Main Research Areas
A Transcultural Atlantic:
Constructing Communities in a Global Context
This multidisciplinary and multinational research project (current members hail from the United States, The Netherlands, Poland, Italy, and Germany) explores the Transcultural Atlantic as a realm of cross cultural interaction from the period of the late eighteenth-century Atlantic revolutions to the end of the Cold War and beyond.
More precisely, it investigates various processes of transatlantic networking, community-building, and dissent in the realms of business, academia, the media, popular culture, government, law, and the military. The project sheds new light on the men and women who shaped cultures of transatlantic exchange and cooperation; on the transfer and adaptation of ideas and values across the Atlantic; and on the changing nature of the Atlantic space in an increasingly globalized world. Taking up this approach not only allows us to resituate discourses about the “West” within a larger global framework; at the same time, it will place a greater and necessary emphasis on the contingent, pluralist, and protean nature of transatlantic cultures itself. Because it considers the making of the Atlantic world over a broad span of time, the project will trace changes in the culture of different, sometimes competing communities in the Atlantic realm – to highlight continuities and ruptures; to show the effects of increased flows of goods, services, information, ideas, and identities; and to reassess the impact of major historical developments across the centuries.
Our research endeavor is a cross-disciplinary undertaking, combining the insights of political science, history, cultural studies, literature, and geography. We do not treat culture, society, or politics in a vacuum but examine how they influenced each other through ideas, institutions, and practices. Transnational communities have never been crafted solely and primarily by statesmen and diplomats. Rather, we hypothesize that they grow out of socially constructed values, customs, and symbols as well as the ways in which these were disseminated, interpreted, and adapted in the Atlantic world. To examine these culture flows, our project rejects the traditional notion of cultures as holistic entities and embraces a more recent definition that conceives of cultures as highly interdependent and permeable. Transculturality emphasizes the plurality of existing societal designs and ways of life in the Atlantic realm, highlighting their transnational contours.
The most important project activity in 2012-2013 was the ERP workshop “Lessons from the North Atlantic Financial and Economic Crisis,” held at the HCA from December 13 to 15. The overall project, organized around a series of workshops, is funded by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany with funds from the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and the Global Networks Program of Heidelberg University.
Protest, Culture, and Society: Europe and North America
Protest movements have been recognized as significant contributors to processes of political participation and transformations of culture and value systems as well as to the development of both a national and transnational civil society. This research focus brings together the various innovative approaches to phenomena of social change, protest and dissent that have emerged in recent years from an interdisciplinary perspective.
It contextualizes social protest and cultures of dissent in Europe and North America within larger political processes and socio-cultural transformations by examining the influence of historical trajectories. At the same time, it explores the response of various segments of society, political and legal institutions on a national and international level. Drawing on a variety of networks, events, and forms of academic collaboration, this research initiative seeks to offer a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional, and transnational view of historical and cultural change in the 20th and 21st century.
- Publication Series Berghahn Books (New York/Oxford, 2008-)
Research Project: "The Nuclear Crisis: Cold War Cultures and the Politics of Peace and Security, 1975-1990"
On December 12, 1979, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) implemented the so-called Double-Track Decision: In case arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union failed, the West would station intermediate nuclear forces to provide a counterweight to the new Soviet SS-20 missiles. This momentous decision, alongside the almost simultaneous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, directly affected international politics as well as domestic developments in Europe and North America. The world moved from an era of reduced tension to a newly heightened East-West confrontation during the “Second Cold War.” East-West tensions and the threat of nuclear war provoked sustained political protest. This was further augmented by domestic political turmoil, which in Western societies was heightened by the arrival of a new brand of Western leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl. The early 1980s thus saw the biggest protest mobilization of the Cold War. This research project seeks to establish a transnational history of this “Nuclear Crisis,” which engulfed both Western Europe and North America, yet transcended the European and global East/West divide as well. The “Nuclear Crisis” explores this discourse from three distinct but interrelated angles:
- It looks at the diplomatic, political, and strategic debate surrounding the nuclear armament issue. Only recently have historians started to look at this most salient political issue of the 1970s and 1980s. “Traditional” actors such as the political, diplomatic, and military elites carried this debate forward. Yet “anti-establishment” forces as well as other domestic and transnational actors, such as the churches and intellectuals, were equally important.
