My article “To risk the Earth: The Nonhuman and Nonhistory” is out in the new Feminist Review Environment Special Issue, edited by Carrie Hamilton and Yasmin Gunaratnam (free link from publisher here). The article was originally written for the : Decolonizing and Reinhabiting Broken Earth, curated by Kathryn Yusoff and Nigel Clark. It was prompted by a string of peer reviews and conference papers which, in my view, followed a problematic and re-occurring pattern of inattention to colonial histories in public engagement with global environmental change. I feel that, no matter what discipline we inhabit, we have to remain aware that any landscape has a history, and that this history will be differently remembered by different people. The fact that some of these papers either ignored or tried to erase particular traumatic histories speaks of a privileged position that, in all cases, remained unacknowledged. This article is a plea to sensitise oneself to geography and geology not just aesthetically and experientally, but also historically. I am expressing this call through concepts developed by Suzanne Césaire and Edouard Glissant against the white privilege of selective environmental aestheticisation.
Two excellent events are happening on Thursday 26 April 2018. I may be speaking at the event on internationalisation.
The Internationalisation of Higher Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Practices
Thursday 26 April 2018
9am – 5pm
Department of Geography
Higher Education institutions in the UK, and in many countries across the world, are increasingly seeking to incorporate an international dimension to their research, teaching and public engagement. The rationale behind, and the implications of, these endeavours have become the subject of much debate among academics, policymakers and the wider public.
This one-day symposium will contribute to these debates by exploring the following question – How can academics and practitioners work both within and against the grain of neoliberal internationalising agendas within higher education, in a way that is simultaneously critical and constructive? This overarching question will be examined over the course of the day via three key interrelated themes: 1) Institutional Policies and Practices 2) Mobilities 3) Pedagogies and Curricula.
Confirmed speakers include:
James Booth, PhD Candidate, University of Leicester
James Esson, Lecturer in Human Geography, Loughborough University
Peter Kraftl, Professor of Human Geography and College Director of Internationalisation, University of Birmingham
Ed Nash, International Strategy Officer, University of Oxford
Clare Newstead, College International Manager, Nottingham Trent University
Patricia Noxolo, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham
Laura Prazeres, Lecturer in Geography, University of St Andrews
Parvati Raghuram, Professor of human geography, Open University
Nathalie Tebbett, PhD candidate, Loughborough University
Johanna Waters, Associate professor in human geography, University of Oxford
Speakers and participants will engage with the key question and themes via the following indicative topics:
– Belonging and identity
– Government policies and migration management
– Global rankings and league tables
– Intercultural learning and deficit models
– Internationalisation of learning and teaching
– Mental health and wellbeing
– Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) related research activities
– Qualification ‘mismatches’
– Racism and Xenophobia
– The (mis)alignment between internationalisation agendas, widening participation, and equality and diversity agendas
– The mobilities of global academic talent
– Transnational socialisation
Free tickets available here.
If you are in London, there is an excellent booklaunch and discussion the same evening:
Where to now? Postcolonial Politics in the 21st Century
A roundtable to mark the launch of the Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Politics edited by Olivia U. Rutazibwa and Robbie Shilliam. Free tickets (and description) available here.
Thu 26 April 2018
Department of International Relations
Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Road
Arts 1 Lecture Theatre
Two months after the lecture on Berlin, we went to the city itself. The arrival day was marked by extremes. Having survived the bus journey to the hotel – our bus driver got a bad case of road rage over our flight delay – we were greeted by some exciting developments on the USS strike front. Later that night, our perhaps premature celebrations in a Vietnamese restaurant were uncomfortably interrupted by the close hovering of a drunk right wing guy who took a dislike to the composition of our staff table. Thankfully, the remainder of the trip proved less emotionally stressful.
It usually takes me a while to tune back into Germany, as the process is initially done with some reluctance. For the first few hours, I pick up all the wrong vibes and experience a tension between my expat self and the supposedly native environment. I speak the language clumsily and encounter fellow Germans with mixed feelings of rejection and curiosity. After a while, the tension mellows, and I cannot decide anymore whether I am opening myself to my obviously more welcoming surroundings, or whether I am blocking out the tension with an edited nostalgic imaginary. I decide that it’s a mixture of both and proceed to consume tons of local junk food: Berlin, here I am! The city is also becoming increasingly familiar since a few friends and family moved there over the last few years. This especially translated into vital recommendations for Italian gelato parlours.
Image: Acclimatisation via halloumi döner and ayran – with two fingers to the current German Minister of Interior (see this article).
