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Promoting dialogue between scholars and the public, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies offers a wide range of informative events to its audience.

In case you were unable to attend an event, these pages give you the opportunity to inform yourself about the main arguments and results of the debates and talks.

This page will provide a retrospect of selected recent events in chronological order. A retrospect of earlier events can be found in our retrospect archive.

Panel Discussion: "Zukunft der Arbeit – Chancen und Risiken der Digitalisierung" (HCA Economics Month)

July 9, 2019 | by Andreas Balz

Welche Veränderungen sind von der fortschreitenden Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelt zu erwarten? Wie wird sie sich auf unsere Gesellschaft auswirken? Welche Voraussetzungen braucht es um ein günstiges Klima für digitale Innovationen zu schaffen? Und kann Deutschland am Beispiel Silicon Valley etwas für die Zukunft lernen? Zur Abschlussveranstaltung des Economics Month hatte das HCA gleich drei Gäste geladen — aus Wirtschaft, Politik und Wissenschaft — die bei einer Podiumsdiskussion diese und andere Fragen aus unterschiedlichen Perspektiven näher beleuchten sollten.

...read more on the HCA Graduate Blog!

Paul Harvey: "That Which Is God In Us: Howard Thurman and American Religion in the 20th Century"

July 2, 2019

This year, the HCA and the Faculty of Theology bestowed the eighth James W.C. Pennington Award upon Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Fellow at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Professor Beatrix Busse, prorector of Heidelberg University, greeted the guests in the packed Atrium of the HCA and dwelled briefly on the origins of the award that enables its recipient to spend a few weeks teaching and researching at the Ruperto Carola. Funded by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation, the award stands for the values the fugitive slave and Heidelberg University share: It acknowledges scholars whose work sheds light on African-American culture, history, and education. Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger then gave a brief introduction to the life of James W. C. Pennington, followed by Professor Jan Stievermann’s laudatio on this year’s recipient.

Professor Harvey then dedicated his lecture to the extraordinary life of Howard Thurman. A philosopher, theologian, pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the most influential figures of African American history in the twentieth century, Thurman is almost forgotten today. Born in 1899, he experienced the worst years of racial segregation in the United States in his youth; the everyday confrontation with racism significantly shaped his philosophy of social justice. Howard Thurman’s thought joined Christian mysticism, Quakerism, African American pietism, and reformed Hinduism. As professor at Howard University and Boston University, as preacher, author, and mentor, he had a lasting impact on all post-war Civil Rights activists. However, he never sought the spotlight. Growing up in a small African American parish in Florida, Thurman spend much of his free time in nature; these experiences became essential components of his mystic philosophy. According to Professor Harvey, Howard Thurman was raised a Baptist but always kept an ambivalent relationship to the denomination’s theology. The YMCA introduced Thurman to the Social Gospel Movement that sought to fight social problems with Christian reform initiatives. Later, Thurman studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta and at Rochester Theological Seminary in New York to eventually become a professor at Howard University. He developed a Christian-motivated philosophy of peaceful resistance and hoped it would help him overcome racially motivated oppression and violence. His undertaking put him in touch with the pacifist Student Christian Movement and made a long trip to India in 1935 possible. There Thurman faced his own matters of faith but also the criticism of Hindu academics who did not understand his allegiance to a church that had oppressed African Americans and other marginalized groups for centuries. Gandhi, whom Thurman met in 1936, supported his belief that Christianity needed a radical return to Jesus’ teachings of benevolence and peace. Back in the United States, Thurman published his ideas and founded the Church of Fellowship of all Peoples in San Francisco to continue his teachings. In the following years, his philosophy became an integral part of the African American Civil Rights Movement; activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and James Farmer built on Thurman’s strategy of peaceful activism. Thurman inspired white Christians as well as African Americans to identify with the oppressed and engage themselves in the movement. His theology and philosophy strengthened the oppressed and dispossessed, lead the way towards a peaceful, brotherly society, and built bridges towards other spiritual traditions such as Gandhi’s reformed Hinduism. Paul Harvey closed his lectures with remarks about Howard Thurman’s basic belief of the inner relationship of each Christian to God that obligates the believer to encounter his neighbors with love and equity. After the lecture, an impressed audience raised their glasses to the distinguished guest in the HCA back yard.


Michèle Mendelssohn: "Life Imitates Art, or: The True History of Oscar Wilde’s American Tour and Transatlantic 19th-century Racism"

June 27, 2019

On June 27, Michèle Mendelssohn continued the Baden-Wurttemberg Seminar with her lecture on Oscar Wilde’s American tour. Professor Günter Leypoldt of Heidelberg University’s English Department introduced the guest, who has a long-standing connection with Germany. She spent many summers learning German and working jobs on an island in the North Sea. After her graduation from Concordia University in Canada, a visiting scholarship brought her to Heidelberg University where she studied German literature. In 1999, she went to Cambridge University to earn her M.Phil. and Ph.D. in American and English literature. Today, Mendelssohn is a literary critic, cultural historian, and member of Oxford’s English Faculty.