- By merging an “establishment” perspective with an analysis of protest cultures, this project aims to transcend the narrow boundaries of traditional diplomatic history: It seeks to bring non-state actors, intellectual discourses, and the role of culture into the study of international relations. It also looks at manifestations of “nuclear death” in popular culture, as well as in “high art,” including – but not limited to – music, film, and novels.
- The project transcends the traditional East/West divide in postwar European history in a number of ways: It explores the “nuclear crisis” on both sides of the Iron Curtain; it looks at the connections between establishment and anti-establishment forces across national borders; it places them in a transatlantic and pan-European setting (one that is potentially global, given the impact of nuclear testing in the South Pacific); and it asks how and to what extent people envisioned themselves as part of larger transnational communities and spaces.
The accompanying digital archive has three main goals: First, it gathers and preserves materials on this important chapter of transatlantic and European history. Second, it makes these materials available worldwide and free of charge to scholars and teachers. Third, it fosters the growth of a community of scholars, teachers, and students engaged in teaching and learning about the nuclear crisis of the 1980s.
“Nuclear Crisis” is a collaborative project by the German Historical Institute (GHI), Washington, D.C.; the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), Munich-Berlin; the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA), Heidelberg University; and the History Department, University of Augsburg. It is directed by Philipp Gassert, University of Augsburg, Martin Klimke, New York University/Abu Dhabi, and Wilfried Mausbach, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Heidelberg University, in cooperation with: Archive Green Memory (Archiv Grünes Gedächtnis), Berlin; Das Bundesarchiv, Koblenz; International Center for Protest Research (ICP); and Volda University College, Volda, Norway.
Recent publications that grew out of this project include Philipp Gassert, Tim Geiger, and Hermann Wentker, eds., Zweiter Kalter Krieg und Friedensbewegung: Der NATO-Doppelbeschluss in deutsch-deutscher und internationaler Perspektive (2011); Christoph Becker-Schaum, Philipp Gassert, Martin Klimke, Wilfried Mausbach and Marianne Zepp (with the assistance of Laura Stapane), eds., “Entrüstet Euch!” Nuklearkrise, NATO-Doppelbeschluss und Friedensbewegung (2012); Philipp Gassert, “Die Popularität der Apokalypse: Überlegungen zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Nuklearangst seit 1945,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 46 (2011); Philipp Gassert, “Arbeit am Konsens im Streit um den Frieden: Die Nuklearkrise der 1980er Jahre als Medium gesellschaftlicher Selbstverständigung,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 52 (2012): 489-514; and Wilfried Mausbach “Vereint marschieren, getrennt schlagen? Die amerikanische Friedensbewegung und der Widerstand gegen den NATO-Doppelbeschluss,” in Zweiter Kalter Krieg und Friedensbewegung, eds. Gassert, Geiger, and Wentker, 283-304.
African-American History: National and Transnational Vistas
Understanding that questions and concerns related to people of African descent are at the heart of the American experience, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, in close cooperation with Dr. Simon Wendt and Prof. Manfred Berg from the Curt-Engelhorn Chair for American History, is dedicated to teaching and researching African-American history from a variety of national and transnational angles.
Our faculties are especially interested in the history of slavery, race, abolitionism, black political integration, and the Civil Rights Movements as well as their intersections with social, political, and cultural developments outside the United States. This way we hope to contribute to a deeper understanding not only of the enduring relevance of African-American history on a national level but of its importance for probing questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in a larger global framework.
Project: "The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany"
In 2008, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies joined a research initiative with the German Historical Institute, Washington D.C. and Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) on “The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany.” Initiated by Professors Maria Höhn (Vassar) and Martin Klimke (New York University/Abu Dhabi), this research project and digital archive explores the connection between the establishment of American military bases abroad and the advancement of civil rights in the United States. It investigates the role African American GIs played in carrying the demands of the civil rights movement abroad beginning with World War II.
