Michael Herron: "Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics"
Robin Einhorn: "Same as It Ever Was?"
Jennifer Culbert: "Reflections on the Death Penalty"
Lev Raphael: "Haunted By Germany"
Enjoy Jazz at the HCA
Awarding of the Rolf Kentner Prize 2011
Aldon Morris: "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Founding of American Sociology"
Susan Strasser: "Woolworth to Wal-Mart"
Kristin Hoganson: "Buying into Empire"
UniMeile at the HCA
America Day of the Ruperto Carola
Manfred Berg: "Popular Justice"
Robert Isaak: "The Great Bluff"
Adam Tooze: "Never Again"
Tobias Endler: "After 9/11"
Todd Gitlin: "The Press and the Romance of the Financial Bubble"
Mischa Honeck: "We are the Revolutionists"
Hartmut Berghoff: "Can Capitalism Be Tamed?"
Exhibition "The Civil Rights Struggle"
Michael Herron: "Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics: A Study of Race-based Residual Vote rates in Chicago"
December 8, 2011
Why do some voting districts in U.S. electoral history have a higher percentage of voters who go to the polls but do not deliver a valid vote? In the last Heidelberg lecture of the fall 2011 Baden-Württemberg Seminar, Prof. Michael Herron, professor of political science at Dartmouth College and at the Hertie School of Governance, presented the audience at the HCA with some possible answers. He pointed out that voter race figures prominently in residual vote rates, and it is well understood that white voters have historically cast fewer residual votes than minority voters. Yet, much of the literature on race and residual votes is based on electoral environments that predate the passage of the Help America Vote Act, and it is natural to inquire as to whether the racial regularities observed under pre-Act conditions, often with voting technology that has since been superseded, still obtain.
With this imperative in mind, Prof. Herron’s studies show that, even with modern, optical scan voting equipment, there were significant differences among black, Hispanic, and white residual vote rates in the city of Chicago during the Municipal Election of 2011 and the Illinois General Election of 2010. Moreover, these three race-based residual vote rates varied with the availability of, respectively, black, Hispanic, and white candidates for office. Hispanics often had the highest residual vote rates among the three major race groups in Chicago, and Prof. Herron’s studies identify a number of cases in which a group of voters chose not to vote for anyone in the face of a dominant candidate running for office who happened to be of a different race than the voters themselves. He concluded that voter engagement as measured by residual vote rates continues to reflect racial features of elections and that, holding constant electoral administration and voting technology, the political contexts of elections are highly relevant to the residual vote rates associated with them. After asking numerous questions, the audience certainly gained a new perspective for the 2012 elections.
The November events of the Baden-Württemberg Seminar concluded on November 22 with a talk by Robin Einhorn, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. The renowned author of American Taxation, American Slavery gave a very instructive talk on the history of taxes in the United States: “Same as It Ever Was? American Tax Politics in Perspective.” Professor Einhorn’s lecture showed the deep, broad, and continuous roots of America’s fear and loathing of taxes. From the earliest colonial times right up to the Civil War, slaveholding elites in particular feared a strong and democratic government.
Professor Einhorn revealed how the heated battles over taxation, the power to tax, and the distribution of tax burdens were not necessarily rooted in debates over personal liberty. She also exposed the antidemocratic origins of the enduringly popular Jeffersonian rhetoric about weak government. The talk pointed out the complex and ever-changing systems of taxation, and their relationship to local and national politics to a fascinated audience.
November 17, 2011
The Baden-Württemberg Seminar continued in November with a lecture by Jennifer Culbert, Professor and Graduate Director of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, who is currently the Siemens Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. The author of the acclaimed book Dead Certainty: The Death Penalty and the Problem of Judgment took her sizeable audience on a philosophical tour de force illuminating the different ways in which the United States Supreme Court has justified its life and death decisions in terms of “truth” in a Nietzschean sense.
Starting with the 1972 ruling Furman v. Georgia, which declared the death penalty unconstitutional, Prof. Culbert proceeded to interpret the subsequent history of capital punishment in the U.S. with an emphasis on how the Court tried to place its decisions not in the merely actual world but in the immutable world of essence and being. Her fascinating insights included the Supreme Court’s decision to include victim impact statements in capital cases as well as the discourse of the “new abolitionists” like Governor Ryan of Illinois surrounding DNA evidence and innocence. She also discussed one of the most recent cases, the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia in September of 2011, in the light of her findings, which, she postulates, do not argue for or against the death penalty. Instead, Prof. Culbert offered her audience a philosophically compelling account of the Supreme Court’s ongoing struggle to legitimate capital punishment, a struggle which reveals important things about the nature of judgment itself. Predictably this engaging talk was followed by a very lively discussion.
