German Historical Institute London

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London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom

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Previous Seminars 2019

12 February

Sabine von Heusinger (Cologne)
Fire, Siege, and the Jews: Real and Imagined Threats to Water Supply in the Late Medieval City

Focusing on water at times of war, fire, and plague, this talk will look at a premodern society struggling with life-threating dangers but trying to find remedies. Three case studies from the ‘Regnum Teutonicum’ explore war (the siege of Neuss), precautions taken against fire (Strasbourg), and accusations of well-poisoning made against Jews in the late middle ages. They demonstrate that the life-sustaining power of water was crucial for a community. Every threat to water supply — real or imagined — had serious consequences.

Sabine von Heusinger is Professor of Late Medieval History at the University of Cologne. Her current research on water as a precondition for human life allows her to investigate many aspects of social, cultural, and intellectual history in the late middle ages.

26 February

Kim Siebenhüner (Jena)
Blumer’s Journey: Swiss Cotton and the Great Divergence Debate

The history of cotton has been the subject of much recent research, but blind spots remain. International debates have barely acknowledged the role of early modern Switzerland as one of the most important European areas producing, marketing, and selling cotton cloth in the eighteenth century. This talk shows how Swiss producers and merchants were integrated into global cotton networks and reflects on how cultural history approaches may be reconciled with the debate, dominated by macro-economics, about the Great Divergence.

Kim Siebenhüner is Professor of Early Modern History at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. She has worked on early modern religious history, material culture, and cross-cultural exchange. She is the author of Die Spur der Juwelen: Materielle Kultur und transkontinentale Verbindungen zwischen Indien und Europa (2018) and co-editor of Cotton in Context: Manufacturing, Marketing and Consumption of early modern Textiles in the German-Speaking World (forthcoming 2019).

12 March

Hugo Drochon (Nottingham) and Philipp Felsch (Berlin)
Born Posthumously: Two Lectures on Nietzsche’s Legacy

Hugo Drochon will speak first on ‘Nietzsche’s Great Politics: From Bismarck to Hitler’, discussing how Nietzsche’s productive life maps perfectly onto Bismarck’s reign, which was characterized by the ‘great politics’ of German unification and the power politics of the European balance of power. Yet ‘great politics’ was also the way in which Heidegger, Jaspers, and Baeumler of the ‘Hitler prophecy’ tried to make sense of Nietzsche’s politics in the inter-war period, and Drochon’s paper will reflect on how these two moments can help us make sense of our own politics.

This will be followed by Philipp Felsch speaking on the ‘The Italian Job: Nietzsche’s Return in the Cold War’ about the return of Nietzsche after the Second World War that was due equally to the new French reception (Deleuze, Klossowski, Foucault, and others) and the critical edition of Nietzsche’s works by the Italian antifascists Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari. Felsch will dedicate his talk to the latter’s political philology.

Hugo Drochon is a historian of late nineteenth and twentieth-century political thought, currently Assistant Professor in Political Theory at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Nietzsche’s Great Politics (2016).

Philipp Felsch is Professor of Cultural History at the Humboldt University Berlin. His recent publications include Der lange Sommer der Theorie (2015) and BRD Noir (2016).

19 March

Prashant Kidambi (Leicester)
‘Greengrocer, Tailor and Champion Wrestler’: The Transnational Career and Times of Buttan Singh, c.1900–1914

This paper examines the extraordinary career of Buttan Singh, a Sikh wrestler who became the national wrestling champion of Australia in the early 1900s. Later in that decade, he travelled to Britain and Australia. The paper considers Buttan’s transnational peregrinations within three discrete historical contexts. First, it places his story into the broader streams of Sikh migration within the British Empire. Second, it shows how Buttan’s story became entangled in the making of a frontier society in Western Australia. Finally, the paper relates Buttan’s career to that of other peripatetic sportsmen who breached the ‘colour line’ before the First World War.

Prashant Kidambi is Associate Professor of Colonial Urban History at the University of Leicester. He is the author of The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890–1920 (2007; 2016), and is currently completing Cricket Country, a book on the making of the first Indian cricket team.