The trip was preceded by an intense refamiliarisation with German history (see Part 1). In school, I was not keen on history lessons, but now the books I consulted spoke to me very differently. I had the feeling that I could finally make sense of my country and its place in the world, and also connect it to my family’s history. While my family is not from Berlin, it was affected by various historical events associated with the city including the division of Germany, the Third Reich and various migrations: I grew up in a divided Germany that, due to our close proximity to the border, also divided my family. In the Third Reich, my family encompassed the whole spectrum from SS officer to Jew and had to negotiate this in very particular ways. In addition, my German education – including the family stories told to me by my parents – prepared me to deal with the role of the perpetrator-educator and to illustrate the actions and fates of ordinary people. Having come from a town that doubled in size with refugees from East Prussia and related regions, I could also explain how such events in German history influence the current refugee debate. The stories of friends and family who play an active role in the debate, partly because they themselves have different migrantion backgrounds, helped illustrate further how ‘das Deutsche Volk’ currently tries to construct itself (I always struggle with the inscription ‘Dem Deutschen Volke’ on the front of the Reichstag, as friends, family and many other people in German society remain excluded from this category).
To gain a fresh image of German history, I immersed myself in books and German newspaper articles. Here, I especially chose English language books – not only would this give me the correct English vocabulary for German events, but also an outside perspective. I tried to cover a range of positions and styles, including Neil MacGregor’s book and podcasts based around the exhibition that I had missed at the British Museum, and David Olusoga and Caspar W. Erichsen’s ‘The Kaiser’s Holocaust’ on the German genocide in Namibia. I also consulted a few German books on colonialism to gain a sense of how the subject was treated in local discourse. The literature made me wish that more Germans, especially Germans in positions of power, read not just their Nazi history more critically. It is worrying that a generation that never experienced the empire and barely remembers the ‘Eastern territories’ seems to long for this past so much that they form alliances with right wing movements.
During this research, I not only found aforementioned German anti-racist and ‘postcolonial’ activist projects, but also some amazing video projects, including the Germania channel that shows song-length documentaries on musicians of different migration backgrounds. What I like about this project it that, through its choice of countries – such as the UK, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, Denmark, Sudan – it challenges who we understand as a ‘migrant’. Why are some people ‘migrants’ and others ‘expats’? I also revisited channels such as the Datteltäter (Dattel = date (fruit) and Täter = perpetrator), a German Muslim-run political comedy and slam poetry series, and the programme of the Maxim Gorki Theatre, a Berlin ‘institution’ that provides acerbic political commentary and is currently staffed not just by a majority ‘minority’ German cast, but also a separate refugee ensemble. Sadly, our delayed flight made me miss their ‘Gorki – Alternative für Deutschland‘ show, which explores the role of the theatre in countering the growth of right wing sentiment.
Image: Berlin’s ‘Datteltäter’. Source: Die Welt
Not having had the opportunity to do a ‘recce’ (a new word I learnt from my colleagues – I had no idea this use of military slang was more widespread!), the main promise I made about my theme day was: enough food and toilet opportunities. While I knew I could pull this off quite well, the rest of the day was a bit more nerve-wracking, because I was not sure what to expect at any of the sites. The first place we visited in person was the building site of Berlin Palace and the adjacent Humboldt Box, a temporary museum that gives a taste of the forthcoming Humboldt Forum and other aspects of the Palace. I expected the box to be tiny, but it turned out to be a huge complex of five floors, including a viewing terrace. Upon entering the space, we were given a spontaneous tour by one of the staff, Bernd Busse, who not only turned out to be from my father’s tiny hometown in rural Northern Germany, but also a former resident of Leicester. This made the tour a lot less dull, despite the group’s reservations about some of his explanations (my colleagues’ favourite: “this was the area before your grandparents bombed it to pieces”). It was interesting to hear ‘live’ how our guide justified the reconstruction: Berlin needed a centre that wasn’t a nondescript modern looking building such as the Palace of the Republic that could be from anywhere in the world. For the remainder of the tour, Busse detailed the painstaking reconstruction efforts. It was interesting to see that the gift shop contained a book on the Palace of the Republic and hadn’t been completely purged. We thanked our guide and moved on to inspect the Humboldt Forum related exhibitions.
While the first floor mainly contained Prussian baroque architecture and sculpture models, the next two floors, to our surprise, contained mostly audio exhibits – presumably because these collections could most easily be moved and served to illustrate how the works and artefacts of other cultures would be engaged with. The exhibition encompassed both evolving recording technologies and the ‘negotiation’ of recordings from other cultures (see panel below). The sounds were experienced through headphones that changed songs in front of every exhibit. The students returned with mixed opinions and speculated on how the material could have been presented differently to better engage with the respective communities. They also wondered how the material related to their ‘container’ – the Palace. How do migrant community music projects (an example pictured below), for example, sit within a neo-Prussian imperial palace? The remaining floors contained the results of an architectural competition for a section in the Palace and a posh-looking café. The students noted that the competition featured many geographical themes (see third image below) such as exploration and colonial connections – sadly, some very interesting project descriptions were only available in German.