November 15, 2011
For the second Heidelberg lecture of the Baden-Württemberg Seminar, we welcomed Jewish-American author Lev Raphael at the HCA. He is considered a pioneer in writing fiction about what has come to be called America's Second Generation. Among his many publications is My Germany, which describes his initial travels in the country that haunted him throughout his childhood. After an introduction by Public Affairs Officer Janet Miller from the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, the author took the audience back to the postwar years in New York City where he grew up the child of Holocaust survivors. His parents, whose families came from Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, met in the Hillersleben Displaced Persons camp near Magdeburg after his mother escaped from Polte munitions plant in Magdeburg and his father was freed from a train evacuating Bergen Belsen in the spring of 1945. After a few years in Belgium, his parents moved to the United States where Lev Raphael and his brother grew up haunted by the memories of survivors.
He captivated the HCA audience with tales from a household where classical music was revered but no record with a Deutsche Grammophone label ever made an appearance; where shopping for household items became difficult because everything was inspected for its origin; and where even sharing pleasant memories was dangerous, because it could take his parents back to the most terrible years of their lives. Loathing everything German shaped Lev Raphael’s Jewish identity, his life, and his career. Yet his story was also about a reconciliation process that started on his first book tour through Germany and eventually led him to face the past and let it go. After the lecture, the audience kept the author busy with questions and requests to sign copies of My Germany.
October 27, November 3, and November 10, 2011
On three Thursdays during the Enjoy Jazz Festival, the HCA’s Atrium was turned into a movie theatre. In cooperation with Enjoy Jazz, we presented three episodes of Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary Jazz: A History of America’s Music. Each episode was introduced by the sociologist and musicologist Dr. Christan Broecking, who also taught a corresponding class in the MAS.
The first episode, “Our Language,” took the audience back to the “roaring twenties” when jazz, after its initial decades, was everywhere in America. The audience met Bessie Smith, whose songs eased the life for millions of black Americans and helped black entrepreneurs create a new recording industry around the blues; Bix Beiderbecke, the first great white jazz star, who was inspired by Louis Armstrong; and two brilliant sons of Jewish immigrants, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, for whom jazz offered an escape from the ghetto and a chance to achieve their dreams. In New York, Duke Ellington performed in Harlem's most celebrated nightspot, the whites-only Cotton Club, and then got the break of a lifetime when radio carried his music into homes across the country. And in Chicago, Louis Armstrong started to chart the future of jazz in a series of small group recordings that culminated in his masterpiece, West End Blues.
The next episode, “Dedicated to Chaos,” started out in Europe, where musicians like the Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt continued to play despite a Nazi ban, and “Swingkids” defied the “Third Reich.” In America, jazz became the embodiment of democracy, as bandleaders like Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw enlisted and took their swing to the troops overseas. Black Americans, however, continued to be segregated at home and in uniform and fighting for liberties their own country denied them, as authorities padlocked the Savoy Ballroom to keep servicemen off its integrated dance floor. Yet jazz musicians answered the call. Duke Ellington premiered the tone portrait Black, Brown and Beige as a benefit for war relief. But underground and after-hours, jazz was changing. In a Harlem club called Minton's Playhouse, a small band of young musicians, led by the trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie and the brilliant saxophonist Charlie Parker, discovered a new way of playing – fast, intricate, exhilarating, and sometimes chaotic. A wartime recording ban kept their music off the airwaves, but soon after the atom bomb forced Japan's surrender, Parker and Gillespie entered the studio to create an explosion of their own. The tune was called Ko Ko, the sound was soon to be called "bebop," and once Americans heard it, jazz never was the same.
The final episode, “The Adventure,” commenced tracing the changes in U.S. postwar society, as families were moving to the suburbs and watching television became the national pastime. In jazz, old stars like Billie Holiday and Lester Young burned out, but two greats remained: In 1956, the first year Elvis topped the charts, Duke Ellington’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival became his best-selling record ever. The next year, Louis Armstrong made headlines when he condemned the government's failure to stand up to racism in Little Rock, Arkansas. Meanwhile, new virtuosos pushed the limits of bebop: saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins; jazz diva Sarah Vaughan; and the drummer Art Blakey. But the leading light of the era was Miles Davis — a catalyst who constantly formed new groups to showcase different facets of his stark, introspective sound; a popularizer whose lush recordings with arranger Gil Evans expanded the jazz audience; and a cultural icon whose tough-guy charisma came to define what was hip. As the turbulent Sixties arrived, two saxophonists took jazz into uncharted terrain. John Coltrane exploded the pop tune My Favorite Things into a kaleidoscope of freewheeling sound, while Ornette Coleman challenged all conventions with a sound he called "free jazz." Once again, the music seemed headed for new adventures, but now, for the first time, even musicians were starting to ask, Is it still jazz?