7 May

Slavery's Past and Present: Challenges to Academic Research and Museum Work in Germany and Britain

How can museums and historians reappraise traumatic and partly hidden histories such as slavery, and offer opportunities to enable dialogue about events that society finds uncomfortable? Historian Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, University of Bremen, will first address the little explored topic of trafficked people and related legal concepts in the Holy Roman Empire, a state not usually associated with slaves. Although on the margins of the transatlantic slave trade, eighteenth-century Germany was deeply involved in it. Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, will then argue that museums of slavery should not only become platforms for dialogue on decolonizing the past and collection practices, but also develop new ways of power-sharing with publics and communities. The talks will be followed by a commentary by historian Catherine Hall, UCL. Chaired by Felix Brahm, GHIL.

This event is available as a MP3 download (59 min, 41 MB)

Report: Slavery’s Past and Present: Challenges to Academic Research and Museum Work in Germany and Britain. By Dana Hollmann

11 June

Multidirectional Memory?: National Holocaust Memorials and (Post-)Colonial Legacies

Venue and Collaborator: Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London, Common Ground (G11), Wilkins Building (South Wing), Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

How do colonial history, the Second World War, and the Holocaust intersect? As Britain embarks on the creation of a National Holocaust Memorial, calls have been made for a memorial to and a museum of Britain’s historical involvement in slavery, its colonial past, and their legacies. Meanwhile, scholarship such as Michael Rothberg’s Multidirectional Memory has argued that Holocaust remembrance also has the potential to open up routes for commemorating other contested national pasts. This panel will enable a dialogue between scholars of the Holocaust, colonialism, and the British Empire to reflect on national and transnational legacies. With Avril Alba, Sydney, Yasmin Khan, Oxford, and Tom Lawson, Northumbria. Chaired by Tamar Garb, IAS London.

An audio recording of this event is available here (this link will take you to the UCL website).

18 June

Who owns Public History?: Two Talks on History Textbooks in Conflicted Societies

Who owns public history and on what grounds? How does the historian relate to public debates? Across spatial and temporal conflict contexts, debates about the content and role of history textbooks are sensitive, highly political, and often notable for their interminability. Developing a theoretical approach, political scientist Eleni Christodoulou, Georg Eckert Institute, Brunswick, will embrace ‘educational anxieties’ by offering a framework for analysing securitization dynamics that successfully resist and prevent textbook revisions as part of peace-building processes in Cyprus and Lebanon. Neeladri Bhattacharya, former Chief Adviser of the National Council for Education Research and Training in India, will then explore how contested claims of caste and class, region and nation, are played out on the site of history textbooks in India. Chaired by Nandini Manjrekar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

This event is available as a MP3 download (104 min, 69 MB)

Report (in German only): „History Battles“ und „Weapons of mass instruction“: Geschichtslehrbücher in Konfliktgesellschaften. Tagungsbericht zum Seminar “Who owns Public History” des DHI London. Von Simone Hacke

25 June

From Collected to Contested: The Future of Museums after the Repatriation Debate

European museums have recently come under increasing pressure to repatriate objects from colonial times. But where do we go from here? Does repatriation naturally entail ‘decolonizing the museum’, or might it even prevent museums from doing just that? This panel will discuss what decolonization in the museum might actually mean. How do recent debates fit into the bigger picture of engaging with uncomfortable collecting histories? How could embracing these histories enable marginal and multiple voices to have a say? With Subhadra Das, Curator, UCL, Clémentine Deliss, Curator and Author, Tristram Hunt, Director, V&A, and Alice Procter, Tour Guide and Art Historian. Chaired by Mirjam Brusius, GHIL.