After our visit, we hopped on a train to Potsdam at Alexanderplatz for a comparison with another controversial building project. I was not aware of the reconstructed Potsdam City Palace at the time – the Potsdam equivalent of Berlin Palace – otherwise we probably would have visited that one, too. Instead we visited the Garnisionskirche (garrison church). This reconstruction project was the focus of a recent multi-page article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a relatively conservative newpaper known for its investigative journalism. I wanted the students to see Potsdam to gain a sense of the German Empire in a more condensed form. The city (170,000 inhabitants), capital of the federal state of Brandenburg, was – and still is – something like an elite playground that also translates into the built environment. The residing aristocrats constructed whatever they fancied: baroque palaces, Russian houses, Dutch houses, Chinese pavilions, English and French gardens – it even has its own Brandenburg Gate. In 1911, the city even got its own airship port and film studios. Today, Potsdam’s villas mostly are populated by German ‘new aristocrats’: wealthy media and business personalities.
According to the article in the FAZ, which focused on the centrality of the church to royalists and (neo-)Nazis, and the suppression of a public vote around its reconstruction, the church was basically irredeemable. It was the place where Prussian soldiers had to swear their oath of loyalty, where the orchestrators of German colonisation and African genocide received their awards, where the royalists and fascists plotted against the Weimar Republic, and where the Nazis held their first parliament (‘Day of Potsdam‘) since they weren’t able to congregate in Berlin’s burnt out Reichstag. The church was to be reconstructed with its original decoration of weapons and war trophies, and much of the money was found to come from right wing and army sources, as had the money for the already restored bell tower that stands in a nearby park (and which had been inaugurated by a guy who had questioned the legitimacy of the current German-Polish border!). After protesters accused the church of not having a congregation, some district rigging managed to pull together roughly a dozen members. The most damming turn of events was a governmental intervention (a joint Christian and Social Democrat action) which forbade a public vote. A similar referendum had already prevented the reconstruction of a church in Magdeburg.
Even the BBC reported on the controversy.
I was not entirely sure what to expect. An ordinary building site? Swastika graffiti? Protesters? German-style left vs. right-wing street fighting? To me, the site felt rather odd in what it tried to perform. As we turned around the corner, the first thing we saw was a big wire cage containing reconstructions of the church’s weather vane ornaments. The box was located between the reconstructed belltower (that is apparently too small for the actual church) and the building site. It was quite funny how everyone was taken aback for a moment before letting out something like: ‘oh my God!’, ‘are they serious?!’ or ‘this is so ugly!’. I had to laugh: if this was a taste of what was to come, one would have to protest against aesthetic crimes alone – the pieces looked like a gigantic parody of Prussian clichés. The building site itself felt rather ordinary. The only sign of protest that we (or, rather, my colleague Gavin Brown) spotted, was a big sign in the window of the ‘de-GDR-ification’ endangered ‘Rechenzentrum’ (former GDR data centre, now artist studios) saying ‘Love thy neighbours’. There was also another red banner which we unfortunately could not decipher.
We also discovered not only an exhibition next to the building site, but also a provisional space of worship called the Nagelkreuzkapelle (Cross of Nails Chapel). The Community of the Cross of Nails is a network of churches that is invested in reconciliatory projects, having started as a project of Coventry Cathedral after its partial destruction during German bombing in WW2. To our surprise, we found that the church was networked with Coventry Cathedral and had official support from the Queen who had even donated to the project. The friendly staff inside the church talked about how the GDR government, like other communist governments, had persecuted Christians and destroyed a large number of churches (around 40) in 1968. For them, the project was part of a movement to reclaim sites of Christian worship and the church’s role in peace building. Indeed, many of the churches destroyed in WW2 and ‘finished off’ by the GDR government are currently being rebuilt despite lack of worshippers. While the exhibition itself was not that revealing (although it did feature an interesting GDR propaganda video about the church’s destruction), the space itself was interesting in its juggling of different aspirations and justifications.
We were also given some brochures in English that emphasised the role of the church as a ‘focal point of Prussian identity’ and a ‘positive symbol of Prussian values’ fused with Christian faith. To me, the church perfectly symbolised the tensions within Prussian culture across absolutism, militarism, conservatism, egalitarianism, enlightenment and faith. Against this background, it feels as if the church could continue on its path as a controversial symbol, but also that its reconstruction diminishes its symbolic power, making it just another ordinary place in provincial Germany. Perhaps this depends a lot on how the different people it will attract are being managed and on how Germany continues to deal with its identity.