After the third week, many in the HCA audience were certainly curious about the answer to this question. We are looking forward to working with Enjoy Jazz in 2012.
HCA Students Enjoy Jazz
Our MAS students write about their perception of jazz
October 13, 2011
Since 2006, when the HCA established its Ph.D. in American Studies program, nearly two dozen aspiring scholars from 11 different countries have decided to pursue their doctorate in this field at Germany’s oldest university. On October 13, in front of a big audience in the HCA's splendidly decorated atrium, another four young scholars, the Ph.D. Class of 2014, officially started their doctoral training: Michael Drescher (Germany), Axel Kaiser (Chile), Styles Sass (USA), and Kathleen Schöberl (USA). In his welcome remarks, Prof. Dr. Detlef Junker introduced all four of them as well as the new MAS Class of 2013, drawing a big round of applause. Prof. Junker also congratulated another successful Ph.D. candidate – Mohamed Metawe – on completing his dissertation; he was offered a position at Cairo University almost immediately. Prof. Junker then provided a brief sketch of how the HCA's Ph.D. program has evolved from a small group of ambitious researchers to one of Germany’s most international and interdisciplinary doctoral programs that attracts students worldwide.
The main part of the evening, however, was reserved for the awarding of the Rolf-Kentner Prize. Sponsored by one of the HCA’s most active benefactors, Rolf Kentner, chairman of the Schurman Society for American History, the award recognizes an outstanding and yet unpublished dissertation in the field of American Studies completed at a German university.
This year's recipient was Dr. Frank Usbeck from Leipzig University. In his laudatio, Prof. Dr. Manfred Berg, dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, introduced the audience to the complex and ambivalent story of German “Indianthusiasm,” which, as Frank Usbeck argues, provided Nazi propaganda with a rich discourse that could be employed in a broad variety of contexts and for very different purposes. Frank Usbeck’s dissertation may thus prompt us to reconsider our understanding of Nazi racial thought and of racism in general. It shows that race, rather than being an iron-clad ideological doctrine, has been an extremely flexible and adaptable concept. Nazi propaganda could exploit racial and cultural stereotypes of American Indians that were deeply rooted in German popular culture and therefore not necessarily recognizable as propaganda. For the same reason these images survived the downfall of the Third Reich. Prof. Berg stressed that we need to understand that Nazi ideology and propaganda did not reflect a monolithic Weltanschauung that can be neatly separated from other ideological world views such as socialism, liberalism, or conservatism. Instead Nazi ideology, as Dr. Usbeck’s dissertation brilliantly demonstrates, took advantage of a panoply of ideas, discourses, and tropes and adapted them to its own uses, including images of American Indians as “Fellow Peoples.”
In his keynote address “Tribe, Nation, Volksgemeinschaft: German Indianthusiasm and the Construction of National (Socialist) Identity,” Frank Usbeck then elucidated these remarks. Excerpting from his prize-winning dissertation, he presented some of the key arguments of his work, arguing that National Socialist ideology drew on Indian imagery in order to help construct and solidify a specific national identity. Accordingly, the Nazis went so far as to claim not only historical parallels but also biological ties and cultural relationships between Germans and Indians. Instructive, entertaining, and provocative, the talk garnered much applause and sparked a lively discussion. The evening ended with a reception in the HCA's Bel Etage, where the prize-winner, the benefactor, and a large audience continued their discussion.
October 11, 2011
The tenth semester of the HCA’s Baden-Württemberg Seminar got off to a great start with a lecture that connected one of the founders of American sociology with a local hero. Aldon Morris, Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, spoke about the role W. E. B. Du Bois played in building the first scientific school of sociology in the United States and the important impact German society had in shaping Du Bois’ world view and his approach to the social sciences. These German influences were central in enabling Du Bois to assume a historic role in developing scientific sociology in America. In particular, Prof. Morris argued three points: First, during the late nineteenth century, Germany helped transform Du Bois’ world views on the nature of racial inequality. Second, German scholars and their social science research at the University of Berlin, where Du Bois studied from 1892-94, provided him with the intellectual perspective and tools necessary to establish the first school of American scientific sociology. And third, Max Weber, by that time an renowned sociologist, deeply influenced Du Bois’ intellectual achievements; finally, Du Bois, also shaped Weber’s approach to social inequality and his political views regarding racial inequality.
Prof. Morris’ also elaborated on how Weber, a continent away, embraced Du Bois’ scholarship and reached out to him as a highly capable scholar. In so doing, Weber was able to absorb this scholarship and use it to enrich his own. Because of Du Bois’ political values, Weber was able to discard his provincial race biases and embrace a perspective stressing cultural pluralism and full democracy. Prof. Morris talk showed that there was a strong reciprocal connection between Du Bois’ pioneering school of sociology and the scholarly world of German social science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were both enhanced by the Du Bois’ German connection. The lecture was followed by a memorable discussion with some dedicated Weber scholars in the audience.