This event is available as a MP3 download (106 min, 98 MB)

3 July

Closing Event ‘Zingster Strasse 25’

Venue and Collaborator: Goethe Institute London, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2PH

To address the urgent need for living space in the 1950s the GDR government introduced new housing projects based on prefabricated concrete slabs, the so-called Plattenbau. Erected on the outskirts of East Berlin, Zingster Straße 25 in Neu-Hohenschönhausen was one of them and it was completed in 1987. Three decades later the artist Sonya Schönberger visits some of the tenants. Who is still around, and who has moved in since? Her interviews, read by performers Johanna Malchow and Ingo Tomi, tell not just personal stories of daily life in the GDR, but also bear witness to the regime change of 1989, and the often challenging and still under-debated aftermath of social change in a unified Germany. The performance is introduced by Christina von Hodenberg, Director, GHIL.

15 October

F. Benjamin Schenk (Basle); comment by Andy Willimott (London)
‘Hubs of Global Migration’: Organizing Transcontinental Flows of People in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries

Scholars have long treated the history of the trans-Atlantic migration to the Americas and the trans-Ural movement of peasant colonists within the Russian Empire at the end of the nineteenth century separately. In fact, the two processes were interconnected and had a number of striking similarities. One common feature was modern reception and transit camps for immigrants and migrants, which emerged almost simultaneously at various locations along global migration routes. These ‘hubs of global migration’ became important laboratories of migration management in the modern age.

F. Benjamin Schenk is Professor of Russian and East European History at the University of Basle and currently a Visiting Fellow at the Department of International History, LSE. His most recent monograph is Russlands Fahrt in die Moderne: Mobilität und sozialer Raum im Eisenbahnzeitalter (Stuttgart, 2014; Russian translation, 2016). Commentator Andy Willimott is Lecturer in Modern Russian History at the QMUL School of History.

29 October

Sarah Stockwell (London)
‘Losing an empire, winning friends’? Sandhurst, Military Assistance, and British Decolonization

In the 1950s and 1960s British institutions delivered a variety of forms of technical and military assistance to emergent Commonwealth states. As a result, the ‘end’ of empire saw large numbers of Britons still working in the public services of newly independent countries and a great influx of students from former colonies to train and study in Britain, including at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where British authorities struggled to cope with the high demand for places. This lecture explores what the history of Commonwealth and foreign cadets at post-war Sandhurst tells us about Britain’s management and experience of decolonization.

Sarah Stockwell is Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History at King’s College London. Her research focuses on British decolonization. Her most recent book, The British End of the British Empire (2018), explores the domestic impact of decolonization principally through analysis of the history of British institutions that had acquired roles within Britain’s imperial system.

5 November

Jochen Johrendt (Wuppertal)
Prester John and his Letter between Intellectual Joke and Contemporary Criticism

In his History of the Two Cities (written about 1157), Otto of Freising reports on a ‘Prester John’, allegedly a descendant of the three Wise Men, who rules in India, and defeats the armies of Muslim rulers. A few years later, the priest king John supposedly addressed a letter to the Byzantine emperor, describing his own kingdom as ideal: a realm of abundance, health, wondrous people, truth, and faith. But why did contemporaries invent this letter, which some Crusaders, in particular, believed to be genuine?

Jochen Johrendt is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Wuppertal. He works on the history of the papacy and on Italy, in particular, Rome. His most recent publication is Der Investiturstreit (2018) and he is currently working on a monograph on the medieval papacy.

19 November

Mark Knights (Warwick)
Corruption and the Invention of Public Office in Britain and its Empire, 1600–1850

The talk will explore several case studies that allow us to chart shifts in attitudes to office-holding, from the idea that an office was a piece of personal property or duty owed to a monarch towards office as a public, disinterested, and accountable responsibility. The examples of Samuel Pepys, Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, Charles Bembridge, and Sir Edward Colebrooke will be used to explore debates over the blurred boundary between gifts and bribes, the sale of office, breach of trust, what constituted a public official, and over how far a universal set of standards should apply across Britain’s empire.

Mark Knights is Professor of History at the University of Warwick and his principal research interest is early modern British political culture. His most recent work is The Devil in Disguise (2011, paperback 2015), which one kind Amazon reviewer describes as an ‘interesting and unusual history book that is so gripping that at times it reads like a murder mystery novel’.


Seminars — Spring 2019  (PDF file)

Seminars — Summer 2019 — "Contested Histories"  (PDF file)