German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom

Phone: Tel. +44-(0)20-7309 2050



Gerda Henkel Visiting Professor


The Gerda Henkel Visiting Professorship is a co-operation between the Department of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Gerda Henkel Foundation, the German Historical Institute London (GHIL), and the Gerda Henkel Professor’s home university. Its purpose is to promote awareness in Britain of German research on the history of the German Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic, and to stimulate comparative work on German history in a European context. The first professorship was awarded in 2009.


Professor Martina Kessel is the Gerda Henkel Visiting Professor for 2020/2021. She will spend a year researching and teaching at the German Historical Institute London and at the London School of Economics.

Martina Kessel’s research focuses on modern German history since the late 18th century. Among other issues, she is interested in the interface between cultural and political history, the formation of identities, and the history of violence. Her dissertation discussed British and French policy towards Germany in the years after the Second World War. Her Habilitation thesis analyzed the history of boredom in 19th-century Germany, highlighting understandings of time and emotion. Her latest monograph discusses laughter and humour between 1914 and 1945 as ways of negotiating notions of Germanness and justifying violence.

After studying history, political science, and American studies in Cologne, Munich, and at the University of Maryland, USA, Martina Kessel received her PhD from the LMU Munich in 1988 and her Habilitation from the FU Berlin in 1998, after which she was appointed Professor of Modern History and Gender History at Bielefeld University. She has been a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto.

Expertise: Modern German and European history, cultural and gender history.


Inaugural lecture

An Empire of Shaming: Reading Nazi Germany through the Violence of Laughter

Survivors of the Shoah have often described how the SS liked to define torturing practices during the genocide as ‘jokes’. The paper discusses the systematic presence of derisive laughter in Nazi Germany and analyzes its meanings as a way both to act out understandings of Germanness and to ‘justify’ violence.

The Gerda Henkel Foundation Visiting Professorship Lecture 2020, hosted by the German Historical Institute and London School of Economics and Political Science, will be held as an online event via Zoom on Thursday, 26 November 2020 at 6.30pm (UK time).

Please click here to register for this event.

Online Event

Research Project

The imagined individual
Narratives of self, history, and politics in modern Germany

I am starting on a new project during my time in London. I am thinking about a framework to interpret modern German history since the late 18th century that starts with the construction of imagined identities as a basic structure of modern German society and then asks how such notions of ‘self’ impacted and framed the development of politics and institutions.

Recent Publications

  • Gewalt und Gelächter: ‘Deutschsein’ 1914–1945 (Stuttgart, 2019).
  • ‘Race and Humour in Nazi Germany’, in Mark Roseman, Devin Pendas and Richard Wetzell (eds.), Beyond the Racial State: Rethinking Nazi Germany (Cambridge, 2017), 380–401.
  • ‘Demokratie als ‚Grenzverletzung’: Geschlecht als symbolisches System in der Weimarer Republik’, in Gabriele Metzler and Dirk Schumann (eds.), Geschlechter(un)ordnung und Politik in der Weimarer Republik (Essen, 2016), 81-108.
  • ‘Forum ‚Humour’’ (with Peter Burke, William Grange, Jonathan Waterlow), German History, 33 (2015), 609–623.


Gerda Henkel Foundation:
Dr Sybille Wüstemann
Tel.: +49 0211 936524 0


German Historical Institute London:
Dr Michael Schaich
Tel.: +44 020 7309 2014

Previous Gerda Henkel Visiting Professors


Prof Dr Ulrich Herbert (Freiburg): Migration Policy in Germany and Europe, 1980–2019


Prof Dr Johanna Gehmacher (Vienna): Records and Notes from Trans/National Networks: Politics and Women’s Movements around 1900 in the Personal Papers of Käthe Schirmacher (1865–1930)


Prof Dr Arnd Bauerkämper (Berlin): Security and Humanity in the First World War: The Treatment of Civilian 'Enemy Aliens' in the Belligerent States


Prof Dr Dominik Geppert (Bonn): A History of Divided Germany, 1945–1990


Prof Dr Lutz Raphael (Trier): Transformations of Industrial Labour in Western Europe between 1970 and 2000


Prof Dr Kiran Klaus Patel (Maastricht): Welfare in the Warfare State: Nazi Social Policy on the International Stage


Prof Dr Dorothee Wierling (Hamburg): Coffee Worlds. Trade in Green Coffee and its Agents: The Hamburg Coffee Merchants in the 20th century


Prof Dr Andreas Rödder (Mainz): The History of the Present


Prof Dr Ute Daniel (Braunschweig): Media and Politics: An entangled History (c. 1900–1980)


Prof Dr Christoph Cornelißen (Frankfurt am Main): The British and German Welfare States After 'the Great Boom': Public Debates on Social Inequality and Social Justice since the 1970s


Prof Dr Johannes Paulmann (Mainz): International Aid and Solidarity: Humanitarian Commitment and the Media in Germany, c. 1950–1985