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In January, it will be a stunning 7 years since the founding of the ‘Reading Workshop History and Theory’ (Lektürewerkstatt Geschichte und Theorie) at Freiburg University’s history department and although we have been forced to go online, we are still going strong.

The group’s starting point was the observation that although the necessity to intertwine theoretical reflection and empirical research is often stressed, in practice the links between the two aspects are too often neglected. The reading workshop confronts this weakness by providing an informal forum for rigorous discussion of the theoretical foundations of the humanities.

Together with students, PhD-candidates and colleagues, we have discussed a multitude of of classical texts from authors like Gadamer, Luhmann, Wittgenstein, Agamben, Hegel, Foucault, Schmitt, Benjamin, Weber, Ricœur, and Spivak, as well as diverse topics such as historical comparisons, postcolonial theory, actor-network-theory, causality, the history of emotions, temporal practices, national identity, and many more.

Anyone interested in joining is very welcome. Just drop me a line.

A few months ago, I discussed my ongoing book project on the politics of silence in nineteenth century Europe with Philipp Janssen, the host of the wonderful Anno … podcast. The result has just been published and can be downloaded on the website (here) or through any major podcast provider.

We discussed various case studies as well as the project’s general structure.

If you are looking for a (German language) history podcast that adresses a wide range of topics and builds bridges between academic research and a wider audience interested in history, this is the place to start.

To get into it, I can recommend the episodes with my colleagues Sonja Levsen (on postwar education in France and Germany) and Claudia Gatzka (on postwar democratic cultur in Germany and Italy), or perhaps my former Bielefeld colleagues Silke Schwandt (on legal practices in Medieval Britain), Daniel Siemens (on the SA), Axel Hüntelmann (on medical scientist Paul Ehrlich), Levke Harders (on migration in nineteenth century Germany) or Hedwig Richter (on voting cultures in nineteenth century Prussia and the US). In all, there are now over 60 episodes of about one hour each.

Many thanks to Philipp Janssen for his interest in my research and for a very pleasant and lively discussion.

This semester, I’m not only teaching at Freiburg University’s History Department, but also – for the first time – at Freiburg’s University of Education.

Assasinations Make History: the Birth of Modern Terrorism in Europe (ca. 1789-1925) (reading course).

Futures Past: the History of Expectations in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Seminar).

As usual, I’ve started collecting online resources on these topics on the Pearltrees website. These collections can be found here:

Next friday, I’m presenting some of my research at a workshop to be held in Berlin (and online) from 29 to 31 October under the title ‘Unity, Right, – but Freedom?’. It is organised by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Orte der Demokratiegeschichte in cooperation with the Forschungsstelle Weimarer Republik and the Otto-von-Bismarck Foundation.

The program includes papers on various institutional, intellectual, cultural and political aspects of the German Empire’s governments, parliaments, parties, social movements, military, and citizens.

Otto-von-Bismarck-Stiftung

My own paper, titled

Cultures of Dispute in Imperial Germany

adresses the changing practices and organizational forms of political meetings. It shows how these slowly transformed from an arena of controversial debate to a more monologous form, focused mainly on the demonstration of the strength and energy of different political parties. Sketching the changing dynamics between speakers, audience, and outsiders, I argue that a more detailed analysis of the varying modes of (not just verbal) participation and interaction such venues encompassed can shed new light on the ways the society of the Kaiserreich dealt with political plurality.

The workshop’s (NB updated on Oct 26, 2020!) program can be found here:

Next week, on October 1 and 2, Mahshid Mayar and Marion Schulte of Bielefeld University organize an interdisciplinary online-workshop titled

The Anechoic Chamber: Construction and Reception of Silence in Language, Literature, and History

I’m very excited to ‘attend’ the presentations. For more information on the workshop’s approach and attendance, please refer to here (English) or here (German).

After an extended editing process, the proceedings of a workshop held Marburg in 2015 under the title Aristocratism. Historical and Literary Semantics of ‘Aristocracy’ between Cultural Criticism of the Turn of the Century and National Socialism (1890-1945) have now been published by Waxmann Verlag.

4214gross

Its table of contents can be found here.