In July 2018, Mendelssohn published Making Oscar Wilde, a biography of the famous Irish poet and playwright. Contrary to common belief he was “not born a genius, he became one.” Though influenced by his eccentric mother, he nevertheless had to outlive hardships before he became the global cultural icon we remember today. After graduating from school, Wilde enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin to study the classics. Smart but still socially awkward, he applied to Oxford University to study more classics but really focused on expanding his social circle. He succeeded, and the prominent people he surrounded himself with leveraged his own success: discovered by a caricaturist, Wilde headed for America in 1882. “I have nothing to declare but my genius,” were Oscar Wilde’s supposed words upon arrival in the United States. From the beginning of the tour, managers and photographers staged Wilde’s appearances as if he was a movie star. People loved his unconventional style of long hair, tight trousers, and eccentric beard, and police needed to clear the streets because of “young women craving for Oscar.” Though women loved him, Wilde’s eighty-page lectures bored the audiences, and his instant success stagnated. The press tore him apart. His sexuality and his Irish ancestry offered enough material for wild assumptions and racial controversies. Repeatedly, Wilde became the victim of unfavorable reports and caricatures picturing him as a black-faced minstrel act. The Irishman Oscar Wilde was racialized and ridiculed. As many as nineteen minstrel shows featured Wilde, the most famous one being “Ten Sisters for Oscar.” Oscar Wilde was the victim—until he bought into the same culture of fakery and imitation that made fun of him in the first place. He landed an instant success as he attacked American furniture in one of his lectures and established his famous “dandy” persona. Wilde’s genius manifested itself in countless poems, essays, dramas, and in The Picture of Dorian Grey, his only novel. Until today, literary criticism uses words like “Wildean” and “Wildese” that trace back to him. Professor Mendelssohn concluded that Oscar Wilde’s believe in himself made his success and extraordinary life possible. “Today he’d have the last laugh” she assumed. Michèle Mendelssohn’s lecture was followed by several rounds of interesting questions form the audience.


Barbara Savage: "Merze Tate: A Black Scholar’s International Thought on War, Race, and Anti-Imperialism"

June 25, 2019

The Baden-Württemberg Seminar continued on Tuesday, June 25 with a talk by Barbara Savage, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania and Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at Oxford University. Dr. Anja Schüler, coordinator of the Baden-Württemberg Seminar, was delighted to welcome Professor Savage at the HCA and introduced the audience to her academic career. In her lecture, Professor Savage shed light on the life and work of twentieth-century African-American scholar Merze Tate, who in spite of her academic and personal achievements received growing public recognition only after her death in 1996.

Born and raised in central Michigan, Merze Tate was the first African-American woman to graduate from the state’s Western State Teachers College in 1927. Following her graduation, she had to move to Indianapolis where she taught at a segregated High School and continued her education attending several graduate and summer courses. Eventually, Merze Tate received a scholarship from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority to study foreign affairs at Oxford University where she was the first Africa-American graduate in 1935. Merze Tate returned to the U.S. and soon entered a Ph.D. program at Harvard University, from which she graduated in 1941. Not only was she the first female African-American Ph.D. recipient from Harvard, she moreover became the first female professor at Howard University’s History Department. There, Barbara Savage emphasized, Merze Tate regularly addressed wage inequality and gender discrimination, fighting vigorously for more time to teach and research. Shortly after the establishment of the Fulbright Program, she received a grant to teach geopolitics at Tagore’s World University in Shantiniketan, India in 1950. Unlike other American scholars who travelled to India, Tate became deeply committed to community life there. The university’s vision to welcome students from all cultural backgrounds and enable them to study peacefully together enchanted her, said Professor Savage. While she met many important individuals such as Gandhi during her time in India, Merze Tate was above all able to travel extensively throughout Asia and the South Pacific. Back in the U.S., she refocused her research on the South Pacific and Africa, two projects she continued to work on until her death. In her academic works, Merze Tate regularly expressed deeply anti-imperialist and anti-racist thoughts. She was thoroughly concerned about the impact of the post-war situation on existing inequalities and hence argued for a new global order that would guarantee freedom to everyone. To Merze Tate, racism was not a local issue but symptomatic of a global problem that required interdisciplinary and international cooperation, two approaches Tate was committed to throughout her career. Professor Savage emphasized that the substantial body of publications on international relations and geopolitics in Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific, her belief in gender and racial equality as well as her personal and professional devotion highlighted Merze Tate as an outstanding woman of her time and true intellectual pioneer. Following this insightful glimpse into the life and work of Merze Tate, Barbara Savage gladly answered questions from the audience that was eager to find out more about Merze Tate’s struggles and achievements.


Panel Discussion: "Is American Democracy Endangered?"

June 19, 2019

On June 19, the HCA hosted a panel discussion to celebrate its fifteen-year anniversary and the eightieth birthday of its founding director Professor Detlef Junker. Friends of the institution and other guests gathered at the New University’s Manfred Lautenschläger Lecture Hall for a panel discussion about the resilience of American democracy. Professor Welf Werner, director of the HCA, opened the evening with a retrospect of his predecessor’s long career that looked back on his academic successes and his achievements as a talented academic entrepreneur.