Susan Strasser: "Woolworth to Wal-Mart: Mass Merchandise and the Changing American Culture of Consumption"
July 7, 2011
The ninth semester of the HCA ‘s Baden-Württemberg Seminar concluded on July 7 with a talk by Susan Strasser, the Richards Professor of American History at the University of Delaware. An eminent scholar of American consumption history, Prof. Strasser traced the development of American marketing techniques and shopping customs from 19th century Main Street to the discount stores of today. Her talk commenced with a look at the origins of mass marketing. As the United States changed from an agricultural to an industrial society, countless new products emerged, and around the turn of the century, Americans of all classes had begun to eat, drink and wear products made in factories that processed massive amounts of raw. Along with new production methods, new techniques for national marketing emerged to convert a population used to homemade products to standardized, advertised and brand-named goods. While most goods had been sold as unbranded commodities and wholesalers had controlled the market throughout the nineteenth century, some mass producers now established sales and delivery forces and started to promote their own products. As Americans increasingly switched from the cracker barrel to Uneeda Biscuits, from bulk oats to Quaker Oats and from soda to Coca-Cola, contemporary consumer culture began to emerge.
Prof. Strasser then turned to analyze changes in retailing. New marketing methods demanded new types of stores. Mass merchandising brought forth three genuinely new retail forms: the department store, the mail-order store and the chain store. They all applied fundamental principles of modern selling: Prices were fixed before the sale, workers low-paid, goods departmentalized and priced to move fast. A.T. Stewart’s “Marble Palace” in New York opened in 1846 as the first “department store,” Macy’s and Marshall Field’s followed soon, and many department stores opened mail-order divisions to cater to rural customers. By 1906, Sears, Roebuck sent out a 1000 page catalogue to prospective customers, processed more than nine hundred sacks of mail a day, and operated its own printing plant and the second largest power plant in Chicago. At the same time, chain stores started to replace the general store all over the country, most prominently the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which had started trading groceries in the 1890s; A&P operated almost two hundred stores in 28 states by the turn of the century and almost 16,000 by 1930. Well before that, in 1916, the first Piggly Wiggly Store in Memphis, Tennessee, introduced self-service; the chain ultimately had 2,660 stores and franchised its design. By the 1930s, many characteristics of the American shopping landscape were in place: To serve a population accustomed to brand names, increasingly equipped with automobiles and looking for bargain prices, enormous supermarkets were erected on cheap land outside urban areas. Like today’s Wal-Mart shoppers, customers were no longer restrained by what they could carry but bought in great quantities, ensuring high volume and fast turnover. Not surprisingly, Prof. Strasser’s talk triggered an animated discussion – after all, everybody in the audience was a consumer.
June 30, 2011
The spring semester of the HCA’s Baden-Württemberg Seminar continued on the last day of June with a talk by Kristin Hoganson, a well known expert on transnational history and the cultures of U.S. imperialism. In her talk, Prof. Hoganson argued that the world of domestic consumption linked the formal U.S. empire of state power to a more informal but not less powerful informal empire of U.S. commercial power. Economic expansion fueled the globalization of consumption, while the appetite of U.S. consumers in turn drove economic expansion, quadrupling, for example, the import rates of food between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century. Consumers, producers, importers, retailers, advertisers, advice purveyors, and conspicuous style setters all played their part in this development. “Appropriate consumption” started to characterize the relatively cosmopolitan lifestyle of white, well-to-do, native-born Americans.
To analyze how Gilded Age Americans “bought into” their empire, Prof. Hoganson employed “geographies of consumption,” looking at the public circulation of ideas that explained and contextualized foreign goods for the domestic market. Fashion retailers, for example, not only advertised lingerie, but pointed to their Asian origins; cookbooks taught lessons about U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and the Philippines; decorating columns referred to “Chinese rattan” and “Oriental rugs.” These consumer geographies often drew on a militaristic language and depicted imperial expansion as beneficial to both American consumers and foreign producers.
Another way to understand the correlation between domestic consumption and empire is to look at cultural practice: How consumers made ostensibly foreign goods part of their daily lives. Imports often became a sign of social distinction and a marker of civilizational attainment that associated their users with a global elite. Prof. Hoganson pointed to the “cosey corners” – orientalist niches – that became a rage in middle-class households before the turn of the century and to the popularity of “foreign entertainments” like tea à la Russ or “Chinese frolics.” At fundraising fairs with themed booths, Midwest matrons could shop for perfumes from Paris, coffee from Constantinople, or china cups from Shanghai. In the end, the American consumption of foreign goods was not only cause or result of U.S. imperialism but an integral part of it.
