbonden aan de Universiteit Utrecht en de Universität des Saarlandes. Hij houdt zich bezig met de Duitse geschiedenis sinds 1815 en de verhouding Duitsland-Nederland-Europa.

Hanco Jürgens (moderator) is a member of the academic staff at the Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam. He specializes in German and modern European history. He published on a variety of topics, such as the history of Dutch German relations, German EU-policy, the Third Way, and German missionaries in India in the Eighteenth Century. Currently, he focuses on the history of Germany since the fall of the Wall.

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