Welf Werner thanked Detlef Junker in the name of the entire staff for his superb efforts before handing over to Dr. Wilfried Mausbach, the moderator of the panel discussion. Introducing the topic of the evening, Dr. Mausbach emphasized that the current American president, who many people regarded as the biggest threat to the American democracy, was essentially a symptom of a complex social malaise weighing heavily on the American democratic system. The panel, made up of geographer Ulrike Gerhard, historian Manfred Berg, political scientist Martin Thunert, and economist Welf Werner presented a wide range of expertise. For the opening round, Wilfried Mausbach asked Dr. Thunert about specific threats to American democracy. The political scientist explained that, by now, Democrats and Republicans no longer regarded each other as competitors but as enemies, mixing morality with politics and subsequently complicating if not ruling out negotiations or compromises between both parties. Professor Berg then identified the growing polarization of American society as an equally pressing issue. Considering that a similar condition had preceded the outbreak of the Civil War in the nineteenth century, he argued, it seemed as if America was currently undergoing a paradigmatic transformation other pluralistic Western states might experience in the future as well. Following this analysis, Professor Gerhard remarked that the rising inequalities in American metropolises affected over eighty per cent of all Americans and had a significant influence on their political participation. Here, Welf Werner added that during the past thirty years, fifty per cent of Americans had been excluded from economic growth and that financial insecurity could affect even the other fifty per cent, as the financial crisis of 2008 had demonstrated. In the second round of questions, Ulrike Gerhard pointed out that private investors nowadays partially funded urban development projects such as the Hudson Yards in New York City, subsequently creating exclusive areas and displacing lower class residents. Manfred Berg added out that this resulted in an increasing support for right wing populism while Welf Werner noted critically that left wing fractions were growing at a similar rate but that diverging definitions of liberalism in the U.S. and Europe often failed to highlight this development. At this point, Martin Thunert remarked that many political entities were not using their full powers, and that this posed a serious threat to the democratic system and its checks and balances – a prominent example being the Democrats who did not impeach Donald Trump for strategic reasons. When Wilfried Mausbach asked Manfred Berg whether one could compare Trump to other political figures of the past or present, Professor Berg hesitated and warned that such comparisons were often counterproductive. Following this exchange, Professor Gerhard emphasized the gravity of the structural inequalities that had resulted in the 2016 presidential election and argued that these inequalities should be at the center of the debate about the vulnerability of American democracy. Martin Thunert agreed and pointed out that multiple structural inequalities were an inherent part of the U.S. political system. When the moderator finally asked the panelists for a concluding prognosis, Manfred Berg, Martin Thunert, and Welf Werner expressed great skepticism about a return to American democratic principles. Although Ulrike Gerhard agreed with their evaluations, she pointed toward various urban initiatives that had successfully tackled some social problems such as housing inequality. Paying attention to positive local changes on a small scale across the U.S. therefore enabled her to look more optimistically to the future. In the ensuing discussion, the audience brought forth additional threats to American democracy before Detlef Junker offered some concluding remarks. He stated that he had not anticipated the election of Donald Trump even though he had been engaging with American history and politics as both scholar and contemporary for many decades now. However, after the election he had come to the realization that Trump’s presidency was a symptom of a deep-seated crisis whose resolution, he was certain, would have a global impact. Therefore, he was grateful to his colleagues on the panel who had offered insights into a complex issue. The guests then proceeded to the HCA’s back yard where the Studierendenwerk offered an authentic American barbecue. Friends, family, and colleagues enjoyed a wonderful summer celebration and at midnight raised their glasses to toast the HCA’s founding director.


John Komlos: "The Economic History of Trumpism" (HCA Economics Month)

June 18, 2019 | by Natalie Rauscher

The Heidelberg Center for American Studies was glad to welcome the distinguished Prof. emeritus John Komlos during Tuesday’s evening lecture. Komlos was scheduled to talk about “The Economic History of Trumpism” and immediately made clear that he was glad to visit Heidelberg but that the purpose of his visit was not a happy one.

...read more on the HCA Graduate Blog!

Edward Lengel: "Public History, Public Memory: Pivotal Moments and How They Are Remembered"

June 13, 2019

On June 13, the Baden-Württemberg Seminar continued in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and the chair for public history at Heidelberg University with a guest lecture by Edward Lengel, the 2018-19 Revolutionary in Residence at Colonial Williamsburg. Dr. Anja Schüler, coordinator of the Baden-Württemberg Seminar, briefly introduced Dr. Lengel, whose positions as professor for history at the University of Virginia and Chief Historian for the White House Historical Association led him to his work as public historian.

Edward Lengel commenced his talk by explaining that he had refocused his career to find an approach to history that was able to bridge the gap between academia and the public. As the divide between popular historians and academic historians grew, the latter found it increasingly difficult to interest general audiences in history. Dr. Lengel thinks this is because academic historians no longer attempted to empathize with historic figures or show compassion for their situation, thus failing to highlight the similarities between them and us. This was largely the result of an academic approach to historiography popularized during the early twentieth century. Focused entirely on factually accurate history, academic historians at the time began to exclude storytelling, an essential component of historiography that enabled people to build meaningful connections between themselves and the past. Edward Lengel himself had recognized the importance of storytelling while he worked on the George Washington Papers Project at the University of Virginia. Americans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries experienced George Washington’s death as a devastating loss. Subsequently, they held on to numerous anecdotes, true and false, about their late president, which enabled them to grieve while simultaneously keeping Washington’s image with them. Following the American involvement in World War I, historians began to debunk the Washington stories as a response to a post-war rejection of patriotic narratives. Those anecdotes that survived this process were completely true but also, said Dr. Lengel, dull and meaningless. Until the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the idea of meaningful stories remained largely absent from American historiography. Edward Lengel emphasized that the process of reincorporating storytelling in factual historiography was challenging, ongoing, and often met with broad resistance in academia. In particular, the waning interest in historical narratives surrounding D-Day and the Berlin Airlift demonstrated that even meaningful aspects of a nation’s history could become meaningless over time if they are not connected to meaningful stories. Dr. Lengel closed on the note that since academic historians were losing touch with the wider public, it was evident to him that they had to change their approach to historiography in order to maintain the relevance of their work in the public eye. After these fascinating insights, the audience was eager to find out more about changing historical narratives in the ensuing discussion round.