In the remaining hours, we visited Sanssouci Palace, which, I had to realise, looked rather bleak in the winter. No wonder this was classed as a summer residence (Berlin Palace was the Hohenzollern‘s winter residence). It took us a while to work out that the odd grey boxes dotted around the park were in fact protections for the white marble statues. Alternative suggestions included bat boxes, puppet theatre stages, Christo-and-Jeanne-Claude-style public art, and idiosyncratic garden sheds. Although the splendour of the building was somewhat palpable, a couple of majestic looking Mandarin ducks clearly stole the show: animals not empire rule! On that note, we decided to end the day at a trashy fun fair on the way to the station, where we swapped Prussian imperial ambitions for a round of dodgems.
Overall, it was a rather interesting experience to talk about German culture and history as a German. I realised how much I took for granted and had to explain to students. It was good to have non-German colleagues with me who, in addition to the student queries, pointed towards some uniquely German issues and habits that I should elaborate further, including questions around German flag waving, public nudity and the influence of federal states. I left with a feeling that I wanted to spend more time in Berlin and with German history to be able to improve my theme day for the next trips (the other theme days so far include migration, urban nature and Cold War geopolitics). How could I teach better about colonial history and how it affects Germany? Should I take the students to the Natural History Museum instead of Potsdam to see how colonialism doesn’t just affect human affairs? Should I take them to the Afrikaviertel – and, if yes, how? Should I restart efforts to contact activists or academics? Or will the changing nature of the Humboldt Forum and Potsdam provide enough material? Planning for the next trip has already started, so this is something that I will have to think through now. Hopefully this will warrant another ‘recce’ to Berlin in the summer or winter.
‘Debriefing’ with my cousin after my theme day at his favourite gelato parlour, we both agreed how much more interesting history becomes when you are older and can see the weirdness of it, including the fact that things that took place thousands of years ago still shape today’s life. It fitted the weirdness of discussing our different experiences with “Germanness” over eating excellent gelato in a generic looking shopping centre next to the only surviving building from the WW2 air raids (a wine store that was especially sturdily built to carry the weight of all the alcohol!) and on the spot of the former Berlin Wall. Although I felt that the day could have been more lively, perhaps through more interaction with local people, I wondered whether I managed to convey at least a little bit of this intense co-shaping (co-weirding?) of geography and history. I hoped that the students, too, went away with a sense of the strangeness of identity and place-making, even if they might not yet know what to do with all the information they received on this trip.
Many thanks for advice on theme day planning (and local food options!) goes to: Sukit Manthachitra, Tahani Nadim, Regina Sarreiter, Uli Beisel, Sandra Imelmann, Brigitte and Friedhelm Last, and the whole field trip team.
When I started my new job I was neither expecting to be on strike and ‘action short of a strike’ for months (we’re apparently off strike now, so Mutable Matter is back!), nor was I expecting that my first lecture would be on imperial Germany. Leicester Geography has a third year geopolitics themed field trip to Berlin, and I was going to be teaching on it. I was free to decide on a topic that would be translated into an introductory lecture as well as a theme day with visits to related sites. Since most non-German people think of the Cold War or Nazi Germany when they think of Berlin, I chose to focus on a more obvious choice for Germans: Prussia, the German Empire, and German colonial history. For many Germans, Berlin remains synonymous with Prussia, and also with Potsdam, Berlin’s ‘sister city’, and I wanted to show why this is so. For me, a focus on imperialism was more important than ever, since imperial nostalgia appears to be on the rise again – and with it, temporarily suppressed territorial and cultural claims. Due to significant support among the government and Germany’s old and new aristocracy (they are joined by other wealthy elites such as media personalities), the built environment is rapidly changing. In particular, I wanted to highlight the controveries surrounding the reconstruction of Prussian buildings and the continuing removal of “ugly” GDR (East German architecture. Why do people want to resuscitate Prussian Berlin after Reunification?
For the lecture and the field trip, I chose to illustrate these conflicts over German history through the ‘Stadtschloß’ debate: the reconstruction of Berlin Palace. Built and modified from the 15th century onwards, it was home to the Hohenzollern dynasty that governed the area for over 500 years across changing geopolitical boundaries and entities: Brandenburg, Prussia and Germany. The palace, and specifically its Baroque redesign, is associated with key moments in German history, including the March and November Revolutions, and thus attracts both nostalgia for empire and anger at feudalist oppression. Not long after Reunification, a lobby led by East Prussian born West German aristocrat and amateur historian Wilhelm von Boddien succeeded in raising funds and getting permission for the demolition of the communist palace and the rebuilding of the imperial one. Despite the majority of East Germans and many West Germans opposing the decision, the Palace of the Republic was razed due to ‘asbestos contamination’ and the recovered steel was shipped to Dubai for the construction of the Burj Khalifa. Its estimated completion is late 2018.