June 25, 2011
The HCA was “hot” during UniMeile, another part of the jubilee activities at the Ruperto Carola. Once again, Dietmar Schloss and Heiko Jakubzik put together an attractive program that presented new American novels, movies, music, and TV series. The event originated from the graduate seminar “Hot Off the Press” that has followed new trends in American Literature, film, pop music and the Internet for seven years now.
The large and keenly interested audience heard about the news coverage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, novels by Paul Auster, Jennifer Egan, and David Foster Wallace, TV series like “Mad Men” and movies like Black Swan and The Social Network. Spirited discussions always followed the short lectures and “Hot Off the Press” once more proved to be a very successful format. In addition, visitors to the HCA could this time enjoy American Barbecue in the back yard. Our thanks go to “Tischlein Deck Dich” Catering for providing delicious spare ribs, corn on the cob and much more.
June 24, 2011
As part of the university jubilee, the Ruperto Carola celebrated “America Day” on June 24, underscoring the strong ties between the university and the United States. America Day started in the afternoon with a panel discussion about president Obama’s political future: “The Obama Presidency: Will there be a Second Term?” Among the participants evaluating the chances of the U.S. president and his opponents were political scientist and HCA Ghaemian scholar in residence Patrick Roberts, HCA graduate student and author Styles Sass, American Studies scholar Dorothea Fischer-Hornung from Heidelberg University, and history professor Mansiha Sinha from the University of Massachussetts at Amherst. The discussion was moderated by Martin Thunert (HCA) in German and English. After a musical intermezzo with Eva Mayerhofer and Christian Eckert, America Day continued with the festive inauguration of the James W.C. Pennington Distinguished Fellowship, initiated by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Faculty of Theology to honor the American pastor and former slave James W.C. Pennington. In 1849, Pennington was the first African American to receive an honorary doctorate from a European University – the Ruperto Carola.
After introductory remarks by the HCA’s Founding Director, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Junker, and Honorary Senator Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger, Consul Jeanine Collins had a special surprise for the sizeable audience: A message of greetings from the president of the United States! President Obama thanked the HCA for this initiative, which, he said, reflected the strong alliance and enduring friendship between the United States and Germany. The president expressed his conviction that in honoring James W.C. Pennington’s achievements, Heidelberg University will inspire future generations of Americans and Germans. The HCA’s longtime benefactor Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger has generously agreed to fund the first fellowships. The formal part of the evening concluded with an intriguing keynote speech on “James W.C. Pennington and Transatlantic Abolitionism,” given by Prof. Sinha. Afterwards, the audience enjoyed drinks and scrumptious fingerfood in the yard and the atrium of the Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais.
May 26, 2011
For this season’s third HCA book launch, Professor Detlef Junker warmly welcomed his long term friend and colleague Professor Manfred Berg, who is the Curt Engelhorn Professor of American History at the University of Heidelberg. Professor Berg introduced his new book Popular Justice – A History of Lynching in America to his students, colleagues and the interested public.
Professor Berg reading looked at lynchings in different periods of American History, starting with the origin of the term. During the American Revolution, Charles Lynch headed an extra-legal county court in Virginia, which punished criminals, traitors and supporters of the British. Though Lynch and his companions gave themselves the power to punish, Professor Berg pointed out that their actions cannot be equated with later mob violence. Their violation of law took place during a time of a clear military threat and the chaos of war. Yet, since that time the name “Lynch” is inseparable linked to extra-legal violence. In the chapter “Indescribable Barbarism” Professor Berg described lynching as an instrument of racial oppression in the South during the Jim Crow era. Blacks who were suspected of raping or killing Whites were often “brought to justice” not by legal authorities or a court but by raging mobs armed with ropes, fire and cameras. Most participates of group violence were ordinary people. They committed terrible crimes because they followed orders, believed in a “higher cause” or wanted to keep their communities safe. Lynching was a very visible and therefore very effective instrument to maintain white supremacy even after the abolition of slavery. However, Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, Whites and others also became lynching victims. Prof. Berg introduced the example of the Jewish factory superintendant Leo Frank, who was accused of raping and killing a young girl in 1913. Though he was innocent, he was sentenced to death because of anti-Semitic prejudices, an aggressive yellow press and ambitious southern politicians. Frank was acquitted but then kidnapped and killed by an angry mob after his release. In the last part of his lecture Professor Berg analyzed the transition from lynching to hate crimes in the 1980s. For him, hate crimes are individual acts of violence against minorities which are inspired by the same ideologies as lynching but without the support of the community.