Robert Zoellick: "The Changing Global Economic Geography" (HCA Economics Month)

June 11, 2019 | by Maren Schäfer

As part of the Economics Month, the HCA and the Alfred-Weber-Institute for Economics welcomed Robert Zoellick to Heidelberg. Robert Zoellick is Senior Counselor at Brunswick Geopolitical, an advisory service of Brunswick Group, a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, and serves on the boards of multiple companies. He was the President of the World Bank (2007-2012), U.S. Trade Representative (2001-2005), Deputy Secretary of State (2005-2006), and Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury and Under Secretary of State, as well as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff (1985-1993). Mr. Zoellick also led the US Delegation to the two plus four talks on German reunification and had therefore requested to discuss the German unification with German students during a seminar. In the evening, he gave a lecture on The Changing Global Economic Geography.

...read more on the HCA Graduate Blog!

Barry Eichengreen: "The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in America" (HCA Economics Month)

May 29, 2019 | by Aline Schmidt

Over the next few weeks, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies is hosting its first Economics Month with a number of events discussing economic perspectives on the United States – from changes in global economic geography or the future of work in the US to the interweaving of populist surges and economic turbulences. To kick it off, the HCA has collaborated with the Economics Department and the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany to welcome economic historian Barry Eichengreen to Heidelberg. Eichengreen currently holds the George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professorship of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is balancing dedicated in-depth research, detailed observation, and careful documentation of patterns and fluctuations throughout the economic history of the West.

...read more on the HCA Graduate Blog!

Jon Coleman: "Nature Shock: Getting Lost in America"

May 23, 2019

On May 23, the HCA was delighted to welcome Professor Jon Coleman, Chair of the Department of History at Notre Dame University, to its Baden-Württemberg Seminar. Professor Jan Stievermann of Heidelberg University welcomed his colleague and gave the audience a brief introduction into his work. Professor Coleman got involved with the topic of his talk while researching the history of mobility in America before combustion engines, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship. During this inquiry, he came across multiple intriguing stories about getting lost in America that lead him to look further into this phenomenon.

Following Professor Stievermann’s introduction, Jon Coleman dwelled on how the past five years of academic exchange between the HCA and Notre Dame University had influenced his research on getting lost. He drew from the theory of the spatial turn as well as psychological studies of spatial cognition in order to approach an answer to the question why humans got lost and in the past and still get lost today. According to those theories, we engage with and construct space abstractly and creatively instead of perceiving it geographically. Moreover, unlike animals, we do not pay attention to near planetary features such as magnetic forces or the position of the sun. Coleman therefore argued that space is something social, geographical, and constructed for humans, and that they are hence likely to get lost if those elements shift or change. Such a change could lead to alienation from socially or geographically navigable space as well as to an ensuing trauma he termed “nature shock,” a seizure-like sudden confusion that incapacitates a person’s orientation ability and can be traumatizing for life. Professor Coleman used the case of Jack, a hunter, to illustrate this condition. With a group of fellow hunters, Jack had chased a herd of horses from the plains back to their owner. During a storm, he was separated from the group and went missing for thirty-three days. Professor Coleman argued that the group of hunters had travelled through space without paying attention to their surroundings because they were focused entirely on the horses. However, the group was able to navigate out of an unfamiliar environment in a storm because it stayed together. Jack got lost because he lost the social network through which he navigated unfamiliar spaces. As social beings, our relations to others define our perception and navigation of spaces familiar and unfamiliar. Jon Coleman further argued that this insight was significant since we currently experience a transformation from relational space to individual space. In the age of mass media, the relations that define our space sometimes span the entire globe, creating more individual, immediate surroundings. Although Professor Coleman was uncertain about the impact this transformation will have on human navigation in the future, he assured the audience that we will continue to rely on personal connections to navigate space, notwithstanding the character of our environment. After a round of applause, the audience used the opportunity to learn more about Professor Coleman’s research and ways to avoid getting lost.


Hugh Ryan: When Brooklyn Was Queer

May 16, 2019

On May 16, the HCA and an expectant audience welcomed author and queer historian Hugh Ryan from New York. In cooperation with the Heidelberg Queer Festival and the Graduiertenkolleg “Authority and Trust” (GKAT), Ryan presented his recent book When Brooklyn Was Queer in the Baden-Württemberg Seminar. Hugh Ryan’s professional background is as diverse and colorful as the subjects of his study. He writes the biweekly “Themstory” column as the resident historian at Conde Nast’s new LGBTQ magazine Them. He founded a pop-up museum of queer history in 2010, where he curates exhibitions at local communities and leads workshops on AIDS activism and LGBTQ history. Furthermore, he serves as the development associate at the Urban Justice Center, as a consultant for New York City’s queer experimental film festival, and as an expert on the literary origin of zombies.

Without ever knowing or noticing anything about its queer history, Hugh Ryan lived in Brooklyn for fifteen years. After he discovered hints of Brooklyn’s queer past that no historian has ever written about, he began his journey through the archives, systematically uncovering Brooklyn’s “great forgotten story.” Walt Whitman’s publication of Leaves of Grass in 1855 marks the beginning of Hugh Ryan’s historic timeline that covers the famous drag kings of the late nineteenth century, Ella Wesner and Florence Hines, life in Brooklyn’s gay brothels, lesbian women who found employment in the Navy Yard during World War II, and “scare queen” Martin Boyce’s stories of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The waterfront played a particular role in the growth of Brooklyn’s queer scene. It offered dangerous, dirty, and low-skilled jobs but jobs that paid and queer people were willing to take. A whole waterfront economy developed around gay sailors, sex workers, dancers, and lesbian women who worked in the factories. The police often forbore to change the situation to keep the economy running. The opening of New York’s subway system at the beginning of the twentieth century connected suburbs and neighborhoods and promoted a lively exchange between the city’s queer communities. If Brooklyn’s queer scene experienced this kind of growth what caused its disappearance, its forgetting, Hugh Ryan asked.