In July 2009, the project was awarded the Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award by the prestigious civil rights organization National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at its Centennial Convention in New York City. As the NAACP explained: “By giving voice to their experience and to that of the people who interacted with them over civil rights demands and racial discrimination on both sides of the Atlantic, Höhn and Klimke are preserving and expanding the history of the African American civil rights movement beyond the boundaries of the U.S.”
As part of this research initiative, an exhibition on “The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany,” including more than 50 black and white photographs as well as other exhibition samples, is currently shown in both Germany and the United States. By illustrating the untold story of African American GIs and the transnational implications of the civil rights movement, the exhibit aims at advancing a more nuanced and sophisticated sense of how America’s struggle for democracy reverberated across the globe.
The exhibition has already been shown in Ramstein, Berlin, Munich, Mainz, Augsburg, Tübingen, Hamburg, and Heidelberg as well as in Washington, D.C., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Berkeley, Calif., Oxford, Miss., San Francisco, Athens, Ga., Chapel Hill, N.C., and London, among others. The accompanying book A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany by Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke was published by Palgrave Macmillan in October 2010.
- Global Dimensions of Racism in the Modern World
- Black Diaspora and Germany across the Centuries (2009-)
- Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke, A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany New York: Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010)
- Martin Klimke, The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany and the United States in the Global Sixties (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010).
- Belinda Davis / Wilfried Mausbach / Martin Klimke / Carla MacDougall (eds.), Changing the World, Changing Oneself: Political Protest and Collective Identities in West Germany and the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010)
Sustainable Governance Indicators: Regional Coordination – United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico
HCA faculty member Dr. Martin Thunert serves as regional coordinator for the OECD member states in the Americas (Canada, Chile, Mexico, United States) and affiliated member of the board of an ongoing international and comparative research project, which is conducted and sponsored by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh – the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI).
The SGI is a cross-national survey of governance in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that identifies reform needs and forward-looking practices and offers full access to its data set. Currently, the OECD has 34 member states in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Oceania.
The SGI project was launched in 2006-07 – at the time under the heading “Bertelsmann Reform Index” – and published the first and second editions of results in the spring of 2009 and 2011 respectively. The first edition of the Sustainable Governance Indicators 2009 was based on a two-year study period from 2005 to 2007; the second edition looked at developments from 2008-09 to 2010. The third SGI round for the observation period 2012-2013 was launched in early 2013 and the results of Sustainable Governance Indicators 2014 will be published in the spring of 2014.
Design and Purpose of SGI
Some 70 international experts participate in this broad-based study. Based on 150 qualitative and quantitative indicators, the SGI provide a detailed picture of the countries’ strengths and limitations in order to advance the debate on good governance and sustainable policymaking among OECD members. The SGI thus provide considerably more information than conventional economic data, since social progress and sustainability cannot be expressed by growth rates or material prosperity alone. They also shed light on the success of OECD member states in additional policymaking fields crucial for ensuring the ongoing performance and long-term stability of economic, political, social, and ecological systems and for guaranteeing a high level of social participation. These fields include education, employment, healthcare, integration, innovation, and the environment.
In addition to these traditional policymaking fields, the SGI also examine the quality of democracy and rule of law as well as each government’s executive capacity in practice. Thus, similar to its sister project, the Bertelsmann Foundation‘s Transformation Index (BTI) for developing and transition countries, the SGI are divided into a Status Index and Management Index, which are calculated using quantitative data from international organizations and then supplemented by qualitative assessments from recognized country experts. As a result, the SGI shed light on how capable each country is of using governance processes to identify pressing problems, formulate strategic solutions, and, consequently, ensure sustainable policymaking outcomes. Over the past six years the project has helped to create a comprehensive data pool on government-related activities in the world‘s developed market democracies – among them the United States, Canada, Chile, and Mexico.
The role of the regional coordinator for the Americas is to edit, amend, and consolidate expert assessments written by eight recognized country specialists – two for each country, representing at least two academic disciplines (for example economics and political science) or two nationalities, including the subject nation. The end results are four separate country reports of 30 pages each on reform capacities of the United States, Canada, Chile, and Mexico, incorporating quantitative data interpreted through the lenses of the qualitative expert assessments.