Professor Berg’s lecture was met with great interest in the discussion that followed. Many members of the audience took the chance to continue the conversation with the author over a glass of wine and to purchase Popular Justice – A History of Lynching in America for a special introductory price.
May 23, 2011
While financial bailouts of EU states and the devaluation of the Euro dominate the news on this side of the Atlantic and people are scared of the financial consequences, many Americans seem to have a more optimistic view on the economic situation of their country. In his provocative lecture Robert Isaak, Professor of International Management at Pace University in New York and author of Brave New World Economy: Global Finance Threatens Our Future, revealed the weak spots of what he considers a rather fragile financial security.
For Professor Isaak, the American culture is a money culture with a banker’s view of reality. Understanding the special relationship between Americans and their money is essential in order to comprehend their current reaction to the financial crisis. In the United States money serves as a surrogate for freedom. Professor Isaak pointed out that the American bailouts constitute, among other things, a shift from the private to the public sector, which is not only bad news for the tax payers but also a violation of a maxim many Americans believe in: “The government is best which governs least.”
Yet, were those drastic bailouts which go against the American culture and tradition even successful? According to Professor Isaak, the escape from the financial crisis they achieved can only be temporary or in other words a “Great Bluff.” First, the financial crisis caused the decline of small commercial banks, which support small and medium-sized businesses and therefore the American middle class; at the same time, the big banks, which gain profit from new financial instruments like mortgages and assets, were saved with great amounts of taxpayer money. Second, in comparison to states like Russia or China, the United States holds only small reserves of foreign exchange and gold to back up their currency. Third, the United States spend a lot of money on the social sector, for example on education or health, but the “profits,” e.g. the average life expectancy, don’t represent the money spent. As a result of insecurity and uncertainty during the crisis, conservative politics gained popularity.
According to Professor Isaak, the only way out of the worldwide financial crisis is to solve the conflict between the developed and overbanked industrial countries and the undeveloped and underbanked ones. Isaak sees an opportunity for such a solution in the appointment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as this may result in a greater leadership role and more influence of the emerging markets.
After Professor Isaak painted a rather gloomy picture of the current and future financial situation, many members of the sizeable audience participated in a controversial discussion revolving around the role of the IMF and the World Bank, the future of the Euro and the justification of financial bailouts.
Adam Tooze: "Never Again: Memories of the Great Depression and America’s Reaction to Today’s Financial Crisis"
May 19, 2011
The Great Depression and the New Deal remain a remarkable rupture in the history of American economic performance, and Americans seem to revisit it almost compulsively at times. Yet, as Professor Adam Tooze pointed out in his very enlightening presentation, the New Deal was controversial from the outset. Many Americans saw and see the Roosevelt administration as inimical to the American Way of Life in a radicalizing political discourse. The academic discipline of economics in particular is almost dramatically divided, with each side boasting its Nobel Prize winners and influential public intellectuals. To complicate the picture further, historians of the New Deal are fragmented along technical and political lines and the function of history itself has changed. Mapping this confusing field, Professor Tooze offered four positions that combine different politics and economic theories with different notions of the purpose of history.
For a large section of the American liberal public the New Deal, the American victory in World War II and the Marshall Plan continue to represent a nostalgic badge of collective identity, a vital progressive moment in American history, tinged with a sense of regret about the present and a nostalgia for the past. Not surprisingly, the American left, while marginal to popular debate, has attacked New Deal politics from the start, maintaining that the state expanded but that the structures of capitalism were untouched, destroying the populist roots of American grassroots democracy. Far more dominant than this view is the vocal and popular critique from the right, which argues that the state intervention of the New Deal and the uncertainty it created amongst businessmen actually caused the prolonged economic slump. The so called freshwater school even cruelly insists that all changes in economic activity, including unemployment, can be traced back to rational choices by free economic agents.
For Professor Tooze, the most powerful position is the “skeptical optimism” adopted by mainstream policy intellectuals such a Ben Bernanke, Paul Krugman, or Christina Romer, a position true to the legacy of American pragmatism. Skeptical optimists believe that rational human thought and action within existing institutions can make a powerful positive difference. While the era of the Great Depression does not necessarily offer answers to the questions the U.S. is facing today, skeptical optimists can probably best meet the challenge to open a new chapter in the national narrative that ends the saga of American exceptionalism. Naturally, the talk was followed by a lively discussion with the sizeable audience.
Tobias Endler: "After 9/11: Leading Political Thinkers about the World, the U.S. and Themselves" (HCA Book Launch)
April 21, 2011
On April 21, a sizable audience welcomed Tobias Endler, the Ph.D. administrator at the HCA, for the second HCA book launch. He presented his newly published book After 9/11: Leading Political Thinkers about the World, the U.S. and Themselves. With his presentation Tobias Endler also provided a glimpse into the sources for his forthcoming dissertation.