The talk then examined in more detail the 1942 case of the Swedish brothel owner Gustave Beekman, who was accused of running a “house of degradation” where German spies and American soldiers met to exchange secret information about troop movements. The media picked up the story and turned it into a sensation involving a gay senator and the question about Beekman’s financial backers; it seemed incomprehensible how a gay brothel owner could earn as much money as Beekman did. In the end, the court sentenced Beekman to twenty years in a maximum-security prison, and he disappeared from public records. After this “witch hunt,” Brooklyn’s brothels gradually shut down, and all signs of former centers of queer community vanished.

Although queerness has been popularized inside and outside of academia, not the least because of Netflix shows and social media, approaching the topic historically proved to be a research challenge, said Hugh Ryan. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, sexual orientation was seldom if ever discussed in newspapers and interviews; he had to rely on letters, personal diary entries as well as oral histories to put the puzzle together, piece by piece. The ambiguous definition of the term “queer” and its ever-changing use over the past 150 years was another challenge of writing this book. At times, people’s memories in oral histories did not match his other sources and required comparing and reconstruction. Ryan struggled to find Brooklynites who worked the navy yard or protested during the Stonewall riots in 1969 and wanted to talk about their experience. However, in the end he was able to reconstruct a profound historic timeline of Brooklyn’s queerness. As fellow historian George Chauncey put it, Hugh Ryan “makes history cool.” The audience’s applause and interested questions bore testimony to this comment.

Find a review of When Brooklyn Was Queer by Kristin Berberich on the HCA Graduate Blog: https://hcagrads.hypotheses.org/2027


Hartmut Rosa: "Charisma als Resonanzbeziehung"

May 9, 2019

On 9 May 2019, the Graduiertenkolleg “Authority and Trust” (GKAT) welcomed sociologist Hartmut Rosa at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA); Hartmut Rosa is professor of general and theoretical sociology at Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and director of the Max-Weber-Kolleg at Erfurt University. Professor Günter Leypoldt gave an introduction to Hartmut Rosa’s main area of research: Hartmut Rosa’s talk was based on his influential monograph Resonanz: Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung, which was published in 2016 and builds upon his earlier publication Beschleunigung: Die Veränderung der Zeitstrukturen in der Moderne from 2005. In his talk, Prof. Rosa focused on the connecting elements between the two concepts “charisma” and “resonance.”

Before introducing the audience to his concept of resonance, Professor Rosa presented several of his own social theories, proposing that “resonance” can be seen as providing a solution to these particular issues. Based on Max Weber’s notion of modernization as a centuries-long process of rationalization, Hartmut Rosa perceives, for instance, modern societies as consistently longing for knowledge that renders the world calculable and controllable in all of its facets, be it in terms of government, lifestyle, or explorations of the moon or nuclear energy. The phenomenon of continuous acceleration, exponential growth, and innovation forces modern societies to grow and accelerate systematically, just in order to maintain the status quo. Professor Rosa described this necessity of constant acceleration needed to maintain the system (which he calls “dynamic stabilization”) as the “escalation logic of modernity.” The members of such a society are driven by and torn between two impulses: on the one hand, the longing to continuously bring more of the world within their reach, on the other hand, the fear to fall and be left behind. While the traditional aim of parents once was to do everything to enable their children an improved standard of living, parents now are driven by the ambition of making sure their children’s social economic status does not drop below their own. What pervades society at an even deeper level is, as Hartmut Rosa emphasized, the “basic anxiety of modernity” – the fear of losing our grip on the world, seeing it change and slip from our perception. According to Max Weber, every modern process of rationalization comes with the downside of perceiving the world as disenchanted. Professor Rosa conceptualizes this form of disenchantment as a mode of “world relation,” in which subject and world have grown alienated: the world appears as mute, grey, indifferent, or even openly denying any relation at all. We are faced with a world that, despite our efforts to appropriate it, appears as a kind of desert – a world, in which work, products, processes, human beings, and animals become alienated, a world generating “professionals without spirit” and “hedonists without passion,” enraged citizens and people suffering from burnout syndrome.

In light of these observations, what would a more “successful” world relation look like? For Hartmut Rosa, the answer lies in the concept of “resonance” – a term he borrows from physics and uses in a sociological sense to describe a system of responses between subject and world. In his understanding, resonance takes place on three “axes”: the horizontal, interpersonal axis; the diagonal, material axis (which binds us to people and objects, be it to a church, a castle, or a baker to his bread); and the vertical axis, a general sense of the connection to the world. Resonant world relations are shaped by a kind of affection (something calls to us and touches us deeply) and emotion (we answer this “call” and react to it); finally, this process of being touched and affected transforms us, the world, and the relation itself. Resonance, as Rosa points out, is not “available” in the sense that it can be constructed or forced, and the results of such contacts are open-ended. While we might, for instance, enter a concert hall with the expectation of being moved, there guarantee the music will actually touch us.

According to Professor Rosa, the unavailability of charisma is, among other things, an aspect that qualifies it as a relation of resonance – here too, the addressee must exhibit an inherent willingness to be moved. The concept of charisma, in contrast to that of “genius,” cannot exist without a counterpart and is hence a relational term in its very essence. Resonance in charisma first of all manifests itself in that this world relation is diametrically opposed to any form of prediction or control and can hence function as a counterforce to processes of rationalization and bureaucratization. Second, charisma can be seen as having transformative powers by creating axes of resonance on the three aforementioned levels. A further similarity between resonance and charisma that Hartmut Rosa pointed out consists in the fact that both concepts are routinized through and in ritual. He referred to the Christian faith as an example: While on the one hand, the ritualization of charisma can stabilize the axes of resonance, it can, on the other hand, also lead to a certain stiffening of form. Towards the end of this talk, Professor Rosa questioned his own thesis by referring to a central difference between these two forms of world relation. Unlike charisma, resonance presupposes a voice on the receiving end. Charisma, in contrast to resonance, is shaped by an asymmetrical relation between the sending and the receiving party; it causes a relationship of echoes rather than resonance. While charisma claims on behalf of others – “I am your voice” – resonance simply says, “I will give you back your voice.”


