War, Genocide and Memory
German Colonialism and National Identity
(Sheffield: 11-13 September 2006)
Convenors: Jürgen Zimmerer/Michael Perraudin
Workshop of the Arbeitskreis Militärgeschichte e.V.
in cooperation with the Department of Germanic Studies, Department of History and Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies, University of Sheffield, the Nordic Africa Insti-tute, Uppsala, and the European Network of Genocide Scholars (ENOGS)
For almost sixty years, since the end of World War II, the German public had forgotten about its colonial empire. Whereas other European powers experienced the traumatic violence of decolonisation, Germans believed that they had nothing to do with the colonial exploitation of large parts of Africa, Asia or South America. They were innocent - so many believed - of the devastations brought about by European colonialism and could therefore engage with the new postcolonial world without the dark shadow of a colonial past. Some observers have termed this ‘colonial amnesia’.
Such suppression was severely shaken in 2004, when the centenary of the genocide of the Her-ero and Nama peoples confronted a wide German audience with German atrocities of a hun-dred years before. The first German genocide, as it was called, attracted media coverage, and in August 2004 the German government officially apologised for the atrocities. After Germany’s attempts to come to terms with its Nazi past, this step was seen by many international observ-ers as a major break-through in global attempts to right historic wrongs, especially those com-mitted in a colonial context. In Germany, the official apology, far from marking closure on a dark chapter in German history, sparked a variety of agitated responses. Instead of acknowl-edging the act as a much-needed step in the process of coming to terms with the colonial past, conservative circles denounced the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Develop-ment, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who had delivered the apology, as a ‘traitor’. Others wor-ried about claims for reparations by the Herero, and the German tabloid ‘BILD’ asked on its front page, ‘What will be the cost of the minister’s tears?’, deriding her carefully crafted state-ment as being the result of female sentiment. Wieczorek-Zeul’s courageous act had obviously touched a nerve. Whereas some felt encouraged to bring other German colonial atrocities into the limelight, for example the Maji-Maji war in German East Africa, the centenary of which fell in 2005, others have attempted to rewrite Germany’s colonial past by emphasizing the ex-otic aspects of Germany’s colonial undertaking, and by disconnecting the imperial past from the positive strands of German history. A dubious documentary on prime-time German televi-sion, which made repeated use of colonial stereotypes, marked - for the time being - the ex-treme point of this endeavour.
Nevertheless, the debate shows that Germany has finally arrived at a postcolonial European normality, where its own historical relationship with the world is part of a lively debate not only about the past, but also about the future. Migration, multiculturalism and xenophobia are only some of the topics which are substantially shaped by Germany’s memory of the past. Co-lonialism was central to Wilhelminian discourse on national identity, to the country’s under-standing of itself as a world power; and now discussion about the German empire seems to be resurfacing as part of a German discourse of self-understanding and self-reassurance in the aftermath of Unification.
The proposed workshop will address Germany’s biased and troubled relationship with its colo-nial past over the course of two centuries. As postcolonial studies have shown, colonial en-gagement neither started nor ended with formal colonial rule. Thus we invite papers dealing with all aspects of the encounters of Germany and Germans with imagined or real colonial em-pires, from the Enlightenment to the present day. Papers addressing the problems from a trans-national or comparative perspective, papers dealing with the landscapes of memory in the for-mer German colonies, and papers offering literary and other cultural-historical perspectives are all especially welcome. Contributions from practitioners in any relevant discipline are encour-aged.
Possible topics include:
Local Histories, Local Memories
Heroic Discourses in the Imperial Centre
Colonialism, Literature and Culture
Uses and Abuses of History for Postcolonial Nation-Building
Guilt, Responsibility and National Identity
Shared History, Shared Memory
Coming to Terms with a Colonial Past
Colonialism before the Empire; colonialism after the end of Empire
Papers will be 20-25 minutes long, and will be presented and discussed in English. To apply to deliver a paper at the conference, please send by email an abstract of a few lines plus a brief c.v. simultaneously to BOTH firstname.lastname@example.org AND email@example.com
Deadline for submission: March 1st 2006.
Limited funds may be available to subsidise non-salaried participants.
Dr Juergen Zimmerer
Department of History
University of Sheffield
387 Glossop Road
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