During a research and teaching fellowship at Yale University Tobias Endler interviewed fourteen men and three women, who are some of the most prominent public intellectuals of the United States, for example John Bolton, Francis Fukuyama, James M. Lindsay and Nancy Soderberg. These public intellectuals are not only highly visible in the media, but have each published a book on America’s foreign policy after 9/11.
On the one hand, Tobias Endler asked his interview partners to define their nation's role and position on the global stage: What is America's foreign policy in the post-9/11 world? What should it be? What led to the catastrophe of September 11? How to best to prevent another one, and how to restore America's damaged reputation? What to expect of Obama? And are the United States still a superpower? On the other hand, he asked them to define their own role: What is a public intellectual? Is this still a relevant concept? Did their authority increase since the attacks of 9/11? What role do public intellectuals play in the democratic public debate?
After explaining the concept and method of his work Tobias Endler continued his lecture with excerpts of audio tapings of the interviews. The audience enjoyed this part of the book launch particularly. Not only did the audio recordings give a greater insight into Tobias Endler’s work, they also made the audience feel closer to the intellectuals themselves. It became obvious that although the professional backgrounds of these political thinkers are as diverse as their ideological orientations, most of them agree that America should have a leadership role in the world and only disagree on how to achieve it.
The evening was completed with contributions by Dr. Martin Thunert, senior lecturer in political science at the HCA, and by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schloss, one of the Ph. D. advisors of Tobias Endler. Thereafter all three of them gladly answered questions and later continued the engaging conversation with the audience over a glass of wine.
April 15, 2011
On April 15, the HCA welcomed a very special guest, Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University. This “not very private intellectual,” as he describes himself, is also well known as the third president of Students for a Democratic Society (1963-64). During his term of office he helped organize the first national demonstrations against the Vietnam War and against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Moreover, Professor Gitlin is the author of fourteen highly appreciated books and many members of the audience brought one along.
In his lecture “The Press and the Romance of the Financial Bubble” Professor Gitlin highlighted the inglorious role of the American press during the nationwide mortgage speculations which led to the worldwide financial crisis 2008/2009. Instead of pointing out the risks of these insecure mortgages the press cheered for the financial sector and celebrated its CEOs as “masters of the universe.” At the same time, there were no investigative stories confronting the powerful men and institutions whatsoever. Professor Gitlin emphasized that also due to this one-sided press coverage investment bankers became unquestioned moral authorities for the American public. They were admired for creating value for their companies, as well as wealth for the American society and themselves. The press became a “watchdog that didn’t bark” in the face of danger. According to Professor Gitlin the press failed because it was impossible for journalists, whose numbers dwindled constantly, to understand all the connections and patterns of the complex financial system. Since conventional journalism fell through, Gitlin has supported the idea that non-profit journalism and informal agencies like Wikileaks will undertake the task of investigating such complex topics in the future.
The lecture was met with great interest and the evening continued with an extensive and lively debate. In the end everyone had a chance to shake hands with Professor Gitlin and have their books signed by the author.
Mischa Honeck: "We are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848" (HCA Book Launch)
April 12, 2011
This spring, the HCA introduced a new format on its event calendar. Students, colleagues and the interested public were invited to the first HCA book launch. Dr. Mischa Honeck, currently a research associate and the Ph.D.-Coordinator at the HCA, introduced his first book: We Are the Revolutionists. German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848.
The evening opened with music and pictures that transported the audience back to the mid-nineteenth century. After a warm introduction by Dr. Wilfried Mausbach, Dr. Honeck used the opportunity to thank his colleagues at the HCA and especially his wife for the support during the years of research and writing.
In the following lecture Dr. Honeck retold the story of the so called Forty-Eighters who fought for their ideals in the failed European revolutions of 1848–49. Thousands of them fled from prosecution to North America. However, arriving in a foreign country did not end their pursuit of freedom. After 1848, German-speaking immigrants collaborated and build new friendships with American abolitionists, overcoming ethnic and cultural boundaries for a common goal: the abolition of slavery. Yet, in his lecture Dr. Honeck also analyzed the limits of this transatlantic alliance. Not only did American and German Revolutionists disagree on how to achieve their mutual goals, but they were also trapped in their respective social environments of ethnocentrism and racism. Thus, Dr. Honeck placed the struggle for abolition in a new transnational perspective, 150 years to the day after the battle of Fort Sumter, which started the American Civil War.
The evening continued with Civil War historian Martin Öfele, who gave his appraisal of We are the Revolutionists, questions from the floor and a lively discussion. Members from the audience then had a chance to continue the conversation with the author over a glass of wine. We are certainly looking forward to the next book launch at the HCA.