Sandra Gustafson: "Regeneration through Non-Violence: Cooper, Stowe, and the Politics of the Early Peace Movement"

April 30, 2019

The twenty-fifth Baden-Württemberg Seminar of the HCA continued on April 30 with a lecture by Sandra Gustafson. As Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s English Department, Gustafson’s foci lie in American literature and culture, peace studies, and the study of civil and human rights. Her talk successfully integrated these scholarly specialties.

Jan Stievermann, professor of the history of American Christianity at Heidelberg University, introduced the speaker and her distinguished career: Apart from her role in undergraduate and graduate education at Notre Dame, she is the editor of the ninth edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. A, the advisory editor of Journals Early American Literature, and a guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of the Early Republic.

In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, early “theorists of peace” William Penn and Immanuel Kant wrote on the “Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Dyet, Parliament, or Estates” (Penn, 1693-94) and “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (Kant, 1795). However, these pacifist ideas did not assume a permanent form until the early nineteenth century; in 1815, David Low Dodge formed the first peace organization in New York City, inducing a rapid growth of similar societies all over New England and Ohio. Print media brought the peace movement to international attention during the 1840s, and it expanded across the globe. In 1949, French author Victor Hugo presided over the first international Peace Congress in Paris, arguing that “the cause of peace is a direct extension of our democratic responsibilities.” African Americans and abolitionists alike regarded slavery as a persistent cause of war and inhibitor of peace and freedom; two African American men attended the Congress in Paris: James W.C. Pennington and William Wells Brown.

DThe two novels chosen by Professor Gustafson, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, both stem from that agitated time in which the peace movement first flourished. The Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831, the murder of Elijah Lovejoy six years later, as well as “Bleeding Kansas” and John Brown’s Raid intensified the fracture of American society, widened the gap between war and peace, and encumbered the ultimate goal of nation-wide freedom. In her analysis, Professor Gustafson turned toward the figures of Hattie Hutter in The Deerslayer and Phineas Fletcher in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In The Deerslayer, James Fenimore Cooper incorporates Christian morality and the ethical dimension of frontier violence towards Native Americans. The character of Hattie Hutter stands as representative of the tragic and seemingly unavoidable colonial warfare of the time. Though of limited intellectual powers, Hattie Hutter’s strong belief in morality and biblical teachings allowed her to speak up against violence and bloodshed. When a group of Englishmen attacked the members of the Native American Huron tribe, Hattie was mortally wounded and dies. She protruded as a symbol of goodness in a world reliant upon power and force.

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe created the character of Phineas Fletcher as a symbol of pacifism. Fletcher, a man violent by nature, converted to Quakerism not out of faith but out of love to a woman. When he, too, is wounded, he undergoes a metamorphosis from slaves’ catcher to honest, believing frontiersman. The construction of the figure Phineas Fletcher and Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a whole bespeaks Beecher-Stowe’s deep understanding of the peace movement at the time. While critics did not see Stowe’s novel as a comprehensive image of a post-slavery society, it was nevertheless a first step towards a broader education about the peace movement.

After Professor Gustafson’s knowledgeable, in-depth analysis of these works of fiction and their connection to the early peace movement, a lively discussion commenced. The audience wondered, for instance, if there was an obvious connection between the peace movement and morality and femaleness and if the novel was a preferred medium to bring across the message of the peace movement. Professor Gustafson doubted that peace was a specifically feminine topic though mostly women were active in social reform movements. The novel was probably a favored medium due to the vigorous print culture at the time.


David Greenberg: "Unpresidented: Liberalism, Democracy, and the Politics of Truth after the Election of Donald Trump" (HCA Commencement)

April 26, 2019

On April 26, the HCA celebrated its 2019 Commencement at Heidelberg University’s venerable Old Lecture Hall. Accompanied by the Collegium Musicum’s UniBrass Ensemble, 33 graduates of the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs received their honors. The dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Professor Stephan Westphalen, welcomed the graduates and guests and emphasized that the HCA had provided excellent education and research opportunities to their young scholars over the last fifteen years and would continue to do so. Following Professor Westphalen’s remarks, HCA Director Professor Welf Werner commenced his address to the graduates starting with the B.A. class of 2019. He pointed out that the free and independent education from which they had profited was no longer a self-evident privilege in Europe and the United States.

In his address to the international M.A. class, Professor Werner highlighted the importance and benefits of freedom of speech and freedom of movement that enabled scholars to learn in a pluralistic environment. Finally, Welf Werner addressed the three Ph.D. graduates, Debarcharna Baruah (India), Melanie Gish (Germany), and Agnese Marino (Italy), and congratulated them on the completion of this challenging task. He reminded the audience that the HCA was one of the few public private partnerships in the humanities in Germany and depended on the support of its generous benefactors.