Key Findings and Current Status of the Project
2014 in the spring of 2014. This will be the third major publication of data that builds on the successful and widely acknowledged releases of SGIs in 2009 and 2011. As before, the entire data, rankings, and sub-rankings for each policy area as well as the country reports will be accessible online free of charge on project’s website. At the moment, this address is the home of SGI 2011. Based on highly interactive functionality, the SGI website offers users easy access to every level of information, including a short version of key findings (Direct links SGI 2011: U.S. country data and report / Download: USA 2011 country report written by Martin Thunert, Andreas Falke, and Paul Quirk). The new SGI 2014 USA country report will be authored by Martin Thunert (HCA), Paul Quirk (Brookings Institution and University of British Columbia) and Christian Lammert (Free University of Berlin).
In 2011 the key findings for the United States were on balance positive compared to the results of SGI 2009. In the Status Index the United States moved up to rank 13 of 31 OECD countries (+4 ranks relative to SGI 2009). At rank 7 in the Management Index, management performance in the USA has also improved (+2 ranks relative to SGI 2009). The full SGI 2011 indicator scores for the United States can be accessed and downloaded here.
Media Coverage and Current Activities
SGI was covered extensively, for example in a series of the German news magazine Der Spiegel in the summer of 2012 (editions 26/2012-29/2012) entitled “The Craft of Governing” (“Das Handwerk des Herrschens”). The series singled out “good governance” as the central topic for policymakers and civil servants in time of economic and financial crisis. In its introductory article, Der Spiegel described the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) and its sister project BTI as the “most ambitious experience in comparative politics since Aristotle’s time.”
In 2013 the SGI 2014 expert assessments were completed, scores for individual indicators were assigned, and country reports were written by the experts and the regional coordinator by the end of August 2013 before the college of regional coordinators calibrated the individual country scores in a two-day session in early September and the SGI Board discussed and approved the complete results of SGI 2014 round at its annual meeting in Berlin on September 27, 2013. Currently, copyediting is taking place and the Bertelsmann Stiftung SGI Team is preparing the results and the country reports for publication.
Patterns of Economic Policy Advice in the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America
Organizational Models, Cultural Influences, and Advisory Discourses with a Particular Emphasis on the World of Work
In times of economic uncertainty and financial crisis, economic advice to decision-makers as well as to the general public is in high demand all across the industrialized world. The United States and Germany represent two very different models to make economic expertise available for policy-makers and society.
Dr. Martin Thunert together with Professor Andrea Römmele of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin received a substantial research grant from the Hans Böckler Foundation, a charitable foundation working on behalf of the DGB, the Confederation of German Trade Unions, to conduct a research project between 2013 and 2016, comparing economic policy advice in the United States and Germany.
Since the Hans Böckler Foundation supports research linked to the world of work, specific attention will be given to the question how the perspective of the world of work can inform actors, institutions, and processes of economic policy advice in both countries. The project will be conducted by research staff located at the HCA as well as at the Hertie School of Governance.
The project will analyze the rules, mandates, and procedures as well as evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of selected advisory bodies in both countries – from in-house policy units to expert committees and think tanks. There will be a special emphasis on the communicative strategies of economic advisory bodies and on economic policy discourses in general. The project directors and their research staff are hopeful that they will be able to develop an innovative analytical framework for qualitative comparative analysis.
Images of America in the World after 9/11:
A Data-Driven Approach to Semantic Imprints of Texts
Texts have semantic imprints on their surfaces that can be read as indices for their pragmatic, social or cultural function. These imprints lie beyond traditional concepts of meaning and have so far neither been systematically identified nor analyzed. Using transformations in images of the U.S. since 2001 as a case study, this project will develop categories for the description of semantic imprints with a data-driven approach and integrate them into a model that allows an automatic semantic analysis of texts.
In doing so, the project will explore possible applications of these models for a semantization of the internet and methodological innovations in the social sciences and cultural studies. This research project (2008-2010) was funded by the FRONTIER program of the University of Heidelberg. Project Coordination: Martin Klimke (HCA), Joachim Scharloth (Freiburg/Zürich), Noah Bubenhofer (Zürich).