March 31, 2011
On Thursdays throughout its anniversary year, the Ruperto Carola invites the Heidelberg public to learn more about its multifaceted teaching and research activities. Each week during the “University Hour,” a different institute opens its doors to present its work. On March 31, the HCA built “Bridges to the New World.” A video conference via skype offered HCA fellows and visitors the opportunity to meet and chat with its partners on the other side of the Atlantic.
It started out with Felix Lutz at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, who, among other things, reported on the consequences of the global financial crisis on elite American universities. After that, Maria Höhn at Vassar college told the audience about the history of the photo exhibition “Civil Rights, African Americans, and Germany” that was showing at the HCA at the time. We talked to HCA Ph.D. candidate Johannes Steffens in New York City and then moved on to the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, a longtime partner of the HCA. In DC, we also connected with David Morris, German area specialist at the Library of Congress. The HCA video conference continued at the University of Nebraska with two former associates of the HCA, Jeannette Jones and Alexander Vazansky. We then went to Denver, Colorado, to chat with Kathleen Lance, president of Heidelberg Alumni US, which also gave Irmtraud Jost on this side of the Atlantic the opportunity to report on the activities of the Ruperto Carola’s Alumni Association. Our virtual journey across the North American continent ended in San Francisco, where we talked to Bob Cherny, a former Fulbright Professor at the HCA, and Charles Postel, our future Ghaemian Scholar in Residence. Entertained further with wine and pretzels, our visitors undoubtedly gained interesting insights into the work of the HCA and its partners – for more than an hour.
Hartmut Berghoff: "Can Capitalism Be Tamed? The Beginnings of Credit Rating in the United States and Germany Prior to 1914"
March 17, 2011
Hartmut Berghoff, currently the director of the German Historical Institute in Washington D.C., drew a sizeable crowd for his lecture on the history of credit rating agencies. His audience was undoubtedly also looking for an explanation why U.S. rating agencies failed so blatantly in the current financial crisis. Today’s rating agencies, Professor Berghoff stated, “grossly underestimated the risks involved, … were simply overtaxed by the … complexity of the new investment vehicles” and were subjected to a “conflict of interest.” In addition, Professor Berghoff treated the audience at the HCA to a little explored subject of economic history: the emergence of credit rating agencies in the nineteenth century United States. These agencies were an institutional response to the challenges facing an industrializing nation and later an industrializing globe. In an expanding market that sold most of its wares on credit, nineteenth century businessmen looked for a system that would transform commercial uncertainties into manageable risks. Transforming and ultimately substituting the social capital formerly accumulated through families, churches, and ethnic communities, rating agencies collected, evaluated, and centralized enormous amounts of data and thus enabled their clients to foster trust among strangers in an increasingly anonymous and insecure world.
At the same time, they acted as disciplining institutions, guided by the values of the WASP middle class. Credit rating agencies grew exponentially: The reference book of the Dun agency, founded as the Mercantile Agency by silk merchant Lewis Tappan in 1841, boasted 10,000 entries by 1859 and 1.8 million by 1915. Today, Dun & Bradstreet remains the market leader in the commercial data business. Professor Berghoff also pointed out that the relative strength of credit rating agencies in the U.S. also reflected the weakness of the banking system, whereas businesses in Germany – geographically much smaller – could rely on local Chambers of Commerce for contact, information, and trust. Yet, credit rating did eventually get off the ground in the German Empire, particularly when it became increasingly indispensable for German exporters to tap into global information networks.
March 15, 2011
Since the end of World War II, almost three million African American soldiers have been stationed in Germany. Many of them contributed to the defeat of the Third Reich. Their experience as part of the occupation army in Germany, where – in contrast to the United States – institutionalized racism did not exist after 1945, became an important impulse for the African American civil rights movement. In the 1960s, the German student movement became an important platform for civil rights activists in- and outside the U.S. Army in Germany. These little known aspects of civil rights history are now being documented in a digital archive and a photo exhibition that is on display at the HCA in April and May after showings in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and San Francisco, to name a few. The objects in the exhibition range from pictures of black soldiers at the end of the war over cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s and flyers of the student movement to a poster expressing solidarity with Angela Davis.
In the digital archive directed by the two curators of the exhibition, Maria Höhn of Vassar College and Martin Klimke of the HCA and the Germans Historical Institute in Washington, DC, researchers of these three institutions explore the question to what extent the creation of American military institutions outside of the United States facilitated the U.S. civil rights movement. The digital archive documents the experiences of Afro American soldiers, activists, and intellectuals in twentieth century Germany and thus adds a transnational dimension to the history of the American civil rights movement. With this photo exhibition, the HCA utilized its atrium as an exhibition space for the first time and could welcome a sizeable crowd for the opening, among them members of the U.S. Army and the Rhein-Neckar Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.