Main Research Areas
Authority and Trust in American Culture, Society, History, and Politics
The topical focus of this undertaking is the emergence and transformation of authority and trust in American politics, society, religion, and culture since the nineteenth century. Due to its early democratization, its egalitarian and libertarian political culture, its ethno-cultural heterogeneity, and its international predominance, the United States is a particularly interesting case study of authority and trust in the modern world. The thematic scope of the project encompasses state and private actors, social and economic structures, institutions and discourses as well as spatial dimensions and transnational interconnections. For the first time, the formidable expertise that the HCA has been able to gather from the fields of geography, history, linguistics, literature, political science, and religious studies is concentrating on a single issue in this project.
- See DFG Graduiertenkolleg "Authority and Trust in American Culture Society, History, and Politics" (GKAT) for more information.
Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana: A Critical Edition of America’s First Bible Commentary
Professor Jan Stievermann and a team of young scholars from American Studies and theology are now working on volume ten (Hebrews to Revelation) in the ongoing edition of the Biblia Americana by Cotton Mather. Together with general editor Reiner Smolinski (Atlanta), Jan Stievermann also serves as executive editor of the entire ten-volume edition of the Biblia to be realized by a team of seven international scholars.
The original handwritten manuscript, never before transcribed or published, is a comprehensive English-speaking Bible commentary from colonial British North America, produced by the famed Puritan theologian Cotton Mather (1663-1728) between 1693 and 1728. Since 2010 this work—of great significance for both religious and intellectual history—is being made available for the first time by academic publishers Mohr Siebeck in what will ultimately be ten annotated volumes. In 2015 Stievermann and his team completed volume five that includes Mather's commentaries on the biblical books of the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Editing the Biblia Americana in its entirety is unquestionably one of the most important and promising interdisciplinary projects now underway in early North American Studies. Researchers examining the cultural, religious, or literary history of America as well as Europe can equally profit from this academic edition of the Biblia.
In addition, Jan Stievermann's new monograph Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity: Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana (2016) offers the first comprehensive study of Mather's Old Testament exegesis. The descendant of an important Puritan clergy family of New England, Cotton Mather was one of the most influential and productive theologians in Colonial North America. He published more than four hundred writings, including a series of extensive and well-known works in various academic fields. Yet, he always regarded the Biblia as his most important endeavor and the summation of his lifework but failed to find either a wealthy patron or sufficient subscribers for the publication of his magnum opus. Today the 4,561 handwritten folio pages of the Biblia reside in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). While the Biblia manuscript is in good overall condition, its contents have not generally been accessible. Challenges include the early modern handwriting used, which is difficult to decipher; frequent comments on loose pages of paper inserted into the manuscript; the extensive number of citations in classical languages; or a lack of identification for the innumerable literary references. Over the past few years leading Mather expert Reiner Smolinski has brought together a seven-person team of scholars from the fields of American Studies, American history, church history, and religious studies who will now finally realize this mammoth undertaking. The target for completion of the entire edition is 2020.
For more information, please visit matherproject.org.
Natural Catastrophes in the United States
North America is confronted with natural catastrophes and extreme weather events on a regular basis. The United States in particular, witness natural disasters such as earthquakes, droughts, wildfires, severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding on a regular basis.
Despite having been confronted with these events more than most other OECD countries, the United States has struggled to successfully mitigate rising costs and damages from these events in a comprehensive manner, which can be seen in the overall rise in casualties and economic losses from these events since the early 20th century. The Heidelberg Center for American Studies conducts research on the impact of natural catastrophes with special regard to the specific US-American factors that contribute the continuing rise of costs and damages from natural disasters and extreme weather. Among the factors under investigation are climate risks, economic growth, changes in wealth and population density in different regions across the United States, government mitigation and disaster risk reduction policies, the role of risk management and insurance as well as the comparison between North American developments and the Global South and natural disaster discourses and receptions of catastrophe risks.