Aggravating the controversy around Berlin Palace is the proposal of the Humboldt Forum, a permanent exhibition of “non-European” art and artefacts, the majority of which are of colonial origin (current founding director: former British Museum director Neil MacGregor). As the new Berlin Palace nears completion, the public and academic debate rages on, recently re-fuelled by art historian Bénédicte Savoy’s comparison of the Humboldt Forum with the radioactive waste containment in Chernobyl. Some argue that the debate has sparked an interest in German colonialism whose extent, until recently, was deemed too insignificant for the attention of historians. In turn, this interest has led to a much feared discussion of earlier genocides, future reparations and the on-going legacy of racism. But many find its politics and its celebration of the German empire inexcusable. The latest controversy surrounding the Palace is its association with Christian Democrat German Minister of Interior and champion of the newly founded (and so far entirely white male) ‘Heimatministerium’, Horst Seehofer (Bavarian Christian Democrats CSU), who recently proclaimed that ‘Islam does not belong to Germany’ .
The key thing I tried to get across in my teaching was that ‘Germany’ is an extremely amorphous entity. Over the last millennia, its territory and idea has been shaped by struggles between multiple tribes, religions, languages, aristocratic families, ideologies and ideas of belonging (I have never used so many maps in a single lecture!). Even Germany’s flag existed as an idea way before Germany existed as a unified geopolitical entity. To spare the students total confusion by going further back in history, I decided to begin the lecture with the last days of the Holy Roman Empire and the division and rise of the Hohenzollern dynasty – basically to tell Berlin and German history through the history of Berlin Palace. I am currently wondering whether to go further back into history for next year’s general introductory lecture to Berlin, as some of the tribal and mythology stuff also keeps coming up in recent debates on German identity (sadly usually appropriated by neo-Nazis and not multi-culturalists). This time, the lecture ended up something like this:
The first version of Berlin Palace came into existence in the 1440s as a castle of the Hohenzollerns. Originally a Swabian aristocratic family, the Hohenzollerns split in two, eventually taking over the Margraviate of Brandenburg and its capital of Berlin-Cölln (Berlin started off as a fusion of two settlements, Berlin and Cölln – its Slavic name refers to its swampy foundations). After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Berlin proceeded to become the capital of Prussia, an entity that again moved across different geographical boundaries, due to numerous wars. I showed a few Prussian icons that Germans associate with (late) Prussia, such as the ‘Pickelhaube’ and the ‘Iron Cross’, and how they represented conflicting ideals, perhaps best summed up in the words ‘absolutist Enlightenment’. The (in)famous ‘Prussian virtues’ combine militarism, conservatism and total discipline with cosmopolitanism, egalitarianism and intellectual curiosity. Potsdam, for instance, became home to the first German Muslim places of worship (in the 1730s), because the king promised anyone who joined his ‘Potsdam Giants‘ (special regiment) to be granted a place of worship. The iron cross, and the Prussian aristocrats’ swapping of expensive jewellery for iron, symbolised both war effort and egalitarianism.
Image: Germany’s united future under Prussian domination, as predicted by Austrian satire magazine Kikeriki in 1870 (German unification took place in 1871). Source: Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg.
The students were surprised to hear that the official Prussian language was originally French, since German was seen as the primitive tongue of peasants. Even after Martin Luther’s construction of a German language from a fusion of high and low German, it still took a long time until the influence of trade (e.g. the Hanseatic League), and the development of a ‘trendy’ German high culture in cities now outside of Germany (Prague, home of Kafka; Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, home of Kant) led to the adoption of German as an official language. The prevalence of French, however, benefited Huguenot refugees who emigrated from France to Prussia after the Thirty Years War (the latter had killed around a third of the local population!). Berlin Palace and much of Potsdam’s pomp, including the baroque version of Berlin Palace that is currently being rebuilt – could not have been built without this influx of Huguenot labour.