NAfter expressing his gratitude to the HCA’S dedicated staff and its founding director, Detlef Junker, Professor Werner introduced David Greenberg, this year’s commencement speaker. Professor Greenberg teaches history, journalism, and media studies at Rutgers University and regularly contributes to the New York Times and magazines like Slate, The New Yorker, and Politico. After extending his congratulations to the graduates, Professor Greenberg remarked that as an American abroad he frequently felt the need to explain Trump and his politics. The president’s demeanor led critics to believe that voting him out of office would be easy, a dangerous underestimation. Criticism towards the president focused mainly on his relations to Russia, his behavior and attitude towards minorities, and his dishonesty. These alleged “Trump Cards” made critics blind to the president’s supporters, who countered any criticism vigorously. Consequently, so Professor Greenberg, Trump’s critics were unaware of two groups of his potential voters, namely the progressive left and liberals who both agreed with Trump on many levels. Members of the progressive left were likely to deny someone who disagreed with them the right to free speech – a behavior Trump demonstrated frequently; and liberals wanted to rid American society of conservatism – just as the president was eager to purge the White House from dissidents. Such unexpected supporters demanded a more carefully tailored election campaign, as simplifying Trump’s behavior and failing to engage with him and his supporters seriously would easily discredit Democrats in the eyes of voters. David Greenberg emphasized that critics should remain factual at all times and acknowledge their own frailties if they wanted to portray themselves as trustworthy politicians. In his conclusion, Professor Greenberg remarked that only a pluralistic society and a moderate government, which equally valued liberals, progressives, and conservatives, could address the growing schisms among Americans. Professor Werner expressed his gratitude to David Greenberg for his insightful lecture and then proceeded to award the graduates their respective titles. Following this ceremony, the HCA director bestowed the book prize to the valedictorian of the M.A. class, Benedict Scantlebury, whose thesis “A Moment of Biracial Possibility Thwarted: The Collapse of the Readjuster Coalition in Post-Reconstruction Virginia, 1879-1883” was praised for its original and detailed research. In his speech, the 2019 valedictorian expressed his gratitude to his teachers and peers and praised the HCA as an institution that fostered open-minded engagement with the world and its cultures. After a round of applause, Professor Werner invited everyone to the HCA where guests and graduates enjoyed a beautiful reception.


Exhibition: "Woodstock and the Nation"

March 14 to April 26, 2019

August 2019 commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and the HCA celebrated this anniversary with an exhibition. More than thirty bands and solo artists of the folk, rock, psychedelic rock, blues, and country genre played in front of 400,000 visitors on a dairy farmer’s pasturelands near small-town Bethel, New York, from August 15 to 18, 1969. Among the artists were prominent musicians such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Credence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Santana. Inclement weather and organizational problems caused somewhat chaotic conditions, but overall, the atmosphere was euphoric. Countless movies, books, posters, and photos immortalized the “Three Days of Peace & Music.” However, while it played a vital role in the festival’s music, the political dimension of Woodstock usually fades into the background.

On opening night, March 14, a lively crowd gathered at the HCA to admire Reinhard Schultz’s exhibition of Woodstock photographs and to attend the lecture of Professor Ingrid Holtey from the department of contemporary history at Bielefeld University on “1968 and the counter-culture.” For the past twenty years, Professor Holtey’s work has focused on social movements, especially the 1968 movements in Germany, France, and the United States. The heated atmosphere of the 1960s, visible in many of Schultz’s photographs, the riots, protests, and arrests, echoed in her lecture. Together with Dierk Helmken, she reenacted a scene of the Chicago Eight Trial in 1968, when the federal government charged eight men with conspiracy and incitement of riot and countercultural protests. The horrors of the Vietnam War and the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy provoked countless other student, hippie, and antiwar movements and protests all around the country and the world.

At the same time, two young men, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang, dreamed of their own music studio. They paired with two investors from New York and organized what would become one of the grandest and most famous festivals in history. In July 1968, local initiatives forced Kornfeld and Lang to settle in Bethel instead of Woodstock. Despite the spontaneous change of location, people began arriving two weeks before the official start of the festival, and 150,000 had already pitched their tents before the pay booth was up. In the end, Woodstock was declared admission-free and 400,000 people attended. However, the festival was not all flowers, peace, and friendship but part of the capitalist economy. The image of a creative, “other” America, self-determined and free-minded, stood juxtaposed to the profit-seeking of the festival organizers. Bands and solo artists did not play for love and pacifism but for enormous fees; camera teams roamed the festival grounds, asking visitors to pose and dance in order to get a perfect shot. While the festival itself was a financial failure, the movie, released in 1970, brought in millions of dollars, three Oscar nominations, and one award.

After the lecture, curator Reinhard Schultz offered his perspective on Woodstock and the counterculture. He has a strong personal connection to the year 1969: while Woodstock attracted hippies from all over the world, Schultz travelled to the United States to attend the Chicago Eight Trial. He saw greater importance in the documentation of social movements than in the festival that he termed a “peripheral phenomenon.” Nevertheless, he became interested in Woodstock for two reasons: the discrepancy between the strong peace symbolism in the festival’s music and the tough social reality. He embraced the challenge of compiling and exhibiting Woodstock’s photo material, even if it is almost impossible to find photographs without copy right; so far, no printed photo collection of Woodstock exists. Getty Images, the proprietor of most Woodstock images today, charges a minimum of 400 U.S. dollars per photograph and thus makes the publication of a comprehensive Woodstock volume almost unaffordable. The HCA was therefore delighted to present many facets of Woodstock to the public and hosted this exhibition from March 14 to April 26, 2019.


Panel Discussion: "Two Years of Trump – Transatlantic Partnership, quo vadis?"

January 30, 2019

On Wednesday, January 30, the University Group for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies invited the public to a panel discussion on the current state of the transatlantic partnership following the first two years of the Trump administration. Panelists Andrea Rotter from Hanns-Seidel-Foundation and Dr. David Sirakov, member of the Atlantic Academy, debated with Dr. Florian Böller and Dr. Martin Thunert, political scientists at the HCA, about the role of NATO and the future of the Iran Deal.