Principle Researchers: Prof. Welf Werner, Natalie Rauscher
“Kurt Klein and Gerda Weissmann-Klein: Jewish Exile in the United States“
In 2020, the HCA became part of a local endeavor to commemorate the fate of a Jewish family from Walldorf, a town just south of Heidelberg. During the early years of the Nazi regime, the three siblings Irmgard, Kurt and Max Klein managed to emigrate to the United States. They tried desperately but unsuccessfully to arrange the emigration of their parents. Alice and Ludwig Klein were deported to Gurs (France) in 1940 and died in Auschwitz two years later. Kurt Klein returned to Europe in the last months of World War II as a “Ritchie Boy” (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritchie_Boys) with the U.S. Army. At the end of the war, he met his wife, Gerda Weissmann, a survivor of labor camps and death marches. The couple moved to the United States and dedicated their lives to Holocaust education, promoting tolerance, and community service. Gerda Weissmann-Klein’s autobiographical account, All but My Life (1957) was adapted for the 1995 short film, One Survivor Remembers, which received an Academy Award and an Emmy Award (https://www.ushmm.org/remember/holocaust-reflections-testimonies/one-survivor-remembers). She has served on the governing board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which features her testimony in a permanent exhibit. On February 15, 2011, President Barack Obama presented Gerda Weissmann-Klein with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
A local initiative in Walldorf planned to commemorate Kurt Klein’s one-hundredth birthday on July 2, 2020 with a program of readings, films, and lectures by U.S. historians Atina Grossman and Frank Mecklenburg. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the original program was postponed to July 2, 2021; however, a smaller event did take place at the Astoria-Halle in Walldorf. Jointly organized by Wolfgang Widder, who initiated the endeavor, the Vereinigung Walldorfer Heimatfreunde, the Forum 84 theatre, and the HCA, more than eighty guests paid tribute to the life of Kurt Klein. The HCA will continue to provide academic support for this endeavor. Projects under way include the facilitation of German editions of the letters that Alice and Ludwig Klein wrote to their children during the war, the letters that Gerda and Kurt exchanged in the first year after the war, as well as Gerda’s memoir. We are delighted that the family has agreed to support these projects by making the original sources available.
More information: https://kurt-klein.de/
Urban Inequality in the Creative City: A Comparative Analysis of Emerging New Disparities in the Knowledge Society
In the context of the knowledge society, knowledge-intensive industries are seen as a chance for urban economic prosperity and development. However, many of these claims have not yet been tested thoroughly or have even been refuted. Moreover, it might be that the strong focus on education, creativity, and social networks adds to increased cleavages between different social groups instead of opening up opportunities for disadvantaged inhabitants. The project therefore takes a closer look at the impact of the knowledge-based industries on disparities in cities.
It analyzes social inequalities in seven different cities and how they relate to these so-called creative cities. All cities investigated are in different countries, all have large and prestigious universities, and all share a strong focus on the knowledge-intensive industries. By comparing them, the participating scholars assess differences and similarities in inequalities and relate them to recent trends in the context of the knowledge society. Associated partners are: Professor Ulrike Gerhard (Heidelberg), Dr. Michael Hölscher (Heidelberg), Professor David Wilson (Urbana-Champaign), Professor Thomas Hutton (UBC Vancouver), Professor Linda McDowell (Oxford), Professor David Giband (Montpellier), Dr. Ferenc Gyuirs (Budapest), and Dr. Justin Beaumont (Groningen). Findings of this project were published in 2016 as Inequalities in Creative Cities: Issues, Approaches, Comparisons.
Global Urban Society: Doing Global Urban Research Beyond the Global North and South
"Planetary Urbanization" is the new term to study recent urbanization processes throughout the globe. It criticizes the classic dichotomy between rural and urban and extends urban research beyond the traditional urban boundaries. There is "no outside to the urban" since we live in a completely urbanized society (Lefevbre). Thus we have to think the city not as a form or function but as a new theoretical concept. This opens possibilities to study cities throughout the world from different angles, diverse scales, and critical perspectives. The mega city should not stand as a metonym for the city in the global south, whereas the global city is not just a phenomenon of the global north. Neoliberalism is not the only quintessential narrative of urban development in the twentieth century but just one way to understand increasing inequalities within and between cities. This new epistemology of the urban provides new grounds to study North American cities from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Mobility and the Making of the Creative City: Neoliberal Urban Restructuring and its Impacts on Mobility, Space and Social (In)Justice
The neoliberal creative city discourse has been one of the most significant urban discourses driving public policy interventions and urban restructuring in cities across the globe. However, the notion of everyday mobility practices, on the one hand, and the (re)production of mobility in cities and the politics this produces, on the other hand, have been largely overlooked in research on the creative city, even as (the reshaping of) mobility and its spaces appear to play significant roles in the making of the creative city. Thus, in this Habilitation project Gregg Culver is investigating whether and how neoliberal creative city strategies impact the production and politics of local mobility regimes and what this means for concerns over ever-increasing social inequality. Using the empirical example of the surprising, and as of yet largely unexplained, re-emergence of streetcar development projects in dozens of cities throughout the United States, this research aspires to make substantive theoretical and empirical contributions to urban, transport, and mobilities geographies.