My colleague Margaret Byron created a more complex picture of German migrations in the following lecture, in which she traced different migrations in both directions, including Russian migration, US migration, Turkish migration and the current ‘Flüchtlingswelle’ (wave of refugees). Margaret highlighted many paradoxes of German migration law that acknowledge certain migrants as Germans who had been living and intermingled outside of Germany for hundreds of years, but refused ‘Germanness’ to people who had been living in Germany for decades and sometimes generations. It also explained well where Germans and their language and culture had ended up, and how Germany had been shaped by a multiplicity of ‘outside’ influences. As German poets Goethe and Schiller once commented on the various attempts to contain ‘Germany’:
“Deutschland? Aber wo liegt es?
Ich weiß das Land nicht zu finden”
[Germany? But where is it?
I don’t know how to find the country.]
(Goethe & Schiller, 1796)
Next, I talked about the German revolutions, which further explain the problematic making of a German identity. In both the March and November revolutions, Berlin Palace figures as an embattled entity. The German revolutions of 1848-1849, during which many workers were killed by the Prussian military in front of Berlin Palace, followed on from other European revolutions that challenged the rule and cultural and geographic divisions of the aristocracy. The working and bourgeois classes were tenuously united by being fed up with the territorial squabbles of the noble houses. However, they were fed up for different reasons. The bourgeois disliked that the aristocracy stood in the way of economic progress and their own financial growth; the working classes were troubled by hunger, overpopulation and terrible working conditions (many emigrated to America), and their protests were aggressively put down by the elites. Although the revolutions started with the two parties more or less unified against the nobility, the competing ideas of social progress within different classes led to the eventual failure of the uprisings. Paintings of this event show people waving the German flag, although no Germany existed as yet. The flag had developed from republican student movements around the turn of the 18th/19th century, and later became the flag of the German Confederation. During the March Revolution, protesters waved the flag, especially a vertical version (echoing the French tricolore), in protest at the corruption of the republican ideal by the aristocracy.
When Germany, after another war with France and lengthy squabbles among the aristocratic families about its final boundaries (“Großdeutschland” versus “Kleindeutschland” – with or without Austria), finally became unified in 1871, it was felt to be a severe corruption of the desired ‘Germania’ of the Romantics and more radical political groups. In addition, the orchestrator of the unification, the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, managed to decrease the allure of revolutionary social movements by founding a German welfare state. It was during this time that Germany joined the colonial rush, despite Bismarck’s initial conviction that colonialisation wasn’t worth the economic expense. Persuaded by the plans of German merchants, the chancellor eventually helped create an overseas empire that included present countries such as Namibia, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea. In Namibia, Germans committed a particularly systematic genocide of the Herero, Nama and San people that saw the creation of the country’s first death camps. Still today, wealthy white elites remain in positions of power in this country that did not gain independence (from South Africa) until 1990 (some parts not until 1994). You can read an article on memorials celebrating the genocide here.
Germany lost its colonies at the end of World War I – a war that was proclaimed from Berlin Palace. The Palace, and Germany as a whole, then became the site of the November Revolution (1918-1919), which resulted in the foundation of the Weimar Republic. Since Berlin street fighting was too intense for politicians to meet (there was even fighting inside the Palace), the government moved to a theatre in the ‘German Enlightenment capital’ of Weimar. Another German utopian project, the Weimar Republic was sadly short lived and ended with the National Socialist (Nazi) takeover of the country. During their reign, the Nazis did not really know what to do with Berlin Palace and mainly used it for their flag displays. Partially destroyed during World War II and located on the Eastern side of Berlin, the GDR government decided to blow up the palace – save for the balcony from which the Free Socialist Republic was allegedly declared – and to replace it with a new communist monument: the Palace of the Republic. This new palace functioned both as seat of the East German government, but also as cultural space with a large entertainment complex. Like its predecessor, it became associated with key historical events, including the agreement on German reunification.
Image: Palast der Republik in 1996. Image: Icon Magazine.
Today’s reconstruction efforts of the Palace strongly reference the Prussian Enlightenment, and specifically the ideas associated with the Humboldt brothers. Alexander von Humboldt, more known outside of Germany, was a geographer, naturalist and explorer. His brother Wilhelm, a linguist, philosopher and Prussian politician, became the founder of Berlin’s Humboldt University. In Germany, the Humboldt brothers tend to be wheeled out every time someone tries to sell an elite version of cosmopolitanism. As German political scientist and cultural critic Kien Nghi Ha put it his critical evaluation of the Humboldt worship, ‘Imperfect Steal‘ (he outs Alexander as a skull thief and colonial accomplice): “The Humboldts function as a collective projection screen and cultural-political invention of something that Germany never was in its entire history.”