The opening question addressed the conflict between multilateral alliances such as NATO and Trump’s “America First” policy. Böller explained that Trump perceived NATO not as an alliance of shared values but as a vessel for zero-sum games in favor of the U.S. Although other presidents before Trump had criticized the extent to which NATO members shared their values (as was the case with the invasion of Iraq in 2003), the panelists agreed that “America First” and alliances of shared international values were two mutually exclusive things. Andrea Rotter further voiced skepticism towards the functionality of the 2017 PESCO agreement, which had been the European answer to “strategic autonomy” and independence in matters of military defense. While it was a long overdue, necessary step, ideas about how to achieve autonomy were widely different among European countries whose security policies in the meantime depended largely on the U.S. Here Sirakov agreed and added that national egoisms determined many European defense budgets. Concerning the INF Treaty, the panelists equally agreed that both NATO and the U.S. were certain about violations by the Russian government, which meant that Trump could calculate with congressional support for any action in this matter. Although such missiles threatened above all Europe, there was still no definitive stance on this matter by most European nations. Sirakov remarked that regardless of the treaty’s outdated character that disregarded important global players like China and India, it nevertheless provided a crucial ground for diplomatic dialogue between Russia and the U.S. In the second part of the discussion, the panelists analyzed the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Deal, which was especially problematic, because it put increasing pressure on the European economy not to trade with Iranian businesses. Andrea Rotter highlighted that while the establishment of a barter system between Iran and Europe might enable Europe to avoid American sanctions, the value of this system that excluded the trade of Iranian oil was symbolic at best and it displayed many structural deficiencies, as well. This topic lead the panelists to a third question about the future of German-American relations. Considering the many vacant diplomatic positions in the American foreign ministry, it was no surprise that the two nations had a difficult relationship at the moment. Similarly, they perceived the increasing amount of Trump followers in diplomatic positions who actively influenced foreign governments in matters that concerned prime American interests such as the 2 Percent Goal, the Iran Deal and Nord Stream 2, as a dangerous novelty. Sirakov argued in his prognosis of the coming two or six years of the Trump administration that Trump would have major difficulties to push his domestic projects and therefore would possibly invest more energy into foreign policies due to the prevailing climate and difficult majority situation in Congress. This way, Trump could overshadow domestic policy issues with a confrontational foreign policy approach. However, Sirakov closed by emphasizing that Trump’s presidency also had positive effects on Germany, as his election had spurred the public debate about Germany’s role in global politics and military deficits. In the current climate of extreme polarization, it was increasingly difficult for Trump to gain a stable majority among his voters and other politicians. Consequently, he could only enact his policies through executive orders that could easily be revoked in case he would not be reelected in 2020.


Die Präsidenten der USA: 45 historische Porträts von George Washington bis Donald Trump (HCA Book Launch)

January 8, 2019

The HCA kicked off the New Year with a book launch of Die Präsidenten der USA: 45 historische Porträts von George Washington bis Donald Trump (The Presidents of the USA: 45 Historic Portraits from George Washington to Donald Trump). Contributing authors Professor Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, professor for the history of European-transatlantic culture at the University of Augsburg, HCA Founding Director Professor Detlef Junker, Curt Engelhorn Professor Manfred Berg, and Dr. Martin Thunert, HCA Senior Lecturer for American politics, presented their short biographies to a large audience in the HCA Atrium. Dr. Wilfried Mausbach, moderator of the evening, emphasized that this work demonstrated how much a person’s biography could influence their political choices.

Professor Junker opened the discussion by briefly sketching the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had played an important role in shaping the office as we know it today. Roosevelt greatly expanded executive powers and employed advisors from different areas of expertise. The comprehensive reforms of his New Deal brought immense structural change to American society, reforming the labor market, the health insurance system, and fiscal policy. Moreover, Roosevelt set an agenda for his successors with his unprecedented close cooperation and communication with the media. Then Professor Berg took over with a short presentation of Richard Nixon and his successor Gerald Ford. Nixon, mainly remembered for the Watergate scandal, had, unlike Ford, been an ambivalent president. In his foreign policy, Nixon had placed a special emphasis on Détente and improving relations with China and Russia. Moreover, his domestic policy was liberal, prioritizing issues such as environmental protection. Yet, Nixon had also been known – and feared – for his paranoid and power-hungry behavior. In contrast, Gerald Ford drew less attention as a public figure but also had fewer political achievements to show for his time in the Oval Office.

At this point, Professor Waldschmidt-Nelson jumped into the 21st century with her remarks about Barack Obama, whose election in 2008 had been a symbolic moment for many Americans. Yet, Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson’s analysis turned out to be less promising. Even though Obama’s policies during the financial crisis and towards Iran had been successful, he had also received justified criticism, particularly for frequent drone strikes in the Middle East. Unfortunately, racial tensions also increased during his presidency, which disappointed many of his supporters. Lastly, Dr. Thunert offered his remarks about the current president, Donald Trump, and surprised the audience with an analysis focused on political parallels and continuities between Obama and Trump. This was quite unexpected, considering that Trump seemed more efficient in breaking down existing structures than in reconstructing new ones, so Martin Thunert. Therefore, the questions how Trump could convince voters and what will happen at the end of his term remained significant. Whether or not it was possible to return to the status quo pre Trump remained an open question.

After some concluding remarks, Dr. Mausbach thanked the speakers for their contributions and opened the discussion for questions and comments from the audience, who gladly used this opportunity to engage in a lively debate with the experts on the podium.


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