Redeeming Objects: A West German Mythology

Out of the rubble of World War II and the Holocaust, the Federal Republic of Germany emerged, and with it a foundational myth of the “economic miracle.” In her new book Redeeming Objects. A West German Mythology (University of Wisconsin Press 2023) Natalie Scholz shows how this mythical foundation derived its redemptive qualities from being entangled with Nazi culture. Scholz will discuss the different dimensions of her book with Marieke Bloembergen, Carolyn Birdsall and Till van Rahden. Mario Daniels will moderate the event.

Redeeming Objects traces the afterlives of things. In the narrative of the “economic miracle”, a new mass consumer society based on the production, export, and consumption of goods would redeem West Germany from its Nazi past and drive its rebirth as a truly Western nation. Turning this narrative on its head, Natalie Scholz’s new book exposes how West Germany’s consumerist ideology took shape through the reinvention of commodities previously tied to Nazism into symbols of Germany’s postwar modernity, economic supremacy, and international prestige.

Postwar advertising, film, and print culture sought to divest mass-produced goods – such as the Volkswagen and modern interiors – of their fascist legacies. But Scholz demonstrates that these same representations were saturated with unacknowledged references to the Nazi past and older German colonial fantasies. The book studies how the myth of redeeming objects emerged in time by systematically crossing the 1945 threshold to the Nazi era and beyond. This endeavor is informed by an awareness that the postwar myth the book explores had long term consequences and also influenced the author’s own thinking. Drawing on a vast array of popular and highbrow publications and films, Redeeming Objects adds a new perspective to debates about postwar reconstruction, memory, and consumerism. 

About the speakers

Carolyn Birdsall is Associate Professor of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, where she is affiliated with the Television and Cross-Media team. Her publications include Nazi Soundscapes (2012) and Listening to the Archives (2019, co-edited with Viktoria Tkaczyk). Her most recent book is Radiophilia (Bloomsbury, 2023).

Marieke Bloembergen is senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), and professor in Heritage and Postcolonial Studies in Indonesian History at Leiden University. Her research interests concern the politics of cultural knowledge and heritage formation in colonial and postcolonial Indonesia in transnational and global contextsthrough the prism of sites, objects and non-human species, in relation to religion, violence, and practices of (environmental) care. Her most recent monograph, co-authored with Martijn Eickhoff, is The Politics of Heritage in Indonesia: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Mario Daniels is the DAAD-Fachlektor of the Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam. He holds a PhD from the University of Tübingen, taught at the Universities of Tübingen and Hannover, and was twice a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. From 2015 to 2020 he was the DAAD Visiting Professor at the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University. His latest book, co-authored with John Krige, Knowledge Regulation and National Security in Postwar America, was published with University of Chicago Press in April 2022.

Till van Rahden is a Professor of German and European Studies at the Université de Montréal where he held a Canada Research Chair from 2006 to 2016. He earned an M.A. in American History at Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in History at the University of Bielefeld. He is interested in the tension between the elusive promise of democratic equality and the recurrent presence of diversity and moral conflicts. His publications include Vielheit: Jüdische Geschichte und die Ambivalenzen des Universalismus (Hamburg, 2022) and, as co-editor, Demokratie im Schatten der Gewalt: Geschichten des Privaten im deutschen Nachkrieg (Göttingen, 2010), and Horizonte der Demokratie: Offene Lebensformen nach Walt Whitman (Bielefeld, 2024).

Natalie Scholz is Senior Lecturer of modern and contemporary history at the University of Amsterdam. In her work she tries to understand the culturally and emotionally mediated intersection between modern political regimes and national, ethnic and gender identities. She has published on the popular imaginations of the 19th century French Restoration monarchy and more recently on the political meanings of commodities and modernism in postwar Germany. Her latest publication is Redeeming Objects: A West German Mythology (University of Wisconsin Press 2023).

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