Heike Anke Berger. Deutsche Historikerinnen 1920-1970: Geschichte zwischen Wissenschaft und Politik. Geschichte und Geschlechter. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2007. 330 pp. EUR 34.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-593-38443-6.
Reviewed by Sarah E. Summers (Department of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill )
Published on H-German (March, 2009)
Commissioned by Eve M. Duffy (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)
The publication of Heike Anke Berger's book coincides with a wave of scholarly interest in female historians and gendered analyses of historiography. Perhaps most famously, Bonnie G. Smith's The Gender of History (1998) attempted a gendered analysis of western historiography and conceptualizations inherent in scholarship, while more recently, Angelika Epple's Empfindsame Geschichtsschreibung (2003) analyzed histories written by women circa 1800. Beyond historiographical analysis, Christine Färber and Ulrike Spangenberg in Wie werden Professuren besetzt? Chancengleichheit in Berufungsverfahren (2008) recently took an empirical look at female academics' career options in contemporary Germany. Berger combines historiographical analysis with a focus on self-perception and career opportunities of five female academics of eastern European and Russian history from 1920 to 1970 in (West) Germany. More importantly, Berger aims to understand the role of gender, especially concepts of masculinity, in the choices available for women within the discipline. While her explanation of the gender constructions impacting the trajectories of these women sometimes falls short, Berger offers thoughtful insights into how gender, politics, and scholarship taken together can influence the experience of historians. Despite her main interest in gender analysis, Berger recognizes from the outset that the career biographies of these five women interacted with Wissenschaft (scholarship) and politics as well. She defines Wissenschaft as "the result of social and collective actions," and notes that she is less interested in research results than in "the production of knowledge and the specific forms of representation of the body of knowledge" (pp. 17-18). In emphasizing the production aspects of history, Berger hopes to bring out the structures and culture of the discipline. She defines gender along established lines as a "constituted element of social reality" that reveals power relationships between and among the sexes (p. 18). Berger approaches politics from three different conceptual frameworks: first, via the government-run universities before and during the Third Reich and National Socialist Wissenschaftspolitik; second, through the power relationships and hierarchies created both symbolically and discursively; and third, as relationships and rules of society.
These three different aspects of politics interacted directly in and helped shape the careers of historians Hedwig Fleischhacker, Irene Grüning, Ellinor von Puttkamer, Herta von Ramm-Helmsing, and Hildegard Schaeder. Berger utilizes biography to continue a tradition in feminist and women's history; however, she wants to move beyond writing an emancipatory history or history of discrimination. Instead, she prefers the terms "outer circle" and "marginalized integration" to describe the alternative means by which female historians forged their careers (p. 28). In other words, Berger views her historical actors not as exceptional figures, but as female historians acting within a system of relationships and a specific discipline. In fact, Berger rejects generalizations almost completely, preferring to bring out the highly individualized processes involved in academic careers. She also rejects teleological history, preferring to emphasize context-specific circumstances and their effects on historians' "scholarly self-conceptualization (Selbstentwurf) as historians, as well as their external perceptions throughout the scholarly community" (p. 30). The result is not only an understanding of how Wissenschaft, politics, and gender affected the career paths of these five women, but also how their experiences connect to their subjective interpretations of history.
Despite her interest in individual career paths and perceptions, Berger does posit two overarching theses. First, she contends that "the historical discipline, as a part of society, is both structured and constructed by gender as a category," which affects one's choice of topics, geographical focus, and the choices of institutional affiliation (p. 14). Her second thesis follows arguments made by scholars such as Elizabeth Heineman in What Difference Does a Husband Make (1999) and Elizabeth Harvey in Women in the Nazi East (2003), who argue that women--especially single women--had more educational and employment opportunities than the official policy of Kinder, Küche, and Kirche suggests. In this case, Berger posits that the year 1933 in fact does not represent a strong break in the history of women in the social sciences. Her case studies show that, despite expressed normative laws, the exclusion of women from the discipline came less from the side of the National Socialists and more from the masculinist scholarly conceptualizations that dominated the field. Moreover, female and male historians confronted masculinity-infused scholarly concepts from certain sections of the field.
Chronologically Berger's work focuses mostly on the Third Reich. However, to show the interaction between these different factors, Berger organizes her work thematically around important phases and elements of a historian's career in Germany, such as the Habilitation, funding, and scholarly analysis. Berger offers general background information on the potential university careers for women and the Habilitation experiences of Grüning, Fleischhacker, and Schaeder in chapter 1. According to Berger, these women attempted to write their Habilitationschriften and get them approved during a time of transition in the field of Osteuropaforschung. First, university department organization was evolving, which meant that female academics confronted changing opinions on research and shifting hierarchies. Secondly, with the rise of the National Socialist regime, the field of east European history experienced a strong break, as the discipline lost a large percentage of its personnel. In addition, in 1934, the National Socialists banned women from completing the Habilitation and from holding Privatdozent positions. While doors were closing at universities, many opportunities opened up at eastern Europe research institutes, which began a close relationship with the National Socialist regime and its military organizations.
In part 2 of the chapter, however, Berger's case studies reveal a contradiction within the ban on women. For example, with the support of her advisor, Fleischhacker was awarded her Habilitation and worked as a Dozent until a political battle with the Slavic Studies department at the Berlin University revealed her sexual relationship with her advisor, Hans Übersberger. Even when female academics were not able to publish their Habilitationsschriften, many opportunities remained open for women in the profession, editing journals and the like. For example, while Irene Grüning was no longer directly connected to the Berlin University after she completed her dissertation, she was involved in several projects associated with her advisor until his firing in 1933. Left without work within the university system and driven by a desire to expand his field, Übersteger found funding for Grüning outside the university. Schaeder's experience points to the advantages of having strong familial contacts within the profession, which allowed her to move more easily within the field.
Grüning's move to a research institution proved to be common practice for all. In chapter 2, Berger outlines the resources, room for maneuvering, and research activities of her historical subjects in this new venue. In particular, Berger is interested in the part female historians played in the "scholarly change" (wissenschaftlicher Wandel) these institutes represented (p. 113). Drawing on the work of Mitchell G. Ash, Berger defines such transformation as institutional, personnel-related, and ideological. In the first part of this chapter, Berger focuses on the experiences of Schaeder, Grüning, and Puttkamer, who were in high demand at research institutes for their language ability and knowledge of sources. Although considered largely to be mere employees (Mitarbeiter), women still enjoyed many opportunities for publication, if they were willing to work within the new research programs dictated by the institutes' close relationship with the National Socialist regime. For instance, Schaeder moved her focus away from less popular Russian history and published a monograph legitimating the German claims to the Polish corridor. Puttkamer in particular was able to reach the highest position of all the women by exploiting her extensive legal knowledge and the new research openings in the occupied territories in the East.
Yet there was a limit to the opportunities for women in these institutes, one which Berger analyzes more extensively in part 2. Here gender played a more significant role. Berger contends more often "gender segregation and hierarchical mechanisms were attached to scholarly benefits" (p. 200). She fleshes out this argument by directly comparing the experiences of Schaeder and Ramm-Helmsing at the Nord- und Ostdeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (NOFG) with those of their male colleagues. Berger explains that as the Wehrmacht and SS forged into the East during the war, positions opened up in the field for male academics as cartographers and geographers. Therefore, service in the East offered men a chance to leave behind the undesired fellowship status that beleaguered both men and women alike at the NOFG. The case of Ramm-Helmsing, however, serves as a reminder that women could and did retain outsider status. Despite the great respect she was given for her language ability and knowledge of sources, Ramm-Helmsing's "nervous" disposition and her inability to publish her dissertation disconcerted her male colleagues at the institute (pp. 183-84). Berger attributes this negative perception to her inability to conform to the common (masculine) construction of the Osteuropaforscher, although the author never quite defines this ideal.
In chapter 3, Berger analyzes the autobiographical and historical interpretations of the National Socialist regime in texts and personal documents from the period during and after the Third Reich. The first part of the chapter analyzes solely the experiences of Schaeder, who participated in the evangelical resistance movement in Berlin and was interned in Ravensbrück concentration camp. These events would have a profound effect on her postwar historical interpretation. Berger spends several pages analyzing Schaeder's "ego documents" (mostly letters) from the time of her internment in Ravensbrück, showing very clearly the emergence of the religious worldview that became the hallmark of her interpretations of Russian history and the postwar world after 1945. How this religious experience colored Schaeder's postwar scholarship is analyzed more extensively in part 2. Berger analyzes this change in subjectivity by focusing specifically on the changes of interpretation between editions of her monograph Die dritte Koalition und die Heilige Allianz (1934), republished under the title Autokratie und Heilige Allianz (1963). Berger finds that Schaeder, abandoning the principles of national-conservatism and a united Europe under the figure of Adolf Hitler, saw the potential for a unified Europe post-1945 under the vision of Alexander I's idea of Christian brotherhood, an idea she argued statesmen had abandoned in the nineteenth century.
In addition to describing changes in research argumentation after 1945, in the last and shortest chapter, Berger follows the career paths of the five female historians in the Federal Republic. Berger contends that the continuities and breaks in the postwar careers of these women, more so than elsewhere, demonstrate "how complexly the categories of scholarship, gender, and politics were enmeshed together" (p. 308). This entanglement is shown in part 1 through her subjects' attempt to find positions within and outside the university system. Berger finds that success was tied more to their ability to distance themselves from the National Socialist past than to any other factor. For example, Schaeder, for obvious reasons, finally achieved a university position at the age of 60 at the University of Frankfurt. In contrast, Fleischhacker, who had never ceased working during the Third Reich, was later unable to escape her strong wartime institutional connections. In addition, her husband's pension proved to be a negative factor in achieving a position, university or otherwise. On the other hand, the financial security Fleischhacker received through her husband put her in a much more comfortable position than her colleagues, who tried to secure old-age pensions for themselves, but to no avail.
Berger's monograph offers an interesting, comprehensive look into the opportunities for female academics in (West) Germany. The strength of Berger's monograph, in fact, lies in her nuanced conceptualization of the historical profession and the various factors impacting the careers of female historians. Most importantly, in my eyes, her triad of politics, scholarship, and gender brings to the surface the importance of other factors besides gender, avoiding a reductionist narrative. However, when gender does play a decisive role, she never fully articulates the masculine constructions impacting historical analysis and individual career paths. In chapter 2, part 2, she comes closest to achieving this articulation when she expands her focus to an institution, rather than keeping her lens on the female historians. Through direct comparison with the opportunities of their male colleagues, the gendered mechanisms at work become clearer; yet even here, she never quite explains what masculine concepts are at play. Whether or not Berger definitively defines the gender constructions, however, her questions and her monograph bring us a step further in understanding how politics within and outside the profession, gender, and personal experience affect the historical profession.
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Sarah E. Summers. Review of Berger, Heike Anke, Deutsche Historikerinnen 1920-1970: Geschichte zwischen Wissenschaft und Politik.
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