In the case of the Humboldt Forum that is the idea that housing non-European collections curated by White Germans inside a reconstructed imperial palace ‘named after a skull robber’ (Mnyaka Sururu Mboro of Berlin Postkolonial) is a symbol of ‘cultural dialogue’. As Lilia Youssefi, also a German political scientist and cultural critic, asks in her brilliant essay on remembering and ‘de-membering’: “Whose voices and perspectives are really being made visible in this project?’ There is growing activism not just against the HuFo (Humboldt Forum), but against other sites that show evidence of German colonialism such as the African Quarter in Wedding (part of Berlin) whose streets are named after German colonisers and colonial towns. (Another example that I already discussed on this blog – and also introduced as part of the lecture – is Tahani Nadim’s work on the collections of the Natural History Museum in Berlin.) Groups such as No Humboldt 21, Berlin Postkolonial and AfricAvenir campaign for the renaming of places and especially the integration of Germans of colour in decision making processes on ‘post’-colonial matters.
I ended the lecture with an overview of similar reconstruction projects including the Garnisionskirche in Potsdam – a Prussian military church with strong far right and royalist associations (next year, this will feature Potsdam City Palace, the ‘little sister’ of Berlin Palace). On the final slide, I compared such efforts with another project of German identity building: the Walhalla Memorial near Regensburg – a ‘hall of fame’ that showcases famous people that shaped German cultural, political and intellectual life. Incidentally initiated by the same guy who founded the Oktoberfest (the future king Ludwig I of Bavaria), it houses a very uneven mixture of famous Germans – some Germans remained excluded for their gender, religion or controversial views (apparently, Ludwig greatly ‘appreciated’ women, so there are a few more women in there than usual…). In fact, the memorial remains so unrepresentative for many Germans that few even know about it, despite its monumental size and project. What this and many current projects express, however, are power struggles over national representation. Thus, the lecture ended on questions around identity building, and the effects of such apparently innocent questions not just on the built environment, but not on on the economic and legal conditions of people from different migration and social backgrounds living in Germany.
The question that remained after the lecture was how to translate this into a successful theme day. For my first attempt, see part 2.
The current strike is over, but really it is not over. It has been an amazing experience, especially at the very start of my post. I got to know so many great people from across the university, and also from my own department who I had just been passing so far. Together, we made it through all kinds of weather conditions, brutally early mornings, cancelled teaching and field trip dramas, disturbing negotiation news and financial worries – accompanied by tasty food (hot samosas with chilli sauce were my favourite), overexcited strike dogs, and a constant stream of tea and coffee from the admin staff. Rain, snow, awful UUK offers and VC communications – we got this!
It was also exciting to follow academics from other universities on twitter and their respective analyses of the situation. People all over the country worked hard to research evidence in support of our protest and to lobby via email and in person, and made funny posts, food and music on top of this. This contributed greatly to raising the morale and inspiring further shenanigans such as picket loyalty cards and strike dog/dinosaur accounts.
At Leicester, the strike intersected with a protest against our proposed Chancellor, David Willetts, which led to a student occupation and other creative protests such as a ‘People’s Chancellor Election’ (Helen Sharman was elected) and a panto performance on the final day. As one colleague aptly put it: “De Montfort gets Doreen Lawrence, and we get David Willetts – really??” At this point, a massive thanks is due to the students who supported us during the strike, and also to ALL students for putting up with the strike. Again: if you have any questions or worries about the strike, talk to your striking lecturers – in the classrooms or on the picket lines.
Since no agreement with UUK has been reached, and people have enjoyed getting together over the strike, the desire has been voiced to continue practices such as music making, baking, crafting and organising inter-departmental discussions that are not research-income focused, whether there is going to be another strike or not. For many, this coming Monday feels like a testing ground: how will things have changed? And: how long will this change last? In the pub today, some people talked about changing their teaching practices, others talked about changing their research practices. I hope that ‘watch this space’ is something we can live up in the near future…
Snowy start to the strike
Visits from Red Leicester Choir brightened up the rainy days
Scientific protest against our Vice Chancellor, Paul Boyle
Student occupiers are celebrated
International Women’s Day “pussy riot”, just before the big dance off
Speeches and vote against the new USS offer
Main occupation during the strike: drumming! (bongos, cowbell, bass drum)
The People’s Chancellor Election
“Friday I’m in Love” carnival: final dance-off – with massive inflatable penis from the panto
On strike, because:
- Any loss of ground will affect future generations
- The increasing commodification and casualisation of education
- Dismantling of public services and commons
- General pressure put on staff and students that result in bad mental health and enforce inequalities
- Pay increases at the top, pay cuts at the bottom
- Disproportionate influence of Oxbridge colleges on worsening working conditions
Why we strike by Waseem Yaqoob (London Review of Books article)
Many thanks to all the students and admin staff at Leicester for support, tea, biscuits and crisps!