My contribution, titled

Adel und Epoche. Kulturkritik und Aristokratismus im deutschen Raum um 1800 und um 1900 im Vergleich

[Aristocracy and Epoch: Cultural Critique and Aristocratism in the German Lands around 1800 and around 1900 in Comparison]

discusses the role of the semantics of aristocracy in discourses of cultural critique. In a diachronic comparison, I show how the position of the concept of aristocracy fundamentally changed position between, from a designation of one of the central problems of current culture around 1800 to one of their solution around 1900. This semantic shift is explained against the background of the social transformations of the nineteenth century. The changing composition of elites and the concurrent ‘desubstantialization’ of the concept of aristocracy fundamentally changed the way in which diagnoses about the purported decadence of current times referred to social groups.

The workshop and volume were organized by a DFG funded research group with the same title as the resulting volume.

After my edited volume Zwischen Handeln und Nichthandeln. Unterlassungspraktiken in der europäischen Moderne had already been discussed in two radio shows (Lesart / das politische Buch and Andruck – das Magazin für politische Literatur, both on Deutschlandfunk), as well as in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, two academic reviews have now been published in:

Many thanks to the reviewers for their thoughtful remarks.

An article I wrote for Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy has been published online. In it, I survey the state of current scholarship on political silences and propose a way forward for future research by means of a re-engagement with Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory and its concept of expectations.

Mind the Gaps: Silences, Political Communication, and the Role of Expectations

https://doi.org/10.1080/13698230.2020.1796329

Through this link, the first fifty readers can access the article online for free. After that, please contact me by email.

Abstract

Predicated on a one-sided focus on political “voice”, analyses of political silences traditionally focused almost exclusively on their negative role as the harmful absence of participation or responsibility. More recently, a new appreciation for the wide spectrum of political functions of silence has gained ground, including forms of willful renitence and even active resistance. Yet this thematic expansion has also resulted in a loss of focus. Lacking a common analytical framework, research on political silences risks limiting itself to the purely additive: finding and filling in ever more minute ‘blank spots’ on the periphery of the map of political research. Building on the work of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, this paper proposes a solution to this dilemma by means of a reconsideration of the political role of expectations. In political discourse, the expected distribution of moments of silence and articulation expresses established power structures, while unexpected silences and the breaking of expected silences conversely present a powerful means of calling these into question. Focusing on this ambivalence paves the way to a new systematic typology of political silences as a distinct mode of political communication. But above all, it points to the value of silence as an analytical probe, an instrument to fathom the expectations and constraints structuring political discourse in various contexts and spaces. Besides providing the study of silence with an overarching research focus, such an approach would thus build a bridge between the issue of political silence and wider debates on the structures of the political field as a whole.

The article is part of a special issue titled Silence in Political Theory and Practice, edited by Mónica Brito Vieira.  Its contributions include

  • Mónica Brito Vieira (York), Introduction
  • Theo Jung (Freiburg), Mind the Gaps: Silences, Political Communication, and the Role of Expectations
  • Toby Rollo (Lakehead University), Democratic Silence: Two Forms of Domination in the Social Contract Tradition
  • Sean Gray (Harvard), Silence and Democratic Institutional Design
  • Mihaela Mihai (Edinburgh), The Hero’s Silences: Vulnerability, Complicity, Ambivalence
  • Mónica Brito Vieira (York), The Great Wall of Silence: Voice-Silence Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes

The print version will be published next year in vol. 24, issue 3 of the journal.

In the summer semester of 2020, I will be teaching a course titled

Surviving – Experiencing – Writing: Diaries from National Socialist Concentration Camps

[Überleben – Erleben – Schreiben: Tagebücher aus nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern]

These diaries provide a unique insight into the prisoners’ experiences in the camps as well as in the way they tried to cope with them through the medium of diary writing.

Building on research by Renata Laqueur, Alexandra Garbarini, Amos Goldberg, and especially Dominique Schröder – whose book on the topic has been announced for publication in June of this year – the primary goal of this course will be to give the students the opportunity to work directly with the sources.

In the current circumstances, this course will be the first one I will teach fully online, using a number of different tools. I’ve also started a collection of websites on the course topic available online.

Today, I had a chat about my ongoing research project on political silences in 19th-century Europe with Philipp Janssen for his marvellous podcast Anno PunktPunktPunkt. It will probably take a while until our discussion is published in its feed (available on all the major podcast providers), but until then, I can highly recommend listening to the 50+ episodes currently online.

Some information on the podcast project itself can be found here.

Anno