African American History: National and Transnational Vistas
The HCA's research focus on African American history unites several endeavors. In 2008, the HCA 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 fifty black and white photographs as well as other exhibition samples, was shown in numerous cities across both Germany and the United States, including Augsburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Mainz, Munich, Ramstein, and Tübingen, as well as in Washington, D.C., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Berkeley, Calif., Oxford, Miss., San Francisco, Athens, Ga., Chapel Hill, N.C., as well as London, England. 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 multilayered sense of how America's struggle for democracy reverberated across the globe. 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 (www.breathoffreedom.org). The documentary "Breath of Freedom: Black Soldiers and the Struggle for Civil Rights," directed by Dag Freyer and originating from the project, premiered February 17, 2014, on the Smithsonian Channel in the U.S. and was broadcast on Arte on December 16, 2014. A German edition of the book was published by transcript Verlag in 2016. For further information on the project as well as access to its digital archive, please visit: www.aacvr-germany.org.
Two projects at the Curt Engelhorn Chair in American History explored the history of slavery, race, abolitionism, black political integration, and the civil rights movements from a perspective that encompasses intersections with social, political, and cultural developments outside the United States. They seek to contribute to a deeper understanding not only of the enduring relevance of African-American history at a national level but also to place questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in a larger global and transnational framework. Publications from these projects include Globalizing Lynching History: Vigilantism and Extralegal Punishment from an International Perspective and Racism in the Modern World: Historical Perspectives on Cultural Transfer and Adaption (both eds. Manfred Berg and Simon Wendt, 2011).
In 2009, Martin Klimke and then-HCA research fellow Mischa Honeck co-convened a conference on Germany and the black diaspora at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. The conference volume Germany and the Black Diaspora: Points of Contact, 1250-1914, edited by Mischa Honeck, Martin Klimke and Anne Kuhlmann-Smirnov, came out in 2013.
HCA research associate Anja Schüler has started work on a biography of the African-American biographer Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), the preeminent figure of the African-American women's movement in the first third of the twentieth century. Utilizing one of the few roads for African American women to gain professional status, Bethune established and presided over what would in 1941 become the first fully accredited four-year college for African Americans in Florida; advised four presidents on child welfare, education, and civil rights; served two terms as president of the National Association of Colored Women; founded the National Council of Colored Women; and became a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet" and arguably the most influential African American woman in the New Deal administration.
Sustainable Governance Indicators 2018: Regional Coordination - United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico
HCA faculty member Dr. Martin Thunert continues to serve as regional coordinator (since 2007) 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 platform built on a cross-national survey of governance that identifies reform needs in forty-one Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union (E.U.) countries. The SGI brings together a broad network of experts and practitioners aiming to understand what works best in sustainable governance. The SGI project offers full access to its data set and thus enables the comparisons that generate innovation in governance.
Some seventy 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. The SGI and its sub-indexes 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 nine 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 results are four separate country reports of 30-40 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.
The results of the latest SGI round were released as Sustainable Governance Indicators 2018 in October of 2018. As always, the entire data, rankings, and sub-rankings for each policy area as well as the country reports are accessible online free of charge on the project's website. Based on its highly interactive functionality, the SGI website offers users easy access to every level of information, including a short version of key findings.
The USA 2018 country report written by Dr. habil. Martin Thunert (HCA), Professor Christian Lammert (Free University of Berlin, JFK-Institute), and Professor Paul J. Quirk (University of British Columbia, Vancouver) can be downloaded at http://www.sgi-network.org/docs/2018/country/ SGI2018_USA.pdf. Here are some of the results:
- Showing increasing problems of fiscal unsustainability, the United States receives middling scores overall (rank 24) with regard to economic policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.3 points since 2014. With significant weaknesses, the United States scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 30) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.6 points relative to 2014. Severe educational inequalities between high- and lowincome areas are evident, with performance generally disappointing. Rising university costs have created severe access issues, particularly for poorer students. Income inequality has increased dramatically. Republican efforts to repeal Obama-era health insurance reforms failed. Continued uncertainty has hampered the stabilization of health insurance markets. Despite tax benefits for families with children, direct family policy is minimal. The employment rate for women is high. Ideological stalemate has prevented pension-system sustainability reforms. The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to cut legal and illegal immigration, and Trump himself has shown active rhetorical hostility toward immigrants. Large-city homicide rates and gun violence in general are serious problems, and the phenomenon of police violence against blacks has drawn increasing attention.