Shout out to all the people stuck in bad working conditions in academia and beyond!
PS: and no LGBT+ History Month without proper queer power!
This looks like a good event (many thanks to Patricia Noxolo for forwarding):
Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico’s Not-So-Natural Disaster
Start: Jan 25, 2018 06:00 PM
Location: UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN
January 25 2018 | 18:00
On Wednesday 20 September 2017 the lives of Puerto Ricans on the island and abroad changed forever. Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico as a category four storm (sustained winds of 150mph), leaving the island in a state of emergency. Essential services such as power, potable water and communication services collapsed. Flooding did not discriminate between marginalized and affluent neighborhoods. But the natural disaster uncovered the soaring levels of inequality and the commodification of disaster-related recovery for Puerto Rican residents. Access to power, adequate food, potable water, among other aspects of life, were guaranteed to individuals with access to the market. The well-being of the rest of the population rested in the hands of the federal emergency management agencies, and local citizen-led initiatives. Moreover, austerity programmes, a long-term lack of investment in infrastructure and the lack of decision-making power from Puerto Rico´s elected officials magnified Hurricane Maria’s socio-economic impact.
The main purpose of this roundtable will be to address the disaster conditions, response and consequences of Puerto Rico’s Not-So-Natural Disaster. The conversation will start with a brief overview of the infrastructural collapse and the challenges to rebuilding and reconstructing society (e.g., rapid out-migration, mass unemployment). The discussion will address the following issues:
- Community vs state efforts in the emergency response and reconstruction: To compensate or complement?
- High-tech capitalist responses vs local community initiatives
- International aid: Are we repeating the Haiti 2010 intervention model for Puerto Rico?
- Who’s in charge?: ‘La Junta’ vs elected government of Puerto Rico
- Impact of the 12 years economic crisis and bankruptcy in the recovery process
- Consolidating the colony? Racial and class dynamics
- Trump, media responses and the representation of the crisis
- Uncontrolled capitalism: From an economy of production to a consumerist economy.
The four participants are Puerto Rican academics based in the UK.
Dr. Patria Roman. Currently a Senior Lecturer in Media & Creative Industries at Loughborough University, first arrived in the UK in 1992 to study at University of Leicester where she obtained her PhD in 1996. Her early childhood was marked by her experience of growing up between the rural town of Moca in Puerto Rico and the Latin neighbourhoods of NY, Chicago and Philadelphia. This experience has informed her research with Latin Americans in London and she has built on this to found and direct Latin Elephant, a charity working to increase participation of migrant and ethnic groups, in particular Latin Americans, in processes of urban change in London. She is the author of The Making of Latin London: Music, Place and Identity (1999) and of numerous articles about urban regeneration and Latin Americans in Elephant and Castle.
Dr. Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, born and raised in San Juan Puerto Rico, is a Lecturer in Urban Futures at Lancaster University’s Sociology Department. Following her BA in Tufts University, she obtained an MSc in International Development and Gender and a PhD in Sociology from the LSE. In between, she worked in international human rights organisations in London, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Melissa’s doctoral research focused on the activism surrounding the demolition of one of the last high rise public housing projects in the financial district of Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. She has continued to pursue work on the ‘making and unmaking’ of homes in other international contexts, including Rio de Janeiro, London, and South Asia, which has led to a number of articles and the co-edited books Social Housing in Europe (Wiley, 2014) and Geographies of Forced Evictions (Palgrave, 2017).
Dr. Janialy Ortiz Camacho is a socio-cultural anthropologist with higher education studies and ethnographic experience in Puerto Rico, Canada and Spain. Her most recent research has focused on people’s responses to governmental community development projects, and the production of political subjectivities in Puerto Rico. She is also passionate about expanding fieldwork insights into a more public-democratic platform, using visual and creative writing forms. Janialy currently lives in Cambridge, UK.
Dr. Gibrán Cruz-Martínez is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Global Development and Planning, University of Agder (Norway). After finishing his undergraduate studies in his native Puerto Rico he moved to Madrid to pursue a Masters and PhD in Political Science at the Complutense University. His research focuses on the development of emerging welfare states in Latin America and the Caribbean, and its relationship to multidimensional poverty and inequality. Gibrán is also interested in the role of organised communities in Puerto Rico as alternative welfare providers. A book on the latter entitled Produciendo Bienestar was recently published in Spain (Dykinson, 2017).
Attendance to this event is free of charge but registration is required. IMPORTANT NOTE ON ACCESS TO 51 GORDON SQUARE: in order to ensure a smooth delivery of the lecture and for ease of logistics, access to the building may be restricted after the start of the event. We will endeavour to accommodate late arrivals within reason, but an early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.