The GDR Today VII, Liverpool
The University of Liverpool invites papers for a one-day postgraduate colloquium focusing on the history and memory of GDR politics, culture and society as part of The GDR Today series. The event will be held at the University of Liverpool on 7 June 2024 and is sponsored by Department for Languages, Cultures and Film at Liverpool and the Institute for German and European Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Confirmed discussants include Prof. Anna Saunders (University of Liverpool), Prof. Sara Jones (University of Birmingham), Dr Debbie Pinfold (University of Bristol) and Dr Joanne Sayner (Newcastle University), alongside organisers Dr Alex Brown (University of Liverpool), Madeleine Doutney (University of Cambridge) and Dr Matthew Hines (University of Cambridge).
The GDR was once famously destined to become little more than a footnote of world history (Stefan Heym) and yet it continues to be a spectre haunting German and indeed wider transatlantic collective memories. Phenomena such as the ‘Stasi’, the ‘Wall’ or even the humble ‘trabi’ automobile have become established international tropes recognisable to millions and employed in discourses of identity creating and demarcation. State-mandated guardians of public memory interpret the lessons of the state socialist past for their citizens, media columns, documentaries and popular literature on the GDR are consistently present. In scholarship, interpretative models ranging from totalitarianism to “participatory dictatorship” (Mary Fulbrook) to a legitimate attempt to build socialism (Egon Krenz) vie for stature in a seemingly unceasing cycle of changing emphasis.
Since the last GDR Today conference, which centred on the theme of minority identities, intense public debates have been spawned by the 2023 publication of Katja Hoyer’s Beyond the Wall and Dirk Oschmann’s Der Osten: eine westdeutsche Erfindung. Hoyer’s work, originally published in English, seeks to emphasise the mundane and everyday lives of East Germans whose lived experience ill fits the predominant tropes of “Stasi” and “Wall”. Akin to an ‘Alltagsgeschichte’ approach, the book also attracted criticism for its subjective and partial nature. Oschmann highlights the construction of an othered East/eastern German identity by the dominant western-inspired narratives since unification, but equally garnered a negative reception in some quarters for reproducing a confrontational and reductive perspective. Both interventions have been controversial and acclaimed at the same time, pointing to the ongoing battlefield that is the GDR in contemporary meaning-making.
The colloquium is the seventh in the series of ‘The GDR Today’, which was first hosted in 2014 by the University of Birmingham (and again in 2019) and was subsequently held in 2015 at the University of Bristol at Bangor University in 2017, at Newcastle University in 2018 and at the Universities of Birmingham and St. Andrews in 2021. The series continues to bring together a range of researchers and disciplines from across Europe and North America. Previous papers have exhibited a wide range of fresh approaches to conceptualising and contextualising the GDR and its legacy in contemporary Germany. Like its predecessors, this next colloquium is designed as a forum for postgraduate researchers and early-career academics to present and receive feedback on their work, discuss the state of scholarship on the GDR and identify areas for future research.
- What patterns can be identified in the memory debates of the last thirty-three years, and how have these shaped our views of the GDR? How has the way we research the GDR changed over time?
- How do different aspects of GDR history and culture contribute to an understanding of the GDR as a whole?
- How should we interpret the concept of “everyday life” as it applies to debates surrounding the GDR?
- What role does the GDR play in contemporary German and European politics of memory?
- Are East/eastern Germans a minority in their own right and to what extent is it appropriate to analyse the GDR using e.g. post-colonial theory?
- What can comparisons with other states, societies and cultures tell us about the nature of society in the GDR?
- To what extent has reunified Germany ‘come to terms with’ (aufgearbeitet) the socialist past of the GDR or is this even possible?
We invite proposals for papers of no more than 20 minutes examining any area of the history, memory or culture of the GDR, including film, literature, museums, politics and the built environment. Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 January 2024.
Dr Alex Brown (University of Liverpool), Dr Matthew Hines (University of Cambridge), Madeleine Doutney (University of Cambridge).