- Despite a history of ambitious environmental protections, the United States has fallen to the SGI 2018’s lowest position (rank 41) with regard to environmental policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.9 points relative to 2014. The Trump administration ceased participation in the Paris climate agreement and is trying to rejuvenate the coal industry. Hard-line opponents of environmental regulation have been appointed to top environmental positions, and many regulations have been reversed.
- Despite the administration’s newly routine flouting of political norms, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 18) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.0 point relative to 2014. A majority of states have implemented measures making it harder for some groups to register and vote. The Trump administration has rolled back anti-discrimination rules. The Republican Senate’s refusal to act on Obama’s Supreme Court nomination and subsequent confirmation of Trump’s highlighted the newly partisan character of the federal judiciary. However, courts continue to act independently in blocking some administration policies. Climate change has proven a major stumbling block, with many Americans rejecting large-scale emissions-control strategies. However, piecemeal efforts by individual states, increased fuel-economy standards and coal-plant regulations, and increased use of natural gas have resulted in emissions reductions consistent with international expectations.
- With a worrisome degree of chaos at top executive levels, the United States has fallen to the lower-middle ranks (rank 27) with respect to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 1.8 points relative to 2014. President Trump has shown virtually no interest in longrange planning. Executive decision-making does not follow orderly processes. The lack of experienced top personnel has increased informal coordination, such as within Trump’s family and business networks. Impact analysis has largely been abandoned at the administration level. Regulations and Obama-era decisions have been aggressively reversed on the basis of minimal analysis. Legislative successes have been extremely limited, due to divisions within the Republican party. Trump’s executive actions have frequently been blocked by the courts.
- Despite concerns over the implications of an uninformed public, the United States receives a high overall score (rank 6) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to its 2014 level. Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal executive-oversight powers are strong, although legislative staff cuts reflect increasing reliance on ideological think tanks for policy advice. The General Accountability Office is independent and influential, with other offices performing additional audit functions. Party candidates are chosen democratically. Party platforms are produced at conventions every four years, but have little influence. Interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy.
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 and its sister project BTI as the "most ambitious experience in comparative politics since Aristotle's time." Current SGI News is available on Facebook. In the spring of 2018 the board of the Bertelsmann Foundation decided to fully fund the project for another four years. Therefore, the next round of SGI 2019 expert assessments was launched in fall 2018.
Patterns of Economic Policy Advice in Germany and the United States: 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 is in high demand across the industrialized world. The United States and Germany represent two very different models of making economic expertise available to policymakers and society at large. Dr. Martin Thunert, together with Professor Andrea Römmele of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, received a substantial grant to research economic policy advice in the United States and Germany from a comparative perspective. The project started in late 2013 and terminated in early 2018 with the submission of the project’s main findings to the Böckler-Foundation. The year 2017 was devoted to drafting and editing the final report.
Funding has come from the Hans-Böckler-Foundation, affiliated with the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB), the Confederation of German Trade Unions. The project analyzes the rules, mandates, and procedures and then evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of selected advisory bodies in both countries – from in-house policy units to expert committees and think tanks. In line with the Hans-Böckler-Foundation's support for research linked to the world of work, the project pays special attention to the question of how the perspective of workers can inform actors, institutions, and processes of economic policy advice in both countries. Dr. Martin Thunert's work was supported by Michael Kühlen, M.A., who served as his research associate between February and November 2014, when he left for a position at the Hans-Böckler-Foundation. Gordon Friedrichs, M.A., who has been with the HCA since 2012, took over this position as research associate between December 1, 2014 and September 30, 2016. In late 2015 Hanna Thiele, B.A., a former student in the HCA’s BAS program and now a master student of international relations at Frankfurt University, joined the project as a student research assistant, while Natalie Rauscher, M.A., a graduate of the MAS program and a doctoral student at the HCA came on board as a graduate student research assistant in February 2016. Both provided assistance to Martin Thunert in the process of drafting and editing the final report in 2017 and early 2018, especially with improving graphics as well as with upgrading bibliographic and statistical information. The final report with the working title “ Muster der Politikberatung: Wirtschaftspolitische Beratung in Deutschland und den USA im Vergleich” co-authored by Gordon Friedrichs, Dorota Stasiak, and Martin Thunert with the help of Natalie Rauscher and Hanna Thiele is currently in the final copyediting stage and will be published online as an edition of the online-publication series “Study” of the Hans-Böckler-Foundation in the first half of 2019.