Everyday Heroism in the United States and Germany from the 19th to the 21st Century
Goethe-University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany, March 6-7, 2015
This conference aims to explore the history of everyday heroism (Alltagsheldentum) in the United States and Germany between 1800 and the present. For the purposes of this conference, everyday heroes and heroines are defined as ordinary men, women, and children who are honored for actual or imagined feats that are considered heroic by their contemporaries or by succeeding generations.
Scholars have devoted countless pages to war heroes, heroic leaders, and superheroes as well as to the blurring distinctions between heroes and celebrities, but they have said little about the meaning and impact of ordinary citizens’ heroism. The conference seeks to fill this void. Comparing the United States and Germany, it asks when this hero type first emerged and how it was discussed and depicted in public discourse, mass media, literature, film, and other forms of popular culture in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. In addition, the conference will shed light on the various social, cultural, and political functions that everyday heroism served in democracies and dictatorships (e.g. the norms and values it represented or the collective identities it was believed to strengthen). Finally, the conference asks what role transatlantic processes of exchange, translation, and adaptation played in its history.
The scholarly literature has only hinted at answers to these questions. In the United States, for instance, everyday heroism became increasingly visible after the Civil War, when the emerging mass media began to report about the heroic exploits of ordinary citizens. During the Progressive Era, heroic railway engineers were lauded for their feats, as were common men, women, and children who sacrificed their lives to save those of others. In the case of post-World War II Germany, the “heroes of work” (Helden der Arbeit) became official symbols of socialist everyday heroism in the GDR, while the concept of “civic courage” (Zivilcourage) became a widely lauded form of individual altruism in West Germany, since it allowed people to counter nationalist traditions of martial heroism.
The conference seeks to go beyond such mere glimpses into the history of everyday heroism and calls for papers from all disciplines that can shed light on its origins, meanings, and functions in the United States and Germany. These disciplines might include but are certainly not limited to literary and cultural studies, film studies, media studies, communication studies, history, sociology, ethnology, psychology, and political science.
The conference will be held at the Goethe-University of Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 6-7, 2015. The University of Frankfurt will provide support for presenters’ travel and lodging expenses.
Proposals should be no longer than 500 words and need to include a summary of the paper’s argument and structure as well as information on the sources upon which it draws. A brief CV should accompany the proposal. The deadline for receipt of proposals is April 30, 2014. Please send them via email to the conference organizer, Simon Wendt (Goethe-University of Frankfurt), at firstname.lastname@example.org. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by May 31, 2014.
Goethe-University of Frankfurt
Institute for English and American Studies
Department of American Studies
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