Peer Pasternack. Gelehrte DDR: Die DDR als Gegenstand der Lehre an deutschen Universitäten 1990-2000 (HoF-Arbeitsbericht). Wittenberg: Institut für Hochschulforschung Wittenberg (IHW), 2001. 131 S. EUR 5.00 (broschiert), ISBN 978-3-9806701-5-9.
Reviewed by Georgi Verbeeck (Universiteit Maastricht)
Published on H-German (December, 2003)
Teaching the GDR at German Universities
Teaching the GDR at German Universities
In the ten years after the unification of Germany, the treatment of GDR history and of contemporary East German issues in academic teaching has continuously decreased in intensity. Peer Pasternack, a German scholar on sciences and higher education in East Germany, conducted a detailed study on this phenomenon and tries to explain the reason for this dramatic development. Research and learning in the field of GDR-studies have currently reached again the comparatively low level of 1990, when the general interest into the GDR gained a new impetus following the implosion of East Germany and the rapid process of reunification. Pasternack's analysis shows that the career of GDR-topics in academic teaching had an almost linear positive development from 1990 onwards till about the mid-1990s. In the second half of the decade, however, one can note an almost similar negative development, ultimately leading to the present-day situation where courses on East German issues are only provided by a minority of German academic institutions. This research was conducted with the support of the Stiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur and published by HoF Wittenberg, the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the Martin-Luther-University in Halle-Wittenberg. HoF Wittenberg is an institute with the particular aim of documenting and analyzing the restructuring of the East German higher education system since unification. It also houses the recently established journal Die Hochschule. Journal fuer Wissenschaft und Bildung.
Pasternack's survey focuses on the position of GDR-topics in academic learning, leaving academic research aside. Research on GDR-related topics has been well documented in a great variety of overviews, like those provided by scholar Ulrich Maehlert, for instance. Pasternack starts his analysis with a sophisticated methodological introduction. He distinguishes between three epistemological discourses and three networks of sources. The three discourses are the legitimizing, delegitimizing and analytical discourses. The three networks of sources consist of the primary sources (archives, libraries, research institutions) and the secondary and tertiary sources aiming at teaching, communication and distribution of knowledge (such as schools, museums, exhibitions and political education). Pasternack is however more interested in a quantitative analysis, producing particular insights on the distribution of academic education on the GDR.
What do we learn from this quantitative analysis? According to the results of the analysis, a generally declining interest in the GDR is observed. After a booming start, academic interest has gradually decreased, staring in the mid-1990s. During the academic year 2000/2001, only 38 percent of all academic institutions in Germany offered courses on the GDR or contemporary East German affairs. The GDR and East Germany have increasingly been perceived not as a separate academic topic of research and teaching, but as integral parts of a larger field, such as the post-war history of the two German states, or the history of the communist system in Europe. The distribution of academic teaching is particularly unequal on the map of Germany. At universities in the German northwest, the situation is slightly better than average, but there is substantially greater interest in Eastern Germany at the three Berlin universities. Berlin, the workplace of German unity, seems therefore the place to be for anyone who wishes to pursue GDR studies. Another interesting observation is that a substantial majority of the courses deal with the GDR as a historical episode and that there is far less interest in the process of unification and transformation in contemporary East Germany itself. Relatively more study has been devoted to the common aspects in the history of both German states, with special attention to the revolution of 1989 and the immediate postwar period prior to the establishment of both German states (1945-1949). A significant amount of attention is dedicated to aspects of politics and culture in the GDR, with a lower rate of interest in social and economic issues. Many other aspects of the position of the GDR studies in academic teaching are statistically documented by Pasternack, such as the treatment of specific topics, the interaction of various disciplines (history, political sciences, literature, economics), the relation between research and teaching, treatment of GDR aspects in relationship to other topics, such as the legacy of two dictatorships in Germany, or the transformation process in Central Europe. The reader may make good use of the list of academic institutions, as well as the tables and graphics included.
Die Gelehrte DDR is gradually losing ground in Germany. Pasternack regrets the declining interest in GDR studies at German academic institutions. He argues that the GDR should remain an integral part in the academic curriculum. This status could be achieved either by offering special attention to the GDR as a specific field of study, or by integrating it into the wider field of modern and contemporary history of Germany, including various chapters of German history, such as the Kaiserreich, the Weimar Republic, or National Socialism. Pasternack asserts believably that dealing with the legacy of the GDR is an essential part of the process of the Aufarbeitung of the past in Germany. His meticulous analysis offers a deep insight in the development of GDR studies during the last ten years. The reader not entirely familiar with the subject and the kind of discourse used by many German academic scholars may sometimes find it difficult to see the relevance of such an enterprise. It is not written for the broader public, but particularly for those with a reasonable background knowledge and a deep interest in the scholarship on the GDR at present.
. See Ulrich Maehlert, ed., Vademekum DDR-Forschung. Ein Leitfaden zu Archiven, Forschungseinrichtungen, Bibliotheken, Einrichtungen der politischen Bildung, Vereinen, Museen und Gedenkstaetten (Opladen, 1997).
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Georgi Verbeeck. Review of Pasternack, Peer, Gelehrte DDR: Die DDR als Gegenstand der Lehre an deutschen Universitäten 1990-2000 (HoF-Arbeitsbericht